The new Lexus NX is a “game changer” for the brand, say company chiefs, and is charged with stealing sales from premium mid-size SUV rivals such as the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5 with its bold design and frugal hybrid powertrains.

The NX, revealed in Europe for the first time last week following its global debut at the Beijing motor show, is the manufacturer’s first foray into the expanding compact SUV market.

The Toyota-owned brand anticipates that it will swell its annual sales volumes by as much as one-third from 2015 onwards. For Europe, that equates to sales of about 20,000; while Lexus UK expects to sell between 3500-4000 units, which is roughly the same as its existing IS and CT models. 

Lexus is hoping that about 80 per cent of those sales will come from customers new to the brand, and it is targeting prospective buyers of vehicles such as the Evoque, Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLK and Volvo XC60, as well as customers who are considering upsizing from cars like the Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan and Ford Kuga.

Asked to explain why customers would consider the NX over rival brands’ products, Alain Uyttenhoven, vice president of Lexus Europe, said: “The first reason people buy a car in this segment is because it is trendy in its design. We put an Audi Q5 next to the NX in public clinics and we didn’t come second. We are proud that we also beat the Evoque, which is an icon in Britain. When you put the current vehicles on the market next to the NX, I think it will be an eye-catcher.

“The second thing is that people who drive in cities want a vehicle that is environmentally friendly. We make a statement by having a hybrid vehicle that has best-in-class CO2 emissions. One of the reasons people might hesitate to buy an SUV is because of this image of them not being so environmentally friendly, but there are many hatchbacks that would dream of coming to close to the NX 300h’s CO2 emissions.

“For Lexus this car is a game-changer. It represents the addition of one-third to our volume and will create the potential for new customers for our brand. Very soon it will be the most visible Lexus model in Europe.”

Two powertrains will be offered in the UK, with the NX 300h petrol-electric hybrid expected to account for the lion’s share of sales. It is available now ahead of first deliveries in October, with prices starting from £29,495 for an entry-level, two-wheel drive S-specification variant.

The NX 300h uses a revised version of the manufacturer’s hybrid system developed specifically for the new model. Based around a 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine and either one or two electric motors, depending on whether the customer chooses two- or four-wheel-drive, it is expected to have a total system output 195bhp. Lexus is targeting combined cycle fuel economy of 54.3mpg with this car, equating to CO2 emissions of less than 120g/km.

Next year a new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine will be added to the range. This derivative, the NX 200t, will be offered exclusively in F Sport trim and four-wheel drive in the UK. Maximum power is 235bhp between 4800rpm and 5600rpm, and maximum torque is 258lb ft between 1650-4000rpm. 

Initially, it is expected to account for only about ten per cent of total NX sales in the UK, although Lexus chiefs believe it could prove popular with drivers seeking dynamic performance. No UK price has been confirmed for this variant, but it is expected to be slightly higher than the 300h.

The Lexus NX is 4630mm long, 1845mm wide and 1645mm high, with a wheelbase of 2660mm and a front and rear track of 1580mm.

Five equipment grades will be offered in the UK, with the entry-level, front-wheel-drive S trim being followed by four-wheel-drive SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier grades.

The Lexus NX is the first model to feature Lexus’s pre-crash safety system and adaptive cruise control as standard across the model line-up. Other firsts for a Lexus include a wireless charging tray for mobile phones and the first application of a new touchpad-operated infotainment system, available as an option.

Lexus has enjoyed considerable growth during the first four months of 2014, and anticipates total brand sales of between 60,000-65,000 units in 2015.

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