If Lexus is going to stay competitive, it needs to turbocharge sooner rather than later.

If there's anything that Lexus is experienced with, thanks in large part to its corporate parents at Toyota, it's hybrid powertrains. The automaker has hybridized tiny little four-cylinder engines, massive honkin' V8s and everything in between. So synonymous are hybrids and Lexus that it would be a shock to see a brand-new model released without an accompanying version with blue badging and a little "h" appendage to its name.

What Lexus is not known for, on the other hand, is turbocharging. Once a domain populated largely by smaller, higher-end niche European purveyors like Saab and Volvo, all realms of the automotive sphere are now turning to downsized engines with power levels restored through the use of forced induction. If Lexus is going to stay competitive with the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, not to mention maintain a lead over less enthusiast-oriented rivals like Lincoln and Buick, it's going to need to incorporate turbochargers sooner rather than later.

And that brings us to the 2015 Lexus NX 200t. As the marque's first foray into gasoline turbocharging, the NX and its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mark a turning of the tides at Lexus that we the media, automobile shoppers and competitors alike will be watching with keen attention. Keep reading below for more on this pivotal engine and some firsthand impressions of its performance.
Lexus NX 200t cutaway
2015 Lexus NX 200t badge2015 Lexus NX 200t turbo engine

We'd be shocked if this new powerplant doesn't make its way into more products from the Lexus empire.

Let's talk specs. At its heart, the 8AR-FTS 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine was designed with square 3.4-inch bore and stroke figures, a 10.0:1 compression ratio and as much as 17 pounds of boost from a new turbocharger designed in-house by Toyota. There's a balance shaft to quell harshness and vibration, operated by resin gears. A maximum of 235 horsepower is produced between 4,800 and 5,600 rpm. Torque comes in at a relatively healthy 258 pound-feet between 1,650 and 4,000 rpm. Premium gasoline is required, and in the NX-shaped crossover wrapper it debuts in, Lexus estimates the mill will return 22 miles per gallon in the city, 28 on the highway and 24 combined (drop one city mpg if equipped with all-wheel drive) with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Lexus has baked quite a bit of new-think technology into its first turbo engine, starting with the cylinder head, which boasts water cooling and is combined with an integrated four-into-two exhaust manifold to bring the turbocharger as close to the intake induction system as possible and to split the engine's exhaust into pairs that feed into the twin-scroll turbo. Similarly, the liquid-cooled intercooler is an integral part of the engine. Finally, a variable wastegate valve improves efficiency.

We find it telling that Lexus chose to develop and manufacture a brand-new turbocharger itself, instead of sourcing one from any of the well-known suppliers like Honeywell, BorgWarner or Mitsubishi. If the automaker was less than serious about turbo technology, wouldn't it be more likely to outsource the component? We'd be shocked if we didn't see this new powerplant make its way into more products from the Toyota/Lexus empire, likely starting with the well-received IS sedan.

Lexus NX 200t cutaway

In the 2015 NX 200t, the 2.0-liter turbo engine powers forth a claimed 0-60 run of 7.0 seconds.

As is the case with many other Lexus and Toyota products, the 2.0 turbo mill features the company's so-called D-4S system that uses both direct and port fuel injection. The automaker claims that offering both high- and low-pressure injection results in optimal efficiency at all engine speeds.

VVT-iW technology is new for this engine, the added W indicating a wider range of intake cam timing control. This allows the timing to be advanced or retarded as required, and it means the engine can run in both Otto and Atkinson cycles, switching as needed in an instant. This is pretty interesting tech, and the best news is that it all takes place seamlessly and isn't noticed by the driver in any way – there's no off-putting engine note changes or anything else fishy to make the driver aware that the engine is saving fuel whenever possible.

In the 2015 NX 200t, the 2.0-liter turbo engine performs quite well, garnering a claimed 0-60 mile-per-hour run of 7.0 seconds with all-wheel drive. We're somewhat surprised that the AWD model is 0.2 seconds quicker to 60 than its front-drive sibling, as we never noted enough low-end torque to break traction. We confirmed with Lexus that gearing is identical for both the U661E (FWD) and U661F (AWD) transmissions, though the F Sport gets a numerically higher final-drive ratio for a bit more responsiveness from a dead stop. There must be some barely-there wheel spin that isn't obvious to the driver, but that's a good thing, as that means the electronic brains are all working properly and are most likely smarter than we are.

2015 Lexus NX 200t turbo boost gauge

We're comparing the Lexus turbo against the base engine offerings from its most natural rivals.

In practice, the engine needs time to spin into its mid-range powerband before it feels particularly powerful, at least as equipped in the NX. Part of this, we think, is due to the six-speed automatic transmission. A greater spread of gears would seemingly allow Lexus to employ a numerically higher final gear ratio, thereby increasing the impression of torque when the driver calls on the full herd of stampeding ponies when the light turns green. Of course, adding gears also adds complexity and can introduce other drivability nitpicks, such as gear hunting at mid-range speeds, and Lexus tells us that it chose six gears on purpose and not just because that's what it had available. Even so, we'd be surprised if it didn't have a transmission with more speeds in its showroom soon. In any case, there's a good amount of power available once the engine is spinning at a few thousand rpm, and the NX is plenty quick enough on its feet for any situation it's likely to encounter in normal driving conditions.

It's important to note that the new 2.0 turbo is the only non-hybrid powerplant on the NX menu, which leaves the compact CUV unable to offer much competition to its six-cylinder competitors (Acura, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo...) or even to the new 2.3-liter EcoBoost Lincoln MKC. When discussing like-to-like engine output numbers, we're comparing the Lexus against the base engine offerings from its most natural rivals. Just how many buyers Lexus is potentially missing out on, we don't know, but it's probably a small percentage.

2015 Lexus NX 300h hybrid
2015 Lexus NX 300h hybrid2015 Lexus NX 300h hybrid

All motive force to the rear wheels comes courtesy of a unique electric motor.

While we're dissecting the new 2015 Lexus NX, a few salient tidbits from the hybrid powertrain in the NX 300h bear mentioning. The 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and main hybrid drive componentry is shared with models like the Lexus ES 300h, not to mention the Camry and Avalon hybrids from Toyota. But it differs in many key details, particularly due to the inclusion of all-wheel drive capability provided by the Q211 rear transaxle.

There are two motor/generator units that join in making the hybrid powertrain work in front-drive NX hybrids, as is the case in the ES hybrid. The Q211 rear transaxle adds a third motor/generator unit along with its own reduction drive mechanism to selectively power the rear wheels as needed. There is no direct mechanical connection between the front-mounted engine and the rear wheels; all motive force to the rear wheels comes courtesy of this unique electric motor. The NX is the first such all-wheel-drive hybrid vehicle from Lexus or Toyota, but again, we doubt it will be the last.

We'll have a full First Drive report coming up later today, where we'll discuss our full thoughts on the NX and our driving impressions. For now, know that a lot of unique engineering went into this first compact crossover from Lexus, and know that it all works very well indeed.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 60 Comments
      Basscotte
      • 5 Months Ago
      "There is no direct mechanical connection between the front-mounted engine and the rear wheels; all motive force to the rear wheels comes courtesy of this unique electric motor. The NX is the first such all-wheel-drive hybrid vehicle from Lexus or Toyota, but again, we doubt it will be the last." Guys, you're incorrect! The RX450h has used this type of AWD system for years! Did you really not know that???
      WarmAndSCSI
      • 5 Months Ago
      A water-cooled cylinder head? Astounding! And the variable wastegate; sign me up for that ground-breaking tech. To require premium fuel for 235 bhp on a 2.0 L is kind of pathetic.
      gasaraki88
      • 5 Months Ago
      Only 235 HP? Hmm...
      mxpie6
      • 5 Months Ago
      this engine should've been in the Scion tC long ago, not to mention the FR-S. Might have boosted the Scion image up considerably.
      futurecars
      • 5 Months Ago
      yes aaronmt /marykeana sign in your 50 add accounts and down vote us, why not look at the facts that face you honda V6 engine, everyone know that turbo build lower-mid torque faster than N/A and the honda engine has to use VCM to achieve 28 MPG, so please move along.
      carguy1701
      • 5 Months Ago
      "Lexus has baked quite a bit of new-think technology into its first turbo engine, starting with the cylinder head, which boasts water cooling..." This sentence is poorly worded. Sounds like what you mean to say is that it has its own cooling circuit independent of the block.
        futurecars
        • 5 Months Ago
        @carguy1701
        not only that sound as if lexus was the first to do it, which is not even so, they are not the first
      Greg Aryous
      • 5 Months Ago
      It took Lexus-Toyota this long to produce a 2.0 Turbo and its not that competitive n Requires Premium gas!! The "Old" Ford 2.0 EcoBoost is rated 252 Hp n 270 Ft lbs on Regular gas n that's the Old 2.0... Not the new 2.0 that's coming in the 2015 Edge as std engine...! Nothing earth shattering at all from Lexus... Sorry! Premium gas rqmt is a joke too!!!
        404 not found
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Greg Aryous
        OMG now the poor $50k Lexus shoppers have to decide if they want to pony up an extra $150/year for premium gas. How terrible. :(
        tiguan2.0
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Greg Aryous
        I think if you read the fine print on ECOBoost, to get the rated HP, you must use premium, but it is not "REQUIRED"
        Julie
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Greg Aryous
        agreed
      mary.keana
      • 5 Months Ago
      So the all-new turbo 4 cylinder with 238 hp is able to match the 6 cylinder 273hp Acura RDX 28 mpg on the highway. SMH
        mary.keana
        • 5 Months Ago
        @mary.keana
        And for even more grins, the 290hp 7 passenger Acura MDX is also rated 28 mpg.
          Matt
          • 5 Months Ago
          @mary.keana
          Turbos and VCM are just two ways of variable engine capacity, neither is a "cheat". Except if you think cheating is being able to switch from 3 cylinders to 6 in less time it takes for a turbo to spool up. And having better top-end power. And a better exhaust note. But seriously, lets see some turbos strapped to the J35Y!
          normc32
          • 5 Months Ago
          @mary.keana
          Aaron..mt please stop with your HMC propaganda.
          normc32
          • 5 Months Ago
          @mary.keana
          No HMC VCM the V6 is dead.
          futurecars
          • 5 Months Ago
          @mary.keana
          I think the RDX has VCM to achieve that 28 MPG, if it was just a normal V6 now that would have been impressive.
          mary.keana
          • 5 Months Ago
          @mary.keana
          futurecar, where you attempting to make a point?
          mary.keana
          • 5 Months Ago
          @mary.keana
          normc32, don't you have some Nissan GTRs to street race with your 138hp TURBO POWER Encore?
      Craig Ewing
      • 5 Months Ago
      Instead of calling this article "Deep Dive", it should be labeled "Puff Piece". Here we read about Lexus / Toyota being late to the party with a turbo 2.0 with middling performance and mileage numbers. Yet, it's all wrapped up in drooling praise. This is nothing more than fan-boy level writing, mistakes in grammar and syntax included.
      dfkd
      • 5 Months Ago
      I don't see what the big deal is. Toyota has been turbocharging engines literally forever. Just needed to slap one into a Lexus because North America finally got off of the high displacement addiction that it's been on for decades. Not like they need to *develop* turbocharging tech or anything.
        futurecars
        • 5 Months Ago
        @dfkd
        @dfkd, "Not like they need to *develop* turbocharging tech or anything". Toyota and ford trade technology on hybrid an turbo engine, toyota makes ford split power transmission and they got ford turbo charge technology in return.
        futurecars
        • 5 Months Ago
        @dfkd
        I can see some people did not know that toyot got ford tech in developing turbo engine here is the proof. "In return, Toyota is licensing some Ford patents on exhaust aftertreatment and direct injection spark ignition" http://evworld.com/news.cfm?newsid=5607 http://www.autotrader.com/research/article/car-news/120396/ford-and-toyota-partner-on-hybrid-technology.jsp
      futurecars
      • 5 Months Ago
      I am glad toyota is putting new tech in their engines, but it is not new for other japan rivals, nissan already has a 1.2 ddr with a square engine bore and all the above tech like toyota new turbo with Direct injection and it compression is 13:1, except nissan engine has a supercharger, it can operate in both miller and atkinson cycle. When the supercharger clutch is engage it is in miller cycle, when it is disengaged it is in the atkinson cycle and it has stop /start technology. http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/TECHNOLOGY/OVERVIEW/hr12ddr.html
      Cameron Huntsucker
      • 5 Months Ago
      Am I crazy or are these some really lame MPG estimages? 28 mpg from a 2.0 in 2014? ridiculous. I get 25 mpg on the freeway in my '95 supercharged 2.3 liter Previa van
        Jason
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Cameron Huntsucker
        I suppose it's better than over-stating MPG. It's a heavier CUV with a less than favorable drag coefficient. I'm not sure what you expected. At full boost, the engine will eat fuel like a 3.0L V6 w/ direct injection. But it has a variable wastegate to bleed off boost during light cruising, while also simultaneously switching over to Atkinson-cycle combustion. People automatically see the physical 2.0L displacement and expect MPG to equal or best a normally aspirated engine of the same displacement with less power. It comes very close even with much more power. It's progress.
          Jason
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Jason
          A CVT could've been used, but Toyota doesn't have one to handle the torque output of this engine, AFAIK. The automatics used with this turbo engine are the same as the ones used with the larger 3.5L V6, though the differential ratio may be slightly different. Peak torque: 3.5L 2GR - 252lb-ft @ 4700rpm 2.0L 8AR - 258lb-ft @ 1650-4000rpm It probably ate up the available CVTs in internal testing.
          dfkd
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Jason
          Lexus has the L110F CVT pulling the LS600hL with 440HP and 380lb-ft.
          Rotation
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Jason
          At full boost it'll drink fuel like a 4.0L engine. This surely has 1 bar of boost. I'm not sure where your 2nd last sentence comes from. This doesn't have more power than a V6. 235HP? That's not even as much as a 3.0L V6. It has less power than a V6. To be fair, it does have about the same power as a BMW 2.0L in an X3 with the same mpg.
        normc32
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Cameron Huntsucker
        Worst part is that you admit to owning such a vehicle
        Gator
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Cameron Huntsucker
        Yes, it's also due to the 6spd auto. Need's 8 speeds.
          Matt
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Gator
          @Jason Most 6-speed autos I've driven are already guilty of having the top gear (or two) too overdriven to be effective at accelerating with more bravado than the gust off a butterflies wings, even on flat ground, but that's how you get the fuel economy, whether it be on a dyno or in the real world; throttle fully open and lower revs for less frictional losses. Geared properly, an 8-speed would probably still behave like a tall 6-speed while on the highway, but have better ratios for everything leading up to that. My own 6-speed auto is about a 6.0 gear spread, with a 3.46 final drive, and I feel the jump from 3rd to 4th is too big. An 8-speed with a 7.0 spread would be pretty perfect; I have not driven the new 9-speed ZF, but its 9.8 ratio spread just seems...unusable.
          Jason
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Gator
          More ratios just means tighter spacing for the first 6 gears with ridiculously low overdrive ratios for the last 2 gears. 8th gear would only be usable in a straight line if the engine fell out of its torque range. Sure, you can cruise at 1200rpm, but hit a hill and it'll need to downshift to 6th or lower depending on grade. More gears just game the EPA testing procedure. In reality, they're annoying in actual real-world driving.
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