In the world of luxury automobiles, there's an all-new, emerging class of vehicles. Dubbed entry-level luxury sport-utility vehicles, they've exploded in popularity over the past 24 months.

Why? Well, there is a logical explanation for this. For the most part, they're relatively affordable as new car sales have plenty of incentives for eager buyers to take advantage of. In addition, it's become quite evident in recent years that the four-door luxury sedan is a tired form factor. Buyers want something else. Last, but certainly not least, the additional space and added utility of a hatch make an active buyer's life easier, whether they want to go on ski trips in the winter or move their offspring in and out of the dorms at the beginning of fall and end of spring.

Now, more than ever, automakers are catering to these trends and they're taking risks. A good example of this is the all-new, Lexus NX. When its concept first debuted it caused quite a stir with its aggressive styling that resembles origami. But to Agent 001 and my eyes, it worked. Now seen in production, it's been toned down just a touch; however, it looks brilliant on city streets.

There's no denying that when you see an NX, it makes you feel something. It may not be a positive reaction for everyone but you have to note that it commands a presence and demands your attention. That's not easy for a small SUV. This isn't a Land Rover Range Rover or Rolls-Royce that has tremendous size working in its favor.

Getting more familiar with this Lexus in the driver's seat, it doesn't feel too dissimilar when compared to other Lexus products. You're presented with a three-spoke steering wheel beyond which sits the instrument panel that features a variety of screens with real-time vehicle information. The center stack locates the infotainment screen at the very top, which is the norm for luxury automobiles these days, and the HVAC controls are just beneath that. The center console is a relatively busy place as it features the driving mode dial, the shifter and the touchpad that controls the infotainment display.

In a very un-Lexus-like move, right behind that is a rather sloppy execution of a stowaway mirror, which is a rather telling indication of who this vehicle is targeted for. The problem with the mirror is that it sits awkwardly in this little cubby. Given that my test car was a pre-production vehicle, I thought maybe, just maybe, it was a piece used to cover up an unfinished console. I was wrong. I've recently tested two production NXs and the awkward mirror is still there.

I think this example really speaks to a greater problem within the NX. There are some really nice touches inside, like the leather on the passenger side dash, but they are juxtaposed with some particularly awful trim bits, like the bottom panels on the doors. In previous Lexus vehicles there was always an omnipresent sense of attention to detail. That's not the case in the all-new NX.

In the three vehicles I test drove, two of which were production models, there were squeaks from the center stack and rear seats.

And that's not the only place where this issue exists. You see, it pervades many other elements of the all-new Lexus. Let me take it from the top and walk you through this.

Equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's given some extra power thanks to a turbocharger, the NX200t makes 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Zero to 60 happens in about seven seconds. During my time with the NX I chalked up an acceptable 21 mpg, which is par for the course in this class.

The motor just didn't feel particularly refined though. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) far exceeded expectations, and at the end of the day it didn't give off the premium vibe I've come to appreciate from Lexus. I remember when Lexus bragged about the first-gen LS' engine being so smooth and running a commercial with champagne glasses stacked on top of each other as the vehicle was being given a proper run on a dyno. Although I didn't test it, I'd wager this engine would not be able to recreate that feat.

And here's the peculiar thing. I just spent a long day with the all-new 200 motor in the IS200t and it is a world's difference. The NVH in the IS is much more in check.

Paired up to this motor is a six-speed, automatic transmission. It gets the job done but not nearly as smooth as the selection of today's luxury vehicles that are fitted with a ZF eight-speed auto. It feels like Lexus is a generation behind here.

Then there's the steering. During the development period of this car I recall watching a clip where the engineers said that this SUV would be unlike anything else and have dynamics that would outclass the competition. In other words, it would be a sporty thing. What was delivered, however, is completely numb steering that lacks any feel whatsoever. In addition, the front-wheel drive model has a bit of a snappy feel when you unwind the steering wheel from a turn, which is something I'd come to expect on something like a Hyundai or Kia SUV. Thankfully, the all-wheel drive model eliminates this.

And, now, I've said my biggest disappointment for last. With every Lexus product I've had the pleasure of driving, you could tell that there was a great emphasis on a sophisticated ride. Bumps were absorbed and the sound was isolated. It seems that the NX completely defies that though as it is too stiff for its own good. I consistently found myself grimacing riding over imperfect road surfaces and was left wondering why it slammed so hard and would rock the cabin. While you may be thinking "00R, you're being too harsh on this car," I'll tell you this: the RC F and GS F I've piloted dealt with uneven pavement better.

For me, this was a significant let down as I have always appreciated what Lexus has brought to the market. The company has always developed fine products and you do not have to look further than the ES, IS, RC, RC F, GS and GS F to see how great this company can be when it wants to be.

But the longer I spent behind the wheel of the NX, the more I became frustrated with it. The one thing this vehicle didn't miss a beat though is with its exterior styling with the F Sport kit added.

Every single time I see one on the road I have a millisecond reaction of "what is that?" Then, I proceed to stare and lap up every second of it. I just wish the rest of the car made me feel that way.

The Good:

- I just adore the way this vehicle looks, especially on the road in F Sport trim — it has attitude and presence that you will not get in an Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Land Rover Discovery Sport, etc.
- Plenty of room up front and in the back seat, even with the front seat set for a 6'8 driver
- Lexus' new touchpad is a nice change from the "mouse" it used to feature for controlling the infotainment system

The Bad:

- An overwhelming feeling that there was zero attention to detail when Lexus developed this vehicle, which is Lexus' greatest differentiating quality
- The ride is especially noteworthy as it is overly stiff and proves a rocky ride when traversing imperfect road surfaces
- Lexus' touchpad can be a bit ponderous when you need to scroll down in a screen/menu — I found myself wasting a lot of time with lag and having to correct inputs

The Lowdown:

Typically, Lexus' products live up to their hype. And, I have to say I was really expecting this one to be a great one. The problem is that it truly is lacking all of the qualities that make a Lexus...a Lexus. Refinement, forget about it. A smooth ride that lulls you to sleep, nope. Really neatly executed details, not here. I hate to say it but after spending time with the NX200, I just do not see any real reason why it's worth the premium over the RAV4 because it feels essentially the same. When I handed back the keys and walked away, I felt like Lexus phoned this one in.

Here's the kicker though: We've been seeing a TON of these on the roads and we knew the company would have a hit on its hands from the start. While the average consumer may be able to look past the NX's pitfalls, being an enthusiast and a critic I can't let them slide.

2014 New York Auto Show

REVIEW: Agent 00R DISHES On One Of The MOST Popular Small Luxury SUVs, The Lexus NX200t — Is It What We've Been Waiting For?

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