I'm not the kind of guy who turns down a trip to Nashville; even if it is the third visit in less than a year. Toss in a chance to drive the yet-to-be-released Lexus NX, and you've got me hook, line and sinker. Just reel me in like the big, old lunker I am.
I like Nashville a lot. It is brimming with personality. And the live music! Oh, Momma.
It's where Lexus decided to throw the Southeast media introduction of its new, smaller NX crossover that will arrive in showrooms this fall. The versions we drove were preproduction models; yet they, for the most part, approximate what consumers will buy later this year.
|The lobby of Nashville's Union Station Hotel.|
Lexus put us up at the Union Station Hotel on Broadway. The hotel's name may hint that it was once Nashville's passenger train station. In all my visits to Nashville over the years, this was the first time I got to overnight in this historic lodging. It's rather breathtaking. Not to mention the service attentive and the beds wonderfully comfortable. It has just become an Autograph Collection property. It's only a three or four block hike to Broadway's honky-tonks. Room prices run from about $250 to $400 a night.
I arrived early the afternoon of our first day and took a stroll down Broadway in search of a bumper sticker I promised a friend to put on her guitar case. I thought, certainly one of the larger, more popular honky-tonks like Tootsie's, Legends or Robert's Western World would have its own bumper sticker. Nope. The only bumper stickers offered in any of the souvenir stores – even those operated by honky-tonks – only had the same two “Nashville” bumper stickers available at the gift shops in the airport. I was crestfallen. I purchased two sizes of the same sticker on Broadway and then a “I (heart) Nashville” sticker on our tour of Hatch Show Print the next morning.
Toyota/Lexus always has us driving the afternoon of the arrival day. Usually the experience consists of two or three preplanned routes of varying distances. My driving partner and I chose an NX 200t F Sport for our afternoon excursion. It was a 90-minute trip that took us over sections of the Natchez Trace Parkway to Franklin, Tenn. and then back to the hotel.
The 200t is one of two NX models that also includes the hybrid NX 300h. Prices have yet to be announced, but Lexus suits assured us that the low-end of the spectrum would be under $40,000.
NX slots below the wildly popular RX in size and price. A 235-horsepower 2-liter turbo four-cylinder powers the 200t; while in the 300h a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle engine and a couple of electric motors collaborate to produce 194 horsepower. The turbo engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and the hybrid uses a CVT. Both can be fitted with AWD.
Lexus wants us to think of the NX as an IS-like crossover in its handling and cornering dexterity. When in sport mode – particularly with F Sport trim, the response and handling is impressive for a larger vehicle. We dialed the style selector back and forth among ECO, Normal and Sport modes a couple of times before leaving it on Sport. Eco was downright sluggish.
NX is roomy and comfortable. The extra trimmings provided by the F Sport upgrade really pumped up the cabin's appearance. You can get power-folding rear seats and lift gate, along with a horde of other optional goodies. There is all manner of available technology and multi-media upgrades, too.
Safety is also a big deal with eight airbags and back-up camera as standard. Lane-departure warning, parking assist, blind-spot monitor and rear-cross-traffic monitor are all available.
Our drive route wasn't terribly challenging, but did have a nice mix of elevation changes and curves, and even a bit of expressway driving thrown in for good measure. NX was a joy to drive.
|Brett James (left) and Tim Nichols.|
Beyond driving the the NX, the highlight of the trip was the pre-dinner entertainment on our only night with Lexus. Nashville has a song-writer program that provides one or two writers of some well-known songs to perform for groups. We were entertained for about 40 minutes by Grammy winners Brett James and Tim Nichols. Nichols co-wrote “Live Like You Were Dying” for Tim McGraw. James wrote or co-wrote a passel of hits like “Out Last Night” and “When the Sun Goes Down” for Kenny Chesney, “Jesus Take the Wheel” for Carrie Underwood, “Mr. Know It All” for Kelly Clarkson and a whole bunch more. Both talked about their songs and sang several of them. Yep, there was serious talent on that little stage.
We had our abbreviated concert at The Farm House restaurant on Almond Street. It had an impressive collection of bourbons and some damn interesting craft brews. The food was pretty good, too.
|Letterpress printing 101 is in session.|
The morning of our second day was mostly devoted to driving anything we hadn't gotten to the day before. First, though, we took a side trip to Hatch Show Print. It is the oldest continuous letterpress printing facility in the U.S., operating since 1879. It makes posters for all sorts of performances and events. Nothing much has changed in how it creates prints in 135 years. I'd been to Hatch several times, but never gotten the nickle tour of the place.
I was back home about 36 hours after leaving. A quick trip, indeed, but even a small dose of Nashville is good.