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Why Your Car Is A Truck, Under Federal Law, And What Makes It One

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If you've got any plans to buy a 2015 Lexus NX 300h when it hits the U.S, you might be surprised to learn that it's not actually a car.

According to the EPA, your new luxury crossover vehicle is nothing more than a light truck.

It doesn't look like a truck. It doesn't drive like a truck.

So why is the new NX luxury crossover utility vehicle a truck?

It's all down to a regulatory loophole that historically helped automakers get around stricter fuel-economy standards applying to passenger cars, by defining their vehicles instead to comply with standards expected of light trucks.

And it isn't a new practice.

As long ago as 2004 The New York Times explained how and why Subaru's Outback four-door sedan was reclassified by its maker to come a light truck. The retro-style Chrysler PT Cruiser was also a high-profile example of the same practice.

MORE: New Mileage Rules Encourage Small Cars To Become Big Trucks For Lower MPG

Classifying a vehicle--that's otherwise clearly a passenger car--as a light truck has a few advantages.

In the case of the 2004 Outback sedan, it gave Subaru a little leeway in fuel efficiency ratings. At the time, CAFE standards were almost 7 mpg stricter for cars than they were for trucks.

With the PT Cruiser, the opposite was true: Its fuel efficiency was far better than that of the company's traditional trucks, and so it helped improve Chrysler's average fuel economy in that vehicle class.

The regulations designating a light truck from a regular car are actually relatively simple.

Firstly, the vehicle must have a gross vehicle weight--that's the curb weight plus payload--of no more than 8,500 lbs. Check one, for the NX. Secondly, it has to be designed to transport persons, property, or be fitted with special features allowing its  "off-street or off-highway operation and use".

ALSO READ: 2015 Lexus NX 300h Hybrid: First Drive Of Luxury Compact Utility Vehicle

The latter is the most salient point here--as Autoblog notes, all U.S. Lexus NX models feature an unusual cut-away front bumper giving them a steeper approach angle than those sold elsewhere in the world.

In other words, if NX buyers decide for some reason to head out into the desert after visiting a cafe or nail salon, the NX would be better suited for the task thanks to its alterations.

That is what makes the 2015 Lexus NX crossover a truck. Even though it isn't likely to be used like one.

And we'd bet the NX will rarely go off-road on anything more challenging than muddy soccer fields or the woodland paths leading to second homes.

But feel free to yell, "Hey, nice TRUCK!" at the first Lexus NX you see. That's what it is, at least in the eyes of the U.S government.

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