New car reviews

2011 Lexus CT 200H

Hybrid Heart of the Compact Luxury World

Steve Schaefer, Mon, 27 Jun 2011 04:51:00 PDT

The CT 200h is the smallest Lexus hybrid so far. Designed primarily for Europeans, it's a fun-to-drive, highly efficient car with the luxury touches Lexus buyers expect.

Like its cousin, the Toyota Prius, the new CT 200h is a full hybrid, which means it can run on only electricity at times. The other Lexus vehicles, including the GS 450h, LS 600h L and HS 250h sedans and the RX 450h crossover, get some benefits of the hybrid technology but don't deliver the extremely high mileage a full hybrid provides.

The CT 200h matches a 1.8-liter, 98-horsepower gasoline engine with an 80-horsepower electric motor for total system power of 134 horsepower (yes, the math is a little odd). You can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 9.8 seconds. This won't frighten any Porsche or Mustang drivers, but from the driver's seat, it feels like plenty for moving the 3,130-pound car along.

You expect great fuel economy and very clean emissions. The CT's numbers are lower than the Prius' 50 mpg average-but are way above other luxury cars. The EPA claims 43 City and 40 Highway-42 average. I averaged 40.2 mpg. The Green Vehicle Guide gives the CT 200h excellent numbers of 8 for Air Pollution and 9 for Greenhouse Gas (SmartWay Elite).

What's important here is that this compact hatchback feels like a Lexus when you're inside. It's very quiet while you're driving, thanks to generous insulation everywhere and excellent sealing against wind noise. The coefficient of drag for the slippery shape is an impressive .29. Also, the interior appointments are way above the nice but everyday Prius. That means careful attention to shaping, materials, assembly, and the presence of things like perforated leather seating, real wood trim and more.

To add to the high tech flavor, the driver interface features Remote Touch. It's like a computer mouse for your car. Of course, it doesn't actually move, so it's more like a trackball. Your hand sits over it on the center console and you can select and control select various features using a cursor, including audio, climate and navigation. Your fingers move a kind of joystick while your thumb-or fingers-select what you've located. It works very well once you've become used to it.

A bright, clear 8-inch screen rolls up from the top of the dash when you start the car. You can close it-or tilt it to reduce glare. In my tester, for some reason it kept reverting to the navigation map page even when I wanted it to keep the audio display up.

You can choose a Relaxed or Dynamic driving mode. There are three Relaxed settings-Normal, ECO and EV. The Normal setting is highly efficient and uses the logic built into the car's systems to run as efficiently as possible. The ECO setting maximizes the hybrid efficiency and economy. Or, pick EV setting to drive in pure electric mode-for about a mile, at up to 28 miles per hour.

For more fun, choose the Dynamic Sport setting, which holds engine revs higher and changes the settings on the steering and throttle inputs for faster response. When you switch to the Sport setting, the center cluster changes to red, from blue for the other three settings. Also, the hybrid usage gauge converts to a tachometer. You'll lose some efficiency, but heck, why not have a little fun on that twisty back road now and then?

While borrowing some of the BMW "flame" surfacing, the CT 200h wears the L-Finesse Lexus styling cues, especially up front. While the hatchback configuration with wraparound rear window will likely be a bigger hit in Europe than in the U.S., that could change, with today's high gas prices. The goal for Lexus is to win over younger buyers, and I expect it will.

Prices for this new Lexus start at $31,775, including shipping. My Tungsten Pearl tester, with some extras, came to $37,024. These included leather seats and trim, the Safety Connect emergency system (it works like GM's Onstar, as far as I can tell), and premium audio and navigation systems. Finally, the threshold plates were handsomely illuminated-at a cost of $299.

There is much more that I could say about the hybrid technology, but the main thing with hybrids is that they are like normal cars to live with. You just get in and go, although learning to drive them in a "relaxed" way will definitely improve your fuel economy numbers. You'll get 40 miles per gallon with no special effort, EPA SmartWay Elite cleanliness, a luxury feel, some fun capabilities, and, as a hatchback, great hauling capacity.



The CT 200h wears the L-Finesse Lexus styling cues, especially up front

This compact hatchback feels like a Lexus when you're inside

The 2011 CT 200h is built in a hatchback configuration with a wraparound rear window

Like its cousin, the Toyota Prius, the new CT 200h is a full hybrid

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