You could say that Lexus is the ruler of the luxury hybrid world. Well, the ruler at least in the United States with its capture of 90 percent of luxe sales in hybrids.
Lexus has garnered high percentage sales in the hybrid market by blanketing high-volume segments with hybrid versions of its GS sport sedan, the LS flagship sedan and the RX crossover sport utility vehicle. Lexus is so flush by its dominance in the luxury hybrid segment, it’s rolling the dice and trying its luck with an all-new hybrid hatchback priced under $30,000.
The 2011 CT 200h is not a Lexus version of the Toyota Prius, though they do share the same 134-horsepower gas powertrain and hybrid drive system mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission. Unlike the Prius, the CT 200h is loaded with premium Lexus craftsmanship and is also sport-tuned to be a fun-driving hatchback. Like the Prius, the Lexus CT 200h runs on regular unleaded gasoline.
Lexus has put as much as it could into the chassis of the new CT 200h to give it some degree of driving dynamics while also maintaining a pedigree of high hybrid fuel economies. The EPA rates the CT 200h at achieving 43 miles per gallon city and 40 mpg highway. The Prius runs circles around these numbers at 51/48 mpg.
What you get, however, with the CT 200h is the option to experience hybrid luxury driving in guilt-free green pleasure. A dial on the center console controls three driving models — EV, Normal, Sport. And frankly, I spent 95-percent of my time behind the wheel of the CT 200h in Sport mode. I was hungry for some power in highway driving and on rural roadways and the Sport mode gave me the iron boost I craved.
The interior ambience encourages a desire for robust driving with its sporty cockpit featuring a driver-focused instrument binnacle with high visible triple gauges, low driver’s seat with enhanced side bolsters, plus a sporty wide-grip steering wheel.
The Normal version is best for around-town driving, while the EV is optimal in the city. The Electric Vehicle mode is 100-percent zero-emission driving and operates through the Lexus electric power motor alone at speeds less than 25 mph. It can be driven in EV mode for up to 1 mile under the power of the electric motor.
The gauges in the instrumentation panel are color-sync-coordinated with the type of driving you’re doing. The illumination on the gauges turns to the color red when in Sport mode and is backlit in a color of “hybrid blue” for greener driving modes of EV and Normal. The front-wheel-drive Lexus CT 200h seats five occupants, but rear room is a squeeze for adults. The cargo area in the back opens up amply with the back seats folded down.
The CT 200h’s purposeful wide stance and low center of gravity lend an athletic appearance to this compact hybrid. Lexus says that it’s introduced for the first time in this segment a unique lateral performance damper system that helps enhance the ride comfort, provide a linear steering feel and reduce body vibrations. The CT 200h suspension combines a proven MacPherson strut front system with a new fully independent double wishbone to the rear. This allows the compact hatch, weighing in at just 3,130 pounds, to give passengers a comfortable ride.
The 2011 CT 200h has a starting price of $29,120 and comes standard with a smart key with push-button start, eight airbags, six-speaker sound system and Bluetooth. A navigation system with the rear backup camera, moonroof, premium sound system and heated seats are optional. — Connie Keane
Manufacturer photo: The Lexus CT 200h emits approximately 60 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new car, and has EPA-estimated ratings of 43 mpg city and 40 mpg on the highway utilizing regular 87-octane gasoline. Moreover, the CT 200h can be operated in a switchable EV mode which generates zero emissions.
2011 LEXUS CT 200h
VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD compact hatchback
BASE PRICE___________________ $29,120 (as tested: $29,995)
MOTOR TYPE___________________ 16-valve 4-cylinder, Lexus Hybrid Drive
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 134 at 5200 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 142 at 4000 rpm
WHEELBASE____________________ 102.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 170.1 in.
TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 34.2 ft.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 11.9 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011