2011 Lexus CT
It’s not as if Lexus needed another hybrid. Toyota’s luxury division already had four, ranging from the stand-alone HS 250h to the $110,875 LS 600h and the in-between GS 450h and RX 450h.
But the fifth one has arrived: the CT 200h, which not only uses the same power train as Toyota’s own electric-gasoline Prius but now becomes the entry-level Lexus with a base price tag of $29,995.The idea is to insinuate Lexus into a new category of high mileage cars that satisfy a perceived yearning among some luxury customers for vehicles that contribute to sustainable mobility. The company expects about 1,000 sales a month against premium compacts like the BMW 1-Series, the Audi A3 and the Volvo C30.
From a size standpoint, the car out there now that most closely resembles the new CT 200h is the Mazda 3 four-door hatchback, although the CT 200h is considerably more stylish.
It is a four-door with a hatch, 94 cubic feet of passenger space and a smidgen more than 14 cubic feet for cargo behind the rear seatback, which folds down to increase the load space. It is 14 feet 2 inches long.
The Mazda has 95 cubic feet for passengers and 17 cubic feet for cargo. It is 14 feet 9 inches long and, at 3,064 pounds, weighs slightly less than the CT 200h’s 3,130 pounds.
The comparison ends there. The Mazda is a popularly-priced compact, also available as a four-door sedan, with gasoline engines, while the CT 200h is a hatchback-only small luxury car with a much higher price and an electric-gasoline hybrid system connected to a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT).
In its realm, there is nothing like the CT 200h. Though it uses the same hybrid setup as the Prius, it is unlikely anyone will associate the two. The Prius has sloping torpedo-body styling that cheats the wind slightly better than the CT 200h. That, along with other engineering differences, gives the Prius an EPA city/highway fuel economy rating of 51/48 miles to the gallon, compared to the 43/40 of the chunkier CT 200h.Despite that and the higher price tag, the CT 200h comes across as more desirable than the Prius in many respects and, if resource conservation is a priority, is a better choice than other entry-level luxury cars.
Among other things, it is more conventional. Where the Prius has a plethora of gauges and digital readouts that inform and emphasize the car’s hybrid underpinnings, the CT 200h is more understated, like a standard automobile.
It also goes about its business in typical Lexus luxury fashion, barely intruding on the driver’s consciousness. It accelerates and passes smoothly and without fuss, and handles capably in the corners.
But the CT 200h is no tire-smoker, with an acceleration time of slightly less than 10 seconds from rest to 60 miles an hour and a top speed of 113. Its gasoline engine and electric motor deliver 134 horsepower.
That, of course, is with both motors working in tandem. Like the Prius and other hybrids from Toyota, the CT 200h can be driven on electric power alone, though only slowly for about a mile.
There are four driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. But there’s not a huge difference among the first three. EV enhances the electric-only driving and Eco focuses on fuel economy. The other two are most likely to be used to reduce low-performance frustration, and any of the modes will default to the Sports setting if you simply mash the accelerator pedal.
Luxurious touches abound, including new soft-touch vinyl upholstery, called Nu Luxe, which rivals leather in look and feel. Heated seats and a motorized sunroof are included on the $31,775 Premium model.
If you must have it, leather is an option, along with navigation and a backup camera, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a memory driver’s seat and heated outside mirrors. Of course, the CT also has full safety equipment, including stability and traction control.
The CT 200h offers an optional pre-collision safety system (PCS), along with adaptive cruise control, which automatically maintains a distance from the car ahead. When sensors detect an imminent collision, the seatbelts tighten and the driver gets both visual and aural warnings. When the driver hits the brakes, the system supplements the braking effort. If the driver does not brake, the PCS will automatically apply the brakes to lessen the impact.With the PCS, dynamic cruise control, navigation, an upgraded audio system and LED headlights, the tested CT 200h Premium had a suggested price of $38,395.
Future Note: Down the road, the CT 200h also may be available as a plug-in hybrid. Toyota has about 500 copies of its Prius plug-in out for evaluation. Its lithium-ion battery pack can be recharged in about three hours from a conventional outlet. The electric-only range is about 13 miles, though it’s quite a bit less in severe conditions like cold weather. But if you take short trips and charge in between, you use very little gasoline. It will go on sale in 2012.