By Larry E. Hall
If you’ve decided your next vehicle will be a hybrid but you don’t want one that stands out like the Prius – and also wouldn’t mind increased luxury and fun to drive quotient – the 2012 Lexus CT 200h could be the one for you.
The CT 200h is Lexus’s fifth hybrid offering – the most of any automobile nameplate – and with a combined city-highway mileage of 42 mpg, it is the only vehicle in the luxury segment to top 40 mpg. Since coming on the market last year, while decidedly below the kingpin Prius in sales numbers, it has otherwise ranked relatively well.
Classified as a compact car, the CT (Compact Tourer) is the smallest Lexus at 170.1 inches long, 69.5 inches wide, and 56.7 inches tall. It is built on a version of the platform that also underpins the Scion tC, Toyota Corolla and the larger Lexus HS 250h.
Using the HS 250h’s rear double A-arms, the suspension has been retuned for sportier handling and features a Yamaha front and rear damping system that stiffens the structure and minimizes body vibration.
New For 2012
For 2012 the CT200h is available with two new option packages for the top-end Premium trim: the F-Sport Package and the F-Sport Special Edition. The F-Sport Package includes a tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels, an exclusive mesh grille, larger rear deck spoiler and F-Sport badging. Inside, extra touches include aluminum sport pedals, a leather-trimmed shift knob, metallic trim added to the dash panel and a black headliner.
The F-Sport Special Edition includes the F-Sport Package’s upgrades but with different wheels, Ocean Blue NuLuxe leatherette-trimmed seats, and a TUMI duffle bag and backpack with F-Sport logos. The F-Sport Special Edition production is limited to 900 cars.
Pricing for the CT 200h is unchanged for 2012.
Also new for 2012, all CT 200h models receive an audible pedestrian warning system. As federal regulators study warning sound devices eventually to be made mandatory for electric and hybrid vehicles, Lexus is doing what others are as well and bringing in its version early.
The warning system is designed to help make pedestrians to be aware of the presence of hybrid or electric vehicles traveling at low speeds on city streets and automatically turns off above a certain speed.
Pricing for the 2012 CT 200h is unchanged from 2011: $29,120 for the base model, $31,250 for the premium trim.
Under The Hood
The CT 200h is powered by a version of the Prius powertrain with an efficient Atkinson cycle 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 98 horsepower and 105 pounds-feet of torque. Combined with an 80-hp electric motor, a generator and a 202-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack, the series and parallel hybrid system produces a total of 134 hp. A continuously variable transmission (CVT), the only transmission available, directs the push to the front wheels.
Fuel Economy Or Fun?
The CT’s hybrid system features four driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. EV mode allows drivers to go all electric for up to a mile – as long as the car is kept below 25 mph on flat paved surfaces (think parking lots). Normal mode brings the CVT into play, allowing the car to respond to changing driving conditions by instantaneously adjusting its gear ratios. Eco mode alters that formula to provide maximized fuel economy for gas-electric driving – slowing cabin cooling, limiting throttle and accelerating battery charging. The Eco mode is where drivers are most likely to achieve the government’s estimated 43 mpg city and 40 mpg highway fuel mileage.
Eco mode offers maximum fuel economy.
The “touring” personality of the car is introduced with the Sport mode which is calibrated toward performance and handling. In this setting, the throttle is cranked up considerably, power control from the battery is increased from 500 to 600 volts and the CT’s electric power steering is adjusted to be more responsive. To liven things up a bit, the stability and traction control systems become less intrusive.
These adjustments obviously cut into fuel economy, but much of the pleasure of owning a car like this isn’t so much the extra performance it provides in all driving situations, but the knowledge that it’s there when you’re in the mood for it.
Does this new system live up to Lexus’s claim that with the CT, “fun-to-drive and hybrid can be used in the same sentence?” Motor Trend’s test drive says, “Lexus quotes a 0-to-60 time identical to the Prius at 9.8 seconds. Despite the not-so-sporty times, no amount of flogging by us journalist types during the drive could get the indicated fuel economy under 34 mpg. Not bad.” The magazine also commented, “The most remarkable thing about the CT 200h is how easy it is to forget that you’re driving a hybrid. Regardless of driving mode, transitions to and from electric power and gasoline power are so seamless that you simply forget they’re happening. Power is plenty adequate in most situations, but can leave you wanting when passing or climbing hills.” Car and Driver reports that, “We think the CT has a nicely balanced chassis, although it is difficult to tell because the stability control kills the fun before any mirth has a chance to materialize, and there’s little power with which to modulate the car’s cornering attitude.”
Exterior And Interior
Placing a big back door instead of a trunk on a small car doesn’t seem very Lexus-like, but the CT 200h was designed for Europe where luxury five-door hatchbacks are becoming a large segment of the market. The question is, will the CT sell in Peoria? After all, American automotive history is awash with hatchbacks that didn’t make it, like the short-lived Lexus IS 300 Sportcross.
In its favor, the CT 200h has strong visual links to the LF-Ch concept Lexus unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. Athletic styling is highlighted by a slightly raked roofline, while the eye-catching details include the character line streaming down its side and the crease above the rocker panel. In the front, sharp contour lines add extra dimension to the sculpted hood while deeply recessed fog lights give it an aggressive look. In back, the unique-to-Lexus rear-access door straddles the line between hatchback and wagon and has a small, stylish lip that runs through the middle of the liftgate. In true hybrid fashion, the CT has impressive aerodynamics with a coefficient of drag at 0.29, just behind the Prius’s 0.25.
Like the outside, the CT’s cabin also plays off the LF-Ch concept with a two-tiered dash. While the design is untypically stylish for Lexus, it is somewhat spoiled by a drive selector lever that is standard Toyota hybrid equipment and not very sporty in appearance. Switchgear is familiar Lexus offerings, meaning the tactile feel is quality and substance. Of note, when the Sport mode is selected, illumination of the instrument panel changes from blue to red and the left Eco gauge changes to a tachometer.
As for the interior, Popular Mechanics commented, “Drivers will appreciate the CT 200h’s low seating position, rakish steering angle, and fat steering wheel, all of which are decidedly un-Prius-like.” Conversely, Motor Trend had some rather unkind words about the interior design: “The overall design of the dash is unconventional and brings to mind the cockpit of a jet airliner, but it looks as though Lexus has simply dropped in parts wherever they fit with little thought to aesthetics.”
Lexus did a credible job of carving as much space as possible in a compact car. The driver and front seat passenger will find comfortable seating positions and those in back, well, it’s a compact. The 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold forward, providing a flat cargo floor. A retractable cargo cover provides privacy in back, and there’s plenty of room behind the backseat for a week’s worth of groceries. This is the first Lexus equipped with faux leather that the automaker calls “NuLuxe.” Real cowhide is available as an option.
To compete in the compact luxury class Lexus has equipped the CT with all of the desired standard features: keyless entry with touch sensors on exterior front door handles; dual-zone climate control; cruise control; steering-wheel audio controls; heated seats; Bluetooth for phone and music streaming; USB/iPod connectivity; and a six speaker audio system with a CD player. There’s a magnum load of options that can push the $29,120 starting price beyond $40,000: LED headlamps with washers; rain-sensing wipers; dynamic cruise control; backup camera; and a navigation system that uses a mouse-like controller. Surprisingly, the Mark Levinson audio system is missing from the options list.
The expected safety gear includes eight air bags, anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, electronic stability control and traction control.
If you recognize the sensibleness of the hatchback design and want the amenities that the luxury class offers, the CT 200h might work, but a more sporty alternative to consider is Audi’s A3.
The Audi’s TDI clean diesel has an output of 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque that serves up 42 mpg on the highway – 3 mpg better than the CT 200h. However, its 30 mpg city rating is 13 mpg less for city driving. Starting at $30,250, the additional $1,130 may be worth it if performance and handling are important considerations.
Or, if most of your driving is in town and a hatchback just isn’t your style, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid should be on your-cars-to-test- drive list. Yes, the $34,755 base price is $5,600 more, but its 41 mpg city (only 36 highway) is close to the CT’s and the MKZ has more room inside, is more comfortable and has way more cargo space.
Then again, there’s the Prius V. Starting at $26,400, it’s a hatchback, has more interior room and offers something the CT doesn’t have, light-emitting diode (LED) headlamps and foglamps. It may not be as sporty as the Lexus, but it does offer something else not available on the CT, the cachet of the Prius nameplate.
Prices are Manufacture Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of writing and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.
The comments posted below were posted after this article was originally posted in March 2010.