Lexus built its excellent reputation by offering uncompromising luxury and reliability, but in recent years has bolstered its green image, too by offering a variety of gasoline/electric hybrid models. And with this CT200h, Lexus is breaking with conventional hybrid wisdom to showcase what it calls the darker side of greenâ€¦ a standalone hybrid with both luxury and sporting intentions. But can one car do it all?
The 2011 Lexus CT 200h hatchback is the luxury brand's second compact hybrid car, joining the HS 250h sedan that arrived last year. And the CT's styling reflects its Euro intensions, with a rakish look that's part touring car racer and part 80s hair-metal guitar.
The front end wears a muscular Lexus nose that hugs the ground like a slammed Civic. A taut roofline, climbing belt line, and sweeping character lines highlight the profile. While the tail mixes sharp roof spoiler, insect-eye taillights, and chunky fascia with racy cooling vents.
Under this speedy exterior, the CT 200h shares its basic MC chassis with the HS, Prius, Corolla, but also the Scion tC. In this shortened, beefed up edition the CT sports a concise 102.4-inch wheelbase and 170.1-inch length. Also like the tC, the CT rides on a front strut and rear double-wishbone suspension, backed up by rebound springs and lateral damping to absorb body vibration and reduce chassis flex. 17-inch alloys are standard, with stickier sport tires an option.
The sleek, weight-saving aluminum hood hides a Prius Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain. The 98-horsepower 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle I4 gas engine, and 60-kilowatt electric motor, have a combined output of 134 horsepower. The more powerful 2.4-liter system in the HS is too big for a compact in Europe.
Being a full hybrid, the CT delivers great Government Fuel Economy Ratings of 43 city, and 40 highway. Our test was spot on at 40.3 using regular gas. Likewise, the CT has a compact carbon footprint of 4.5 and Energy Impact Score of 8.2 barrels of oil per year.
Driver's can select Normal, EV, Eco, and Sport modes, with the later adding more responsive throttle and steering, and less intrusion from stability and traction controls. Sport also transforms the gauge cluster's hybrid power indicator into a tachometer, and instrument lighting switches from blue to red.
With our test drivers seeing red, the CT still took a leisurely 10.2 seconds from 0 to 60, with the quarter mile passing in 17.6 seconds at 78 miles-per-hour. Acceptable for a Prius, but hardly up to the CT's racy image. The CVT transmission works fine, though. At full throttle, drivetrain noise is loud for a Lexus. While the CT is no sports car in a straight line, it does offer some pleasant surprises when you hit the curves.
The feel is definitely more Scion tC, with a tight character, minimal front push, and only modest body roll. The electric power steering is quick and precise, though it could use more feedback. In daily driving, the CT is also more entertaining on both twisty roads and in fast moving traffic than other five-seat hybrids. Yes, it is a lot more fun to drive than a Prius.
But what about the luxury side of the CT? Well, you pay for above-hybrid average handling with a taut ride that gets uncomfortable over broken pavement. Granted, the CT 200h is luxury car equipped. Standards include dual-zone automatic climate, CD audio with Bluetooth, satellite radio, USB and media ports, and auxiliary steering wheel controls. Our Premium trimmed car included Navigation, with both voice command, and the Lexus Remote Touch controller.
But the CT's seating gave us pause. The narrow front buckets did not provide us with anything close to luxury car comfort, even with 10-way power adjustment including lumbar. The NuLuxe, eco-friendly imitation leather looked inexpensive, and made us wish for the real cowhide option.
The front passenger seat is worst with only manual controls and minimal lower back support. Rear seat room is tight, too if you're over 5-foot-10, and again, surfaces are hard. The seatback is split and does fold for convenience. Even with seats up, cargo space is a healthy 14.3 cubic-feet.
The Lexus CT200h is economical and fairly sporty to drive. Where it comes up short is on luxury. The front seats are hard, and there's minimal lower back support for the front passenger. That's surprising because long distance comfort is what a luxury car is all about.
Pricing for the Lexus CT 200h starts at $29,995, and rises to $31,775 for the Premium grade. But watch those options or you'll quickly find yourself north of 40-grand. The 2011 Lexus CT 200h is not the true Euro-bred, sport-luxury hybrid that we were hoping for, but it is a step in the right direction. With Lexus moving to introduce even more hybrids, we expect their next darker shade of green to be of a much richer hue.
Engine: 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle I4 gas engine 60-kilowatt electric motor
0-60 mph: 10.2 seconds
1/4 mile: 17.6 seconds @ 78 mph
EPA: 43 mpg city/ 40 mpg highway
Mixed Loop: 40.3 mpg
Energy Impact: 4.5 barrels oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 8.2 tons/yr