by Brad Leach - 06/10/11
Lexus CT 200h is a game-changer for the game-changing prestige brand. As a premium compact hybrid it has no direct rivals.
But overlooking the drivetrain for a second, the CT 200h is a game-changer for other significant reasons. Here is a Lexus, with all the acknowledged Lexus qualities, and after-sale customer pampering (such as Lexus Encore and Drivercare), with a starting price under $40,000 ($39,990 for the Prestige model).
Yep, Lexus CT 200h buyers enjoy the same privileges as those who slap-down $252,244 for the 600hl limousine.
Car Showroom has just spent a week in the sporty Lexus CT 200h – the F Sport model. The Lexus CT 200h F Sport gets some chassis tweaking, exterior enhancements including unique wheels, and a rear-view camera amongst its extras.
All that and you still get change from $50K ($49,900).
Technically a small car, the Lexus CT 200h is verging on mid-size and thanks to clever design provides interior space more in-line with a mid-size vehicle.
Now well known, the Hybrid Synergy Drive system remains impressive technology. Capable of pure electric running at speeds up to 45km/h (and always in reverse), the Lexus CT 200h returns fuel economy of 4.1l/100kms (combined cycle) which in anybody’s book is impressive.
The system comprises an Atkinson cycle 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and two electric motors. All-up power is 100kW (73kw from the petrol engine at 5200rpm) and peak torque is 142Nm at 4400rpm.
One electric motor is basically a generator as well as the starter motor for the petrol engine while the second, 60kW, electric powerplant doubles as a generator during regenerative braking.
Drive is to the front wheels via a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission.
The Lexus CT 200h is lively when pushed (zero to 100km/h in 10.3 seconds) and remains supremely quiet at all speeds.
As the newest member of the Lexus family in Australia, the CT 200h interior design is more modern than its stablemates and provides clues to future looks for Lexus (as seen in the all-new GS model, just launched in North America).
The instrument cluster reflects the hybrid drivetrain with excellent graphics relaying information about battery charge and drive modes (for example, in ‘ECO’ mode there is no tachometer for the petrol engine). Like the similar Toyota Prius, there is lots of information available to assist fuel-efficient driving.
Seating is excellent, the nice, sporty three-spoke steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach and we found the compact gear-lever a nice touch – its small design affording a clever centre console layout.
The Car Showroom juniors enjoyed plenty of legroom in the back and our weekend trip north was easily accomplished thanks to the 375-litre luggage compartment (985-litre with the 60/40 split-fold rear seat folded).
Naturally – as a Lexus – the CT 200h provided a quality look and feel inside.
The Lexus CT 200h has an impressive on-road stature that belies its small car dimensions. Wide and low and with distinctive style around the rear three-quarters, the CT 200 looks like no other Lexus.
In fact, the first Lexus small car debuts a new front grille with design cues likely to be seen in future models. Lexus fans will also notice a subtle re-design of the ‘L’ logo on the grille – again this is the first appearance of what will be a brand-wide new badge.
Aerodynamics got special attention – noticeable with the distinctive edges of the front spoiler and around the rear window (which is sharply curved for a unique look).
The F Sport model as tested is identifiable by its dark-coloured 10-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels.
As well as our normal test procedures, we loaded the Lexus CT 200h F Sport with the family and accoutrements for a long weekend trip from Melbourne to Echuca on the Murray River – now that will test the luggage capacity of any car. Despite all those kilometres we only once refilled the CT 200h during the week we had it – sort of the point of hybrids really.
Talking fuel consumption, although we didn’t drive light-footed we easily bettered 5.0l/100kms on the freeway.
Lexus introduced changes to the suspension bushes and rubber mountings for the Lexus CT 200h after initial criticism of early-build examples. Lexus CT 200h runs a clever suspension system with front MacPherson struts and rear trailing-arm double wishbone design with an integrated stabilizer bar bracket for the rear 23mm-diamter bar.
The F Sport model tested (and range-topping Sport Luxury) gains unique calibration of springs and shocks plus front and rear gas-pressurized sport dampers which work like cross braces to reduce body flex in high-speed cornering.
Over our high-speed mountain roads loop (the F Sport model in ‘Sport’ mode for better throttle response) the Lexus CT 200h F Sport scored highly with its poise and balance. Grip levels from the Yokohama rubber also impressed.
Of course, around town the Lexus CT 200h was a delight - very maneuverable and capable of running emissions-free in ‘EV’ mode. In fact our city peak-hour crawling was all done in ‘EV’ – and that’s the benefit of hybrids.
Rear three-quarter parking required judgment due to the thick C-pillar and curved back window which are part of the Lexus CT 200h’d design, but the F Sport’s standard reversing camera (images displayed in the satellite navigation screen) eased things.
We did deduct some points for road noise. Overall, as you would expect, the Lexus CT 200h is a quiet place to be, but tyre noise is noticeable when the road surface changes and on coarse chip roads country roads (like those we covered around the Murray River).
When steering wheel paddle shifters first appeared many thought they were a gimmick…now we go looking for them and in the case of the Lexus CT200h F Sport, they’re not there.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the Lexus CVT automatic – it’s one of the best CVTs we’ve driven. But when pressing on through the twisty stuff in the CT 200h’s sporty model a manual swap of cogs would enhance the dynamics.
We’re fans of the combined driving dynamics/planet-friendliness of hybrids and the Lexus/Toyota Hybrid Drive system is well-sorted and works well. In that context, the Lexus CT 200h is a car for our time – premium features and feel with available zero emissions and overall fuel consumption of just 4.1l/100kms.
The F Sport model is a natural extension for those who like a bit more sportiness in the looks and driving dynamics of their vehicle. Sure, at the limit it’s not an ‘M’ or ‘AMG’ rival, but the Lexus CT 200h F Sport is still agile, responsive and a great looker
And, priced below $50K you get a whole lot of car and technology.
Well there are no other prestige small cars with hybrid drivetrains. And the Lexus CT 200h boasts an impressive list of standard inclusions which are optional on many conventional rivals.
But there are some excellent prestige small cars – BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 to start with.
And Mercedes-Benz has just unveiled the all-new B-Class in Europe.
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