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Forget the Lexus HS 250h that was introduced last year; it seems that Lexus might actually like you to. The new 2011 Lexus CT 200h is a much better car overall that wears its very purpose on its sleeve: Appeal to Gen X and Gen Y with an sporty, tech-savvy, and eco-conscious entry luxury model, and appeal to Prius owners who want to step up to something hybrid, but something sportier and different.
In profile, the CT is somewhat related to the Prius but doesn't have much in common with the HS and is a completely different car than Toyota's Matrix hatchback. Compared to the Matrix, the CT is lower and more aggressive looking than you might imagine; the closest product to compare it to in size, profile, and styling cues is the MazdaSpeed3. Inside the Lexus has a design that's more upscale in look and feel than any of those other non-luxury hatches. The instrument panel is somewhat low-set, with horizontal creases and a thick center console—truly a hybrid interior design pairing a cockpit feel with an airy design.
The 2011 Lexus CT 200h borrows the basics from the 2011 Prius, combines a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with a 650-volt (battery peak 36-hp) electric motor system, altogether making 134 horsepower, but mates it with slightly different electronic controls that make the powertrain feel a bit sportier. A Sport mode changes the feel of the steering and allows the system's full 650 volts of assist at partial throttle. Overall, while the CT doesn't drive quite like lux hot hatches like the Audi A3 or Volvo C30, it's hands down the sportiest-handling compact hybrid. And it looks like it will deliver the sort of fuel economy that no-compromises Gen X and Gen Y buyers expect—likely well above the 40-mpg mark for many drivers.
Just as in the Prius, the hybrid powertrain combines a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with a 650-volt (battery peak 36-hp) electric motor system, altogether making 134 horsepower, and as you nudge the little Prius-style shift lever over and down to 'D' and get underway, it doesn't feel particularly energetic or pulse-raising. Learn to ignore the little Eco gauge and the not at all sporty protestations of the engine and put your right foot into it a little more, and it's more promising.
Below the sound system there's a dial. Twist it to the left and you enter Eco mode, which has muted throttle responses and limits drive voltage (except under full throttle) to 500 volts. Press the controller to return to Normal, or if you're the target customer for the CT you'll probably like Sport mode, which reduces power-steering assist, provides a more aggressive tip in and throttle calibration, and brings a peak electric-motor boost of 650 volts even at partial throttle. If you're going to Sport, from Eco or Norm, the projected face of the analog Eco gauge at the left of the gauge cluster changes and it becomes a tachometer; and just to remind you, the color projected down onto the gauge cluster changes from blue to red.
The CT is about four inches shorter in wheelbase than the Prius and about five and nearly six inches shorter overall, but somehow Lexus has delivered a surprisingly roomy interior, thanks to a very well thought out seating position. In the CT 200h, you sit low, which not only brings a feeling of more space but a sportier driving feel. Just as in other hatches, you can fold the back seats flat for more cargo space.
Feature-wise, Lexus has also positioned this one well for the younger set, offering commonly desired tech features like Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, full iPod control, XM Satellite Radio, keyless ignition, and Lexus Safety Connect all standard. Options include LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, or the Lexus Enform information and nav system; and a line of F-Sport performance and appearance accessories will be on offer at dealerships.
- Pert, aggressive hot-hatch profile
- Responsive handling
- Great seating/driving position
- Tech-savvy feature set
- Excellent real-world mpg
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- Lack of Big Gulp cupholders [or is that a like?]
- Not so Lexus-like on some cabin details
- Acceleration can feel sluggish