2011 Lexus CT 200h: First Drive Page 3

October 31, 2010
Obviously, the switchgear in the CT is familiar Lexus material and mostly impresses; unfortunately, there are a few little details that scream out parts-bin—like the old-style LCD display on the base sound system, which doesn't match the font or display used for climate control; and the chrome shift lever, which seemed to be magnet for smudges. And the more we use Remote Touch—a computer-mouse-like controller that requires you to keep your eyes on the screen for the entire time you're making a selection—the more we wish for either a touch screen, touchpad, or a controller that has tactile feedback. The delicate plastic used atop the center console also felt a little hollow and possibly scratch-prone.

The Big Gulp Brigade has been shunned

Lexus has done a great job incorporating lots of small cubbies—including a shallow tray, along with a deeper but smaller one that's great for setting smart phones on end. Just a couple of inches away are a USB input and power plug, located under a small door (unfortunately, you can't hide a device inside the center console, but it's convenient). Perhaps, a hint that the CT wasn't originally planned for the North American market, there are NO cupholders for backseat passengers. Front seats, however, have two cupholders in the center console plus indentations in the doors good for cans. None of them are Big Gulp size but we don't imagine that will disappoint the Lexus crowd too much.

The rest of the interior feels a step up from lower-priced hatchbacks; a padded material with exposed stitching covers the instrument panel as well as the side of the center console, and the driver's knee—or at least for most adult-sized drivers—rests beside the center console, rather than on it as in the HS, and it feels easier to find a natural driving position. Thankfully, the beltline isn't too high, so even shorter drivers will have a good view out ahead over the hood, as well as to the side; what's more, we found rearward vision to be surprisingly good, despite those thick rear pillars—in part, because you're down at traffic level.

Largely due to its more fashionable roofline and wider rubber, the CT doesn't quite hit Prius levels of aerodynamic efficiency (it's Cd is 0.29, versus the Prius's 0.25), but we didn't notice any wind noise; Lexus has included extensive lower-body aero shielding. Versus the Prius, the CT also has added noise and vibration insulation for the engine, and compared with what Lexus considers chief rivals (the Volvo C30, BMW 1-Series and Audi A3 are included), the CT is quieter both inside and out at full throttle, the automaker says.

All the safety features that are expected in an entry luxury vehicle come in the CT—and that includes stability control, anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist, and eight standard airbags (including knee bags for both front occupants). A Pre-Collision Safety System is available.

Tech-savvy feature set takes aim at Gen X/Y

The CT isn't lacking in standard features either. Lexus appears to have hit all the commonly desired features—including plenty for those younger, more tech-savvy shoppers. Bluetooth hands-free calling and audion support is standard; so is full iPod control, XM Satellite Radio, a Smart Access system with push-button start, and the Lexus Safety Connect emergency and concierge system. Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, and steering-wheel audio controls are also included.

There's plenty of potential for options, and we predict that choosing liberally from the list will drive the CT's sub-$30,000 base sticker price up over the $40k mark. Possibilities include LED headlamps with washers, a power moonroof, heated front seats, an in-mirror backup camera, rain-sensing wipers, and a couple of substantial packages that bundle premium audio with a moonroof and/or hard-drive based navigation. Nav systems also include the Lexus Enform information system. A device holder for iPhones and the like is on the way, as are several F-Sport performance accessories.

So do we like the CT? In short: yes, very much—and even though the Honda CR-Z offers a manual gearbox, we'd rather be driving the Lexus for its better handling, better ride, and very functional design. You get almost all of the benefits of the Prius—including a hybrid-exclusive shape, without the Prius's aversion to corners.

On the second try with a compact hybrid, we think Lexus has a winner here. Especially in base form, the CT should represent a strong value—both as a way of entering the Lexus brand and as an exciting new green icon.

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