Driven: 2011 Lexus CT200h

Written by Justin Hasan on .

Hybrid Luxury in a Compact Package

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Hybrids are seemingly everywhere these days. Despite accounting for only about 2 percent of new car sales per year in Canada, no automaker can afford to ignore this growing segment as consumers demand better fuel efficiency as a result of soaring gas prices.

Few marques have supported hybrid vehicles as enthusiastically as Lexus. Launched earlier this spring, the CT 200h is the fifth hybrid to crack the lineup of Toyota’s luxury brand, the most of any premium brand.

Positioned as a ‘gateway’ car in the line, Lexus claims the CT is the most fuel-efficient luxury vehicle in Canada. Firmly aimed at customers with green credentials at top of mind – young, environmentally-conscious professionals – Lexus hopes to capture these buyers with the CT and gradually move them up through its line of larger (and more profitable) hybrids.

Inside the CT200h. Photo by Lee BailieThe CT does share some technology with other Toyota products, so its underpinnings are proven. It rides on a platform (Toyota MC) and uses an engine (1.8 litre VVT-i inline 4-cylinder) found in the Matrix and Corolla, and its hybrid system (Lexus Hybrid Drive) is similar to the one used to power the Prius.

Mated to a CVT automatic transmission, the 1.8 litre engine is an Atkinson cycle mill that works in conjunction with an electric motor powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery. The combination cranks out a modest 134 horsepower, but produces nearly 70 per cent less smog forming emissions according to Lexus when the car is driven in its all-electric EV mode.

The electric motor works alone at start up, and at low speeds. Once the car gets moving, it works with the gas engine to propel the car, and also works to capture kinetic energy which is then delivered to the battery during regenerative braking. These functions are represented in a display on the lower right of the instrument cluster.

In addition to EV, the CT features three other driving modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. These modes are all controlled via a knob on the centre console, which changes the indicator in the instrument cluster and the colour of the ambient lighting: green for Eco, blue for Normal and red for Sport. Eco and Normal feature mode use a gauge that that measures the state of the hybrid system (ie- charging, etc.), while toggling over to Sport mode will give the driver an rpm gauge.

While it is positioned as an ‘entry level’ model, it’s still a Lexus so it comes well-equipped with dual zone automatic climate controls, satellite radio, an 8-way power driver seat and push button start on a long list of standard features.

For the Canadian market, the CT comes in its base form plus four additional trim levels. At the top of the line is where you’ll find units like our tester, which was equipped with a slew of techno-goodies thanks to the Technology Package.

Impressions

IMG_2262_optThe CT’s windswept, rakish looks came into sharp focus thanks to the gold metallic finish on our tester and looked good from all angles. It may not be a groundbreaking design, but in fairness to Lexus, the two-box hatchback configuration isn’t one that lends itself to great departures in design. With that said, we thought the CT’s look was handsome, albeit somewhat conservative.

Getting behind the wheel of the CT, one is immediately aware of its compact dimensions, but it didn’t feel too cramped and Lexus has done a good job of creating a driver-oriented cockpit that places everything within simple line of sight.

The NuLuxe seats may not be constructed of actual leather, but were just as comfortable and offered good support. As one would expect in a Lexus, the interior materials were of a high quality and everything seemed to fit together well.

The dash and centre stack in our tester featured the optional motorized navi screen and Remote Touch interface (both standard issue with the optional Technology Package), which is almost identical to a computer mouse, minus the scrolling wheel. In the place of a scrolling wheel, is a square toggle for moving through the functions on the navi. Once one gets the hang of using the Remote Touch, adjusting the car’s primary settings is dead simple. The dual zone automatic climate controls, located at near the stack’s midpoint were easy to adjust without becoming distracting.

The rest of the interior is well configured, and everything has been placed within easy reach. For a car with so much technology, there seemed to be relatively few knobs and switches, which was a pleasant surprise. The interior has a cleaner, more elegant look as a result, and the potential for distraction has been greatly reduced.

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Starting the car is accomplished via a dash-mounted push button located to the right of the steering wheel. The gear selector is located in a bit of an unusual position at the right of the steering wheel, sticking out of the centre stack below the climate controls. The shape and chrome finish give it the appearance of a nine iron, which took some getting used to, but it worked flawlessly.

On the road, the CT was smooth and quiet, especially on the highway. While it is certainly no track car, its performance in normal traffic was more than adequate. Toggling through the driving modes didn’t affect the car’s performance significantly, but throttle response was slightly improved in Sport mode, although passing in this car is best done with lots of clear track ahead.

The suspension – MacPherson struts up front and a double wishbone setup in the rear – felt well-sorted and nicely balanced. Tight turns were no problem in this car, and thanks to its small dimensions and back-up camera (another Technology Package feature) parking was straightforward.

IMG_2241_optOverall, the CT made for a comfortable cruiser with adequate, if not impressive performance. Occupants will certainly appreciate its style and comfort, and owners will definitely appreciate its miserly fuel consumption.

During the PRN test drive, the CT logged just under 600 kilometres (593 to be exact) on one tank of regular gas in a variety of driving circumstances using all four driving modes. We weren’t especially careful with our driving styles, so that number would undoubtedly improve with a more careful application of the accelerator and less use of Sport mode (our favourite setting, naturally).

Prospective buyers should also be impressed with what it cost us to fill the CT. It took just over $44 to fill the tank, despite the $1.28 per litre cost of gas. True, the tank isn’t the largest (45 litres), but that fill up number was about $12 less than what one of our editors pays to fill his four cylinder gas-powered compact every week. Also, the range on that car on a full tank is more than 100 kilometres less than what we observed with the CT. These numbers are by no means scientific, but they provide a real world example of the CT’s fuel efficiency.

All in all, the CT is an impressive addition to the Lexus lineup. Its performance isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off, but with a starting price at just under $31,000 (and just under $40,000 for the one pictured here), the price of admission may not be a bargain, but it is reasonably affordable.

With an impressive array of content, excellent fit and finish, and impressive fuel consumption numbers, the CT offers good value for those looking for enviromentally friendly luxury.

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