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2011 Lexus CT 200h First Impressions Review

Friday October 29th, 2010 at 5:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By Contributing Editor David Colman

Pros:

  • A hybrid car to match your different moods (or modes)
  • Thoroughbred inspired tuned racing suspension
  • Function and utility of a hatchback

Cons:

  • Back seat comfort was left off the drawing board
  • 0 – 60 time of 9.8 seconds is no better than a Prius


Has Lexus gone all New Age-y on us? You betcha. Call the new CT 200h the Lexus Mood Ring. Dash illumination swaps colors depending on your driving mood. Feel relaxed enough to stay in the slow lane, save gas (42 MPG) while saving the planet? Just twirl the oversize dash knob to Normal, EV or ECO Mode and the CT200h will trundle along at a leisurely pace, with buffered steering and throttle responses leading to a Zen driving experience. Lexus sets the mood for this mode by placing a Hybrid System Indicator gauge to the left of the speedometer. Knowing Eco Status helps assuage carbon footprint guilt. Best of all, whenever you select the Normal/EV/ECO position, all cabin spot lighting, gauge illumination and knob identification shines blue for “Serenity.”

Feeling a bit antsy and aggressive? Then flip the Mode knob to the Sport position and the System Indicator gauge miraculously disappears, replaced by a 7,000rpm tachometer, now illuminated in red, along with red spot lights and dial backgrounds on the dash. Selection of Sport Mode is more than illusory, however, because the Power Control Unit (PCU) that apportions power from the electric motor/combustion engine combination that propels the CT200h is now set to favor red performance over blue lethargy. Entering a turn in Performance Mode, the PCU keeps the engine revving higher in order to enhance engine braking efficiency and platform balance prior to clipping an apex. At corner exit, the PCU keeps the revs higher while Traction Control reduces understeer.

normal, sport, and EV driving modes

In the real world, all this computerized wizardry works remarkably well. When you swap Normal/EV/ECO Mode for Sport, you can definitely feel the difference on the fly. When the CT is running as a blue light special, the 3,130 pound hatchback behaves like a soul-less appliance, not demanding much attention, barely providing enough impetus to keep you awake. But swap that Mode switch to red, and the CT perks up like a thoroughbred waking from a nap. We found out just how good the CT’s reflexes are in red Mode during a two hour drive through the mountains ringing Palm Springs. Although the combined gas/electric motors of the CT make only 140 hp, that output is adequate for sport driving thanks to the stiffness of the CT’s heavily reinforced and gusseted 64,000 PSI hi-strength steel chassis. Abetting platform stability is a nifty set of strut tower braces front and rear which contain hydraulic dampers within the brace. These 290 PSI Nitrogen Gas stiffeners insure the CT remains stable through severe bends.

Heavy components, such as the Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack, have been kept low in the chassis to reduce the CT’s center of gravity and optimize cornering posture. As a result, the CT in Sport Mode puts its low rolling resistance 215/50R17 Michelin MXM4 tires to the test on switchbacks. Although the CT, even in Sport Mode, only turns in a 0-60mph time of 9.8 seconds, it still qualifies as a legit sport sedan thanks to its innate stiffness and outstanding suspension tune.

Lexus CT 200h interior

In terms of quality, and comfort, this new entry-level Lexus is something of a mixed bag. Lexus has slipped from 6th to 9th place in the just-announced Consumer Reports Reliability Survey rankings. Although the front compartment of the CT achieves Lexus status in terms of fit and finish, there are a few sticking points for back seat passengers. Access to the aft compartment is impeded by the rear fender dogleg, the seats are too upright for comfort, legroom is negligible with tall front seat occupants, and no central rear ventilation is provided. The best thing about the back seats is that they fold flat enough to convert the CT into a mini station wagon.

With an expected buyer median age of 30-40, the CT will bring a lot of fresh blood into Lexus showrooms. Sixty percent of the anticipated 12,000 new yearly customers will come from other brands, which should lead to a Scion-like re-invigoration of Lexus showrooms. The CT 200h goes on sale in March, 2011.

By the Numbers

  • 2011 LEXUS CT 200h
  • ENGINE: 1.8 liter gasoline engine mated to Lexus Hybrid Drive System
  • HORSEPOWER: 134hp
  • TORQUE: 142 lb-ft @ 4,000rpm (Engine Only)
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION: 42 CITY MPG/41 HIGHWAY MPG
  • PRICE: N/A

###

David Colman has been writing vehicle tests for 24 years. His work has been featured in AutoWeek, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and Marin Independent Journal. In 1987, he helped start Excellence, The Magazine About Porsche, which he edited for many years. He has been an active participant in racing and Solo events since 1961. More car reviews written by Colman can be found at www.autoeditor.com

6 Responses to 2011 Lexus CT 200h First Impressions Review

  1. Derek says:

    Pricing for the CT 200h was announced today. MSRP is $29,120 + $875 for the destination charge.

    MSRP for the Prius V (highest trim level with the most goodies) is $28,070 + $670 destination charge.

  2. francois says:

    I’m sorry, this car is beautiful. It’s a 4 door hatchback hybrid. Done deal.

    You guys are missing the point. I appreciate the Prius but I will never buy one because I hate that egg and its symbolic statement. I want a hatchback. 4-door is a bonus. It’s about form and utility.

    How much is this car? All this info is useless without the price.

  3. Derek says:

    @Peter – if you are referring to the Lexus HS 250h, then I agree that car missed its target by a margin bigger than Walmart store. Underpowered, overpriced, and lacking any real character.

    With market research projecting a 400% growth in the luxury hybrid market, expect to see a lot of new entries hitting the market over the next three years — good and bad. Has anyone seen the Cayenne Hybrid, yet?

  4. Peter Anastopulos says:

    This CT 200 is certain to be a failure. Since the HR is already on heavy discount and is considered for elimination .I don’t care what gimmicks you through at it and what youth market you are intriguing .The economy is bad and this needed to be a Toyota not a Lexus.Lexus is already battered as geriatric and uncool .The only movement is in the RX which for reasons beyond me is popular of Sarah Palin loving Soccer Moms .This would have worked as a baby RX on the Nissan Juke type concept but this looks to Scion like and those pie in the sky pricing Lexus does. Don’t expect this concept to be around for long because in the end it’s just ugly.

  5. Derek says:

    The hybrid luxury car market is projected to grow 400% over the next few years and Toyota/Lexus is in a good position to introduce new hybrid cars since the Prius became the de facto standard for all hybrids.

    Bottomline: the CT 200h is a nice fit for people who want a hatchback with a little more pizazz than a Prius.

  6. Twain says:

    This looks pretty cool. Is this essentially the Lexus 4door interpretation of the Honda CR-Z?





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