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2011 Lexus CT 200h Introduction

The 2011 Lexus CT 200h is an all-new five-door hatchback, or compact wagon, powered by a hybrid gas-electric powertrain. As with the Toyota Prius, you do not plug this car in. Instead, you fill the tank with gas. It’s propelled at times by both the electric motor and its four-cylinder engine, but at low speeds can run in electric-only mode.

The CT 200h is the fifth Lexus hybrid, and it’s the smallest. The CT 200h powertrain is taken from the Prius.

The Lexus CT 200h looks like no other Lexus, except from the front. It’s quite an attractive car, with smooth and flowing lines, from the contours on the hood up to the long roofline and straight back to the spoiler with a cool little lip over the muscular liftgate. The details of the design, trim and wheels are flawless.

The CT 200h is actually 4 inches shorter than the Prius, or the same overall length as the Audi A3 wagon. Its shape looks more European than Japanese, and its profile from all angles is very similar to that of the Audi. The coefficient of drag is a low 0.29, as much of the aero design was decided by wind tunnel testing.

Inside is a comfortable driving seat and a cozy cabin. The driving position was designed to enable easy access to the instrument panel and center stack, which is sloped at about a 45-degree angle. We found everything easy to reach. The steering wheel is slightly flat-bottomed, making climbing in and out a little easier. Rear-seat legroom is tight and cargo space is average for a compact sedan, but small for a hatch. The view rearward is restricted, so we recommend the rearview camera that comes with the optional navigation package.

You can get real leather if you need it, in black or beige, but standard equipment is a Lexus material we like called NuLuxe that’s cheaper and friendlier to the environment, and probably nobody will ever notice it’s not leather. Interior trim can be matte wood, silver metallic or bamboo. Still thinking of the environment, much of the plastic on the CT 200h is vegetable based.

Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 43 mpg City, 40 mpg Highway. During our daylong test, which included around-town cruising, a hard charge up a curvy mountain road, and 75-mph running on the freeway, we averaged 30.1 mpg. Other drivers got 30-35 mpg that day. Meanwhile, we watched the instantaneous fuel mileage, indicating that 40 mpg would take highly conscientious driving, with a very light foot.

With the Prius powertrain, the CT 200h makes 98 horsepower from the 1.8-liter Atkinson Cycle gas engine and 80 hp 60 (kW) from the generator, for a total of 134 hp. That’s not much, and 0-60 acceleration time of 9.8 seconds, a lethargic pace, and same as the Prius, reflects that. A driver may be lured into treating the car in a sporty manner, but the small engine and electronically controlled continuously variable transmission cannot respond to that urge.

We were surprised and delighted to discover the CT 200h handles very well. The handling is wonderful, spirited and secure around corners. Ride quality is very good. We drove hard over a section of road with a lot of lumpy tar patches, and our Lexus took them in stride. The other keys to this impressive balance are a high level of torsional rigidity, a double-wishbone rear suspension, a low center of gravity, a centralized moment of inertia, and sophisticated performance dampers. The CT 200h benefits from a tight turning circle: It can make a U-turn in just 34.2 feet, so city driving will be a breeze. The brakes are firm, too.

It’s very quiet inside the cabin; at 75 mph on the freeway you can’t hear the engine at all. But it growls and works when you’re accelerating to 50 mph, for which you need at least Normal mode, unless you have all day. Eco mode is good to an easy 25 mph. An EV model allows all-electric operation at low speeds for short distances, so you’re not burning gas in heavy traffic. A new Braking mode uses deceleration forces to help recharge the battery more quickly.

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