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2012 Lexus CT 200h Introduction

The Lexus CT 200h is a five-door hatchback powered by a hybrid gas-electric powertrain taken from the Toyota Prius.

You do not plug this car in, you fill the tank with gas. It’s propelled at times by both the electric motor and its four-cylinder engine, but at very low speeds it can run in electric-only mode for very short periods of time. The CT 200h gets great gas mileage, achieving an EPA-estimated 43 mpg City, 40 mpg Highway.

The 2012 Lexus CT 200h F Sport has slightly firmer shocks, but after that it’s aesthetic: black leather, dark racy 17-inch alloy wheels, mesh grilles, big rear spoiler, aluminum pedals, perforated leather steering wheel, titanium-gray metal instrument panel trim, and F Sport badging.

The CT 200h is 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 determined by wind tunnel testing.

Borne of a hatchback, the CT 200h looks like no other Lexus, from the sides and rear. It makes boxy look stylish, 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.

Inside, the cabin is cozy with a comfortable driver’s seat. Everything is easy to reach. The steering wheel is slightly flat-bottomed, making climbing in and out a little easier, but our knees still rubbed, even with the adjustable steering wheel raised. Rear-seat legroom is tight. Cargo space is about the same as a compact sedan, small for a hatch. The view rearward is restricted, and we recommend the optional rearview camera that comes with the navigation system.

Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 43 mpg City, 40 mpg Highway. We weren’t able to achieve that, however, never reaching 38 mpg.

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, not much. Its 0-60 mph acceleration time of 9.8 seconds is the same lethargic pace as that of the Prius. It corners so well that a driver might 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. The CT has four driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. Don’t count on going anywhere in EV, the all-electric mode: We couldn’t cross the street from the bank to the grocery store in EV mode.

We were surprised and delighted to discover the CT 200h handles so well, and the 2012 F Sport goes even better. In any model, the cornering is spirited and secure. This Lexus has impressive balance, with a low center of gravity and centralized moment of inertia. The chassis offers high torsional rigidity, using a double-wishbone rear suspension, and sophisticated performance dampers.

The 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 CT 200h is very maneuverable, able to make a U-turn in just 34.2 feet. The brakes are firm, too. It’s very quiet inside the cabin at freeway speeds.

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