2011 Lexus CT 200hPosted on October 29th, 2010
Compact hybrid sedan makes Lexus luxury affordable
By Nina Russin
The CT 200h is Lexus’ second hybrid-only model, following on the heels of the HS 250h sedan. The CT uses the same hybrid synergy drivetrain as the Toyota Prius, averaging 42 miles-per-gallon in city and highway use. The platform is similar in size to the Toyota Corolla.
Power comes from a 1.8-liter gasoline engine rated at 98 horsepower and an 80 horsepower electric motor. Together, they produce 134 net horsepower. A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard.
The CT accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 9.8 seconds. Lexus opted for a nickel metal hydride battery pack in lieu of lithium due to concerns about flammability in lithium batteries.
Although the compact premium cars can be a challenge to market in North America, Lexus hopes the new CT will entice current Prius owners who want to move up to a luxury vehicle.
Only one grade of the CT comes stateside, since Lexus anticipates a relatively small market. Sales projections prior to the spring 2011 launch are about 1000 units per month. The model includes standard keyless entry and start, 17-inch wheels, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth interface and Lexus safety connect. The car’s interior is constructed entirely from recyclable materials.
Buyers can customize their CTs with option packages that include a premium audio system, navigation with rearview camera, and leather upholstery in lieu of the standard NuLuxe. Dealers will also offer 28 factory accessories: the most for any Lexus model.
Although pricing has yet to be announced, the automaker says that the new sedan will be the most affordable in the Lexus lineup, with MSRP starting close to $30,000.
Street-smart styling and standout performance
Chief engineer, Osamu Sadakata, also developed the Lexus LS 600h flagship hybrid sedan. He wanted to make performance as much of a priority on the CT, and has done so by including a new sport mode that produces a larger wide-open-throttle voltage than the Prius: up to 650 volts.
The driver uses a rotary knob at the base of the center stack to engage the power mode. When he does, a tachometer appears in lieu of the hybrid power display on the left side of the gauge cluster.
Economy and EV modes are similar to those on other Lexus hybrids. The EV mode operates at speeds up to 28 miles-per-hour. Range depends on the state of battery charge. An “eco” light on the dash illuminates when the driver is operating the car for maximum fuel economy.
Test drive in Southern California
I had an opportunity to test drive the Lexus CT 200h at a media event in Southern California. Our 100-mile drive route was a loop between Rancho Mirage and the mountain town of Idyllwild to the west. The 6000-foot elevation gain tested the hybrid system’s horsepower and torque, while the downhill segment allowed us to recharge the battery pack using the braking mode.
Buyers in the target market should find the sedan’s combination of youthful styling and recyclable construction materials appealing. Two new colors, fire agate pearl and yellow mica will undoubtedly turn some heads.
NuLuxe is a leather-type material made without the use of volatile organic compounds. As a vegetarian, I like the idea of an upscale upholstery fabric that doesn’t use animals.
The power driver’s seat is easy to adjust, with plenty of lower back support for longer trips. Three-position seat memory allows multiple drivers to share the car.
There is plenty of room in the back for two average-size adults. Legroom in the middle position is limited by the center console placement and a floor tunnel.
Designers divided the driver interface into two sections: one tactile and the other visual. All of the instrument displays are located to minimize distraction from the road. For example, the optional navigation screen pops up on top of the center stack. The screen is large enough to be legible without interfering with forward vision. Since the sedan has a small rear glass and large rear pillars, I’d recommend the option for the rearview camera.
The driver programs the navigation system with a mouse on the center console, similar to that in other Lexus products. The device is intuitive for anyone familiar with computers, and makes the navigation system extremely easy to operate.
Redundant audio and Bluetooth steering wheel controls allow the driver to change audio channels and make phone calls without taking his hands off the wheel.
The gearshift lever is similar to the design in the Prius. It’s thumb-sized, and has slots for drive, reverse and brake modes. The brake mode is similar to low gear on a traditional transmission: it applies the brakes slightly on steep grades to recharge the battery pack. Park is a separate button next to the shift lever.
As with the Prius, both the electric motor and gasoline engine operate at vehicle start-up. The gas engine turns off at idle except when extra power is needed.
Lexus uses an exhaust gas recirculation system to reduce the time it takes the engine to reach operating temperatures. It also enables the heater to warm the cabin more quickly in the winter.
I started out the drive through the town of Rancho Mirage in normal driving mode, and switched to power mode on the uphill. Engineers use an electric power steering system on all of their hybrids, since traditional hydraulic systems don’t work when the gas engine is not operating.
The electric unit also has the advantage of being smaller and lighter than a conventional system. It is well tuned to meet the needs of the sedan, providing plenty of low-speed assist for parking with positive on-center response when necessary.
I was impressed with the steering response on the hairpin turns going up the mountain on our test drive. Engineers made extensive use of high strength steel to maximize the car’s torsional rigidity while keeping curb weight to a minimum. Despite the use of additional sound deadening material in the Lexus, it only weighs 200 pounds more than the Prius.
A MacPherson front suspension and double wishbone independent suspension in the rear offer a compliant ride. The double wishbone suspension is compact, enabling designers to maximize room in the rear cargo bin.
Switching into sport mode, there is an immediate difference in throttle response and steering feel. Because electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, they perform exceptionally well climbing hills. The CT 200h made quick work of the elevation gain, with no noticeable parasitic power loss at the peak.
The 17-inch wheels and tires provide large tractive surfaces for better high-speed performance and braking.
The braking mode works quite well to slow the car down on steep grades. Because it significantly reduces vehicle speed, drivers will only want to use it in similar situations to the lowest gears on a traditional automatic transmission.
The final section of the drive on the I-10 freeway between Rancho Mirage and LA proved the compact sedan a capable performer. The sedan has ample power to accelerate into high-speed traffic and pass other vehicles at speed. While visibility to the rear is not good, there is no problem seeing cars to the front and sides of the vehicle.
The rear seats fold flat using levers on the seatbacks to extend the cargo floor, making it possible to load a road bike in the car with the front wheel popped off.
A hidden area beneath the cargo floor has compartments for smaller items, keeping them from shifting around in transit.
The CT 200h comes with eight standard airbags, antilock brakes, traction and vehicle stability control. Pre-collision with adaptive cruise control is optional.
Lexus builds the CT 200h at its dedicated hybrid production facility: Toyota Motor Kyushu in Kokora, Japan.
Likes: A stylish compact sedan with exceptional fuel economy, and an interior created from recyclable materials. The CT 200h achieves the best fuel economy of any Lexus hybrid vehicle.
Dislike: Thick rear pillars and a small rear glass limit visibility to the back.
Model: CT 200h
Base price: N/A
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 134 net
Torque: 152 lbs.-ft.
Zero-to-sixty: 9.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 42/41 mpg city/highway
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