2012 Lexus CT 200h PremiumPosted on October 9th, 2012
Five-door compact hybrid combines style and practicality
By Nina Russin
The CT 200h is the second pure hybrid model in the Lexus lineup, following the now-discontinued HS sedan. The five-door CT seems to have found a sweet spot in the market, combining excellent fuel economy with a versatile interior in an appealingly stylish package.
The grey pearl metallic exterior on the test car is a new finish for 2012. By pricing the CT from $31,750 (excluding the $875 delivery charge), Lexus has positioned the hatchback well within entry luxury territory. The edgy, box-like exterior should appeal to young buyers moving up from both Toyota and Scion. I averaged 45 miles-per-gallon on my 150-mile test drive: three miles-per-gallon more than the EPA average.
Options on the test car include an F Sport package with alloy rims, a rear spoiler, mesh grille, black leather upholstery and headliner, badging, unique instrument panel and special door plates ($2530). LED headlamps with headlamp washers and auto-leveling feature add $1215, while a premium 10-speaker sound system costs $1100. Hard drive navigation with Lexus Enform ($2445) and a cargo mat with cargo net ($263) bring the price as tested to $39,878.
Hybrid technology evolved
Although the CT 200h utilizes the same basic hybrid technology as the first Prius, the automaker’s experience developing and perfecting that system are obvious in the newer model. The system can function in pure electric mode longer and at higher speeds than in former models.
Utilizing a high compression ratio in the Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine reduces parasitic fuel loss and enhances throttle response. In addition, the driver can choose between four driving modes: eco, normal, sport and EV, which modify performance according to his needs.
Eco mode extends fuel mileage by maintaining higher gears and changing air conditioning settings, while normal mode adds a bit more power for linear throttle response. In sport mode, the driver gets an even quicker throttle. According to the manufacturer, the 80-horsepower engine and electric motors are capable of sub-10 second zero-to-sixty acceleration.
The EV mode runs the car on electric motors for short distances, at speeds up to about 25 miles-per-hour. A pedestrian warning system emits an audible chime to warn those in the surrounding area that the vehicle is moving.
The two biggest differences I noticed between the CT and HS were throttle and steering response. One of the biggest problems with the HS was that the electric power steering system made the driver feel as if the steering wheel was disconnected from the car. I was able to adjust to the system, but I never felt as if I had as much control over the wheels as I do driving the CT.
Using high strength steel in key parts of the chassis enhanced torsional rigidity on the hatchback, which pays off in steering response and handling. The continuously-variable automatic transmission is more responsive as well, which is most noticeable when the engine is under load.
The CT has a relatively short wheelbase and wide track. It is easy to park on city streets, but very stable on the highway. The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a compact double wishbone setup in the rear. The independent double wishbone design doesn’t impinge on rear cargo space, but provides the compliant ride luxury car buyers demand.
The F Sport alloy wheels dress up the exterior. Seventeen-inch tires give the CT an ample footprint, while allowing space in the wheel wells for reasonably thick sidewalls.
If the CT has an Achilles heel, it’s visibility. Both middle and rear pillars are very thick, impacting the driver’s view to the sides and rear. The backup camera which comes standard on the premium model is more of a necessity than an option. Although I was able to monitor traffic in adjacent lanes, I would like to see blind spot monitoring available as an option.
The CT interior is surprisingly spacious, considering its short wheelbase. Second-row seats don’t have an abundance of legroom, but average sized adults should be comfortable in the outboard positions. Since there’s no floor tunnel, three can fit in back in a pinch.
Keyless entry and start enables the driver to enter and start the car without removing the key fob from his pocket, adding a measure of safety for those working in city centers. I found both the gauge cluster and center stack display easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions.
I really like the mouse device Lexus uses to control the audio and navigation functions. Located on the center console, it’s easy to find without taking one’s eyes off the road and intuitive to use. The small gearshift lever is similar to that in the Prius, located to the right of the steering column on the instrument panel.
Driver’s seat adjustments are easy to use, and provide plenty of lower lumbar support for longer road trips. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag.
A large pop-up screen displays the navigation maps, vehicle information and rearview camera. Graphics are easy to read, but the screen does not interfere with the driver’s forward vision. Lexus Enform adds real-time weather, traffic and sports updates.
With the rear seats in place, the cargo bay has enough room for groceries for luggage. Folding the seats flat extends the cargo floor for snowboards, skis or golf bags. A bicycle would be a tight squeeze, due to the car’s short wheelbase.
The Lexus CT 200h comes with front, side, side curtain, driver and front passenger knee airbags, Safety Connect with automatic collision notification, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. Additional standard safety features include tire pressure monitoring and a first aid kit.
The CT 200h is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Like: A stylish hybrid which is fun to drive, has a versatile interior and excellent fuel economy.
Dislike: Thick middle and rear pillars limit visibility around the car’s perimeter.
Model: CT 200h Premium
Base price: $31,750
As tested: $39,978
Horsepower: 98 Hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 105 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 9.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 43/40 mpg city/highway
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