I had the 2011 Lexus CT 200h this week, a much sought after car by auto journalists as well as consumers. Sadly, this hot new hybrid had production crippled in the Japan earthquake and tsunami. This was never intended to be a big seller with scheduled production of 1000 vehicles per month, but talking to people at Lexus, they could have increased that had it not been for the disaster in Japan. Currently, there is an 11-day supply of the car, and regular followers here know a 60-day supply is optimal.
The CT 200h is based on the Lexus 250h platform, but shares a version of the Toyota Prius drive train, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine that produces 98-horses with an 80-horse electric motor. The only transmission available is the CVT (continuously variable transmission that does not shift). This car was built for one thing, and it is not speed. Hybrid batteries add a lot of weight to a car, and this small Lexus weighs 3200 pounds, so you will not get a whiplash taking off.
My evaluation car is Daybreak Yellow Mica, which I would have called mustard yellow, but that is just me. It is an interesting exterior color to say the least and sort of screams “I’m driving a hybrid” at you, which is appealing to some folks. The car has really distinct lines and it is one of those cars that once you know what it is, you will recognize it at a glance. The funny thing is it works! It is an attractive small car that looks fast in spite of the fact that it is not.
This is one of those cars I have been talking about for a year now, a small, yet luxurious car, that gets superior fuel economy. As America downsizes, instead of all small cars being economy models, we are now seeing the small car segment evolve into inexpensive, middle of the road, and luxury. This is a good transformation for Americans.
This car also exemplifies the fact that small does not mean you cannot have all the latest safety technology. There are eight standard airbags, including knee bags for the driver and front passenger as standard equipment. You also get traction control, stability control, side airbag curtains, and you get the terrific Lexus automatic collision assistance system, the Toyota version of OnStar.
As you would expect from a Lexus, the transition from batteries to gasoline is seamless. One disappointment was, even when trying, I could not run on pure battery with the air conditioning on past 30-miles per hour. Other hybrids, like the Ford Fusion hybrid, will run on the batteries up to 40-miles per hour. Frankly, I expected more speed while not using any gasoline.
Lexus did a super job channeling the wind to keep the car quiet inside. This is a problem with some hybrids. Imagine driving with no engine sound, you tend to hear every sound, especially exterior air, but this car, like the Nissan Leaf, channels the wind away for a super-quiet ride.
Another area Lexus did a great job is with handling. This is not always the case with a hybrid. If the batteries are not in perfect balance with the car, it feels funny when you go into a turn, but that is not the case with the CT. The ride and handling are both very good and the car drives like a larger car than it is.
You get a lot with this car, like power moonroof, heated seats, all power including power driver’s seat, pushbutton start, climate controlled air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, and a lot more.
Lexus doesn’t overcharge for options on this car either. For $1475, you can get the upgraded sound system, backup camera, 10-speakers, universal garage door opener, and auto-dimming rearview mirror. For another $1330, you get upgraded leather seating and a few other niceties.
I had to try to get the stated fuel economy but was able to do it, so as far as I am concerned, this car does everything it is meant to. Not everyone will want to spend this kind of money for a small car, but for those coming down from a larger luxury car, the CT 200h is the best alternative I have seen.
What I liked most: Interior, fuel economy, and list of options.
What I would change if I could: It is a little light on headroom in the back seat.
MSRP as tested: $36,169
Fuel Economy: 43 city/40 highway, and it can be done, but you’ll have to work at it.
Lexus Ct 200h in a few words: The best luxury small car so far.