Hybrid owners have a reputation for being careful drivers. More concerned with the environment than an adrenaline rush, they act locally and think globally. So the 2011 Lexus CT 200h seems an odd mix, a car using the same hybrid power train as the Toyota Prius, yet designed for sporty appeal.
With the body style of a hot hatchback, the CT 200h comes standard with a very sport-oriented suspension. A large intake and heavy overhangs front and back give it an aggressive look. It could easily be the next generation of the Mazdaspeed3.
But despite a marketing campaign suggesting the CT 200h eats puppies for breakfast and stuffs its mattress with kittens, its hybrid power train can only boast a 0-to-60 mph time of 9.8 seconds, the same as the Prius. Ultimately, it favors fuel economy over raw power, getting an EPA-rated 43 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.
As a hatchback, the CT 200h shows plenty of internal versatility, with rear seats that fold down, allowing for plenty of cargo room. In Lexus style, it has comfortable leather seats and a smart-key system with a push-button start.
The CT 200h shows futuristic hatchback styling.
The car's styling, while not quite over the top, certainly approaches the summit. Thick rear pillars and a narrow strip of tinted back glass give it rally car style. A low contour line on the side kicks up just before the rear fender and LED strips cradle the headlights. The hood even seems to bulge up slightly.
There are some odd elements in the cabin. For one, the drive selector is a little chrome lever that follows the same shift pattern as in the Prius. A large knob sits on the console with which you can choose Eco, Normal, or Sport mode. Again, these modes are similar to those found in the Prius, although Sport is called Power on the Prius' controls.
CNET's review car lacked the navigation system, which would be the same as found in other newer Lexus models, such as the. The stock stereo, embedded in the console, has black plastic buttons and an ugly monochrome green and black display that looks straight from the '90s. It doesn't add to Lexus' luxury image.
But as outdated as the stereo faceplate looks, the system itself is thoroughly modern. A USB port in the console allows iPod and USB drive playback, and the stereo can also handle Bluetooth streaming audio, although with the typical limitations of not showing track information on the display.
It doesn't look like Lexus spent much time designing this console plate.
Lexus does not offer the Mark Levinson-branded audio system in the CT 200h that it makes available in other models, but the 10-speaker premium system in CNET's review car sounded almost as good. It featured very detailed and well-separated reproduction, letting you distinguish, for example, different types of percussion instruments. The highs came through crystal-clear, and bass could be tuned for good impact. However, it didn't sound particularly powerful, so driving down the street setting off car alarms with bass thumps is not a likely scenario.
The Bluetooth phone system in the car was limited in features. Although it had an onboard phonebook, it did not copy over contacts from a paired phone, forcing tedious manual entry. But, as in other Lexus models, the navigation option should bring in a more full-featured phone system.
On the CT 200h's instrument cluster, the speedometer sits front and center. On the right are a fuel gauge and a monochrome LCD showing different fuel economy information plus a simple animation of the hybrid power-train energy flow. The left side has a power gauge showing when the battery is recharging or discharging. But that left gauge transforms into a tachometer when you put the car in Sport mode, a simple little trick of having two illuminated faces.
This tachometer only shows up when the car is in Sport mode.
But whether in Sport, Normal, or Eco, the CT 200h will not live up to its sporty exterior. The straight-line acceleration, as mentioned above, is not particularly fast. Come full speed at a corner, apply the brakes at the last minute, and gracefully follow a line across the apex, and you won't find much push when applying the gas at the exit.
That lack of power is disappointing, as the CT 200h handles reasonably well. Lexus obviously tuned the suspension to minimize body roll in hard cornering. With a conventional, fixed suspension, the CT 200h doesn't have different settings for ride quality. And with its sport tuning, it rides a little rougher than you would expect from a Lexus.
Although the 2011 Lexus CT 200h seems confused about whether it is a sports car or fuel sipper, there's no denying the efficiency of the high-tech hybrid system under the hood. Its electric power-steering system adds to the tech underpinnings.
The CT 200h can also be had with a solid cabin tech suite. Not the most advanced on the market, it still offers useful features, such as a navigation system with traffic, a modern set of digital audio sources, and a voice command system. The audio system is a high point for this car's cabin tech.
As for style, the CT 200h cuts a unique figure, standing out from the pack. That design combines with general hatchback utility to make the CT 200h an all-around car, useful for work commutes and weekend trips.
|Model||2011 Lexus CT 200h|
|Power train||1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, electronic continuously variable transmission, 650-volt nickel metal hydride full hybrid system|
|EPA fuel economy||43 mpg city/40 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||39.4 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible 6-CD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, Bluetooth audio streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||10-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$35,320|