Vital Stats

Engine:
1.8L four-cylinder hybrid
Power:
98 hp (134 cmb)/105 lb-ft
Transmission:
CVT
0-60 Time:
9.8 sec
Top Speed:
113
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,130 lbs
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
14.3 cu-ft
MPG:
43 City / 40 Hwy
Lexus Hatches A New Take On Responsible Performance

2011 Lexus CT 200h – Click above for high-res image gallery

Armchair quarterbacks have been quick to charge Toyota with losing its engineering nerve, labeling it a brand content to churn out safe, middle-of-the-road milquetoast offerings for every segment in which it competes. Admittedly, this isn't the same company that once marketed a supercharged, mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive minivan shaped like a suppository, nor is it the same company that sold homologated rally specials alongside its workaday iron. But to say that there are no bold spirits in Toyota City just ain't so – just look at the bonkers LFA supercar, for goodness' sake.

But you needn't have a millionaire's bankbook to see that the Japanese automaker still has cheek to spare – just check out the 2011 Lexus CT 200h. Not only is Toyota's premium marque dipping its toes into America's compact luxury market – a segment that nobody but Mini has figured out how to make big dollars on – it's doing so with a hybrid, an expensive powertrain configuration that, Prius aside, only sells in marginal volumes.

Admittedly, Lexus has made no bones about the fact that it's squarely targeting Europe with the CT (a market where hatchbacks consistently do big business and "small premium" is not an oxymoron), but make no mistake, this is a brave bet. Lexus says it's gunning for 1,000 units a month – a small number in the grand scheme of things – but it's expecting the moon when compared to competitors like the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volvo C30, which typically sell in the hundreds per month. Yet this bold bet is showing early signs of paying off. Thanks in part to heavy advanced marketing, Lexus cleared its decks of over twice that many units in March – 2,199 – the CT's first month on sale.

Continue reading 2011 Lexus CT 200h...



Photos copyright ©2011 by Chris Paukert /AOL

"Toyota" and "hybrid" may go together like Starbucks and Apple, but adding a meaningful dose of driving entertainment to the gas-electric formula has proven to be elusive. Despite this, the CT aspires to a higher level of driver engagement, with the Japanese automaker's marketing efforts touting a sporty, youthful experience. In short, with the CT, Lexus is suggesting it isn't ready to throw in the organic cotton towel on performance just yet.

Looking a bit like a premiumized Mazda3, the CT is certainly more aggressive and visually appealing than Lexus' other stand-alone hybrid model, the hapless HS 250h. Combining a broad stance with an assertive lower fascia that effectively masks a long front overhang, Lexus' least costly offering (hybrid or otherwise) looks smart, with a visage livened up by LED eyeliners and a thin fillet of chrome bridging the grill. The profile is pure hatchback, with a high beltline, tapering greenhouse, attractive 17-inch alloys and a dynamic C-pillar that artfully segues into a small rear spoiler over the narrow band of rear glass. There isn't a single element here that stands out as earth-shattering design, but the whole package gels nicely into a form that is at once attractive, utile and wind-cheating, with a drag coefficient of 0.29.

2011 Lexus CT 200h side view2011 Lexus CT 200h front view2011 Lexus CT 200h rear view

From the off, the interior outs itself as a tech-rich experience, with the instrument panel in our tester topped off by an available motorized sat-nav screen and a broad center console between the seats that houses everything from the oddly sculptural chrome drive selector to the stereo controls and a rotary drive mode selector.

Everything within reach is nicely padded and grained, with fluid actions to all of the major controls. The trio of analog gauges are concise and handsomely backlit, and the leather-wrapped wheel is right-sized, although the three spokes seem annoyingly and needlessly thick. Optional leather chairs cosset and support in equal measure (convincing synthetic hides are standard), and the close-to-the-floor seating position quietly reinforces the CT's sporting intent. Rear seat ingress and egress is a bit tight, and adults won't want to ride back there forever, but it's just fine for around-town duty. As with nearly every hybrid we can think of, cargo room takes a hit thanks to the encroaching 168-cell battery pack, but it's still not bad, offering 14.3 cubic feet with the seats up.

2011 Lexus CT 200h interior2011 Lexus CT 200h navigation system2011 Lexus CT 200h multimedia system controller2011 Lexus CT 200h rear seats

Our tester's optional hard drive-based navigation system utilizes the same unusual Remote Touch haptic-feedback 'mouse' system that we've experienced on other Lexus vehicles like the RX and HS. While getting used to its button arrangement takes some time, it's intuitive enough to use that you won't find yourself reaching into the glove box in search of the instruction manual. It would be nice if Lexus still bundled Remote Touch with their touchscreen expertise as a supplementary way to interact with the system, but that isn't part of the program. Additionally, we'd still like to see hard buttons for the stereo presets for improved ease-of-use.

As you'd expect, there's also plenty of tech underhood, where a 98-horsepower 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder is augmented by an electric motor whirring up 80 more ponies and 152 pound-feet of torque with juice from a Ni-MH battery. Combined system output is rated at 134 horsepower, certainly an adequate sum to pull around the CT's 3,100+ pound frame, but nothing to cinch up your Pilotis over. Lexus quotes a leisurely 0-60 mph time of 9.8 seconds and a top whack of 113 mph.

2011 Lexus CT 200h engine

Yet Lexus plainly promises a sporty driving experience with a European flair... what gives?

Back to the drive mode controller. Lexus' intent to appeal to Continental buyers is evident throughout the CT, from its footprint and body style to its driving dynamics (the brand remains a niche player, but parent Toyota has big aspirations). An integral part of Lexus' play to appeal to Europe is a sportier driving experience, and to that end, they're making a big to-do about the three-position rotary knob. Utilizing a trio of drive modes (Normal, Eco and Sport), everything from the throttle mapping to the power steering weight to the stability and traction control systems is influenced in the name of enthusiastic or parsimonious driving.

Moving from Normal to Sport mode won't actually make the CT any faster, but it does open the drivetrain's taps earlier, firms up steering effort and give a bit more leeway before the electronic nannies dig their heels in and curb your fun on a winding road. As we show you in the Short Cuts video below, the drive mode selector brings with it some well-done visual changes in the gauge cluster, and it does make it more fun to drive, with the whole experience coming off as slightly quicker than it actually is. Still, given this front-driver's athletic intentions, we're curious as to why Lexus didn't go the extra mile by fitting paddle shifters. We've experienced plenty of similar setups paired with continuously variable transmission units like that of the CT, and they add a needed dollop of driver involvement.



Eco mode, as you might expect, will only be entertaining to those who find joy in hypermiling their lawnmower and composting their own table scraps. The throttle response is just too torpid, the steering is finger-light and we didn't notice a huge improvement in fuel economy. Finally, there's a pure EV Mode button adjacent to the jog drive mode selector, and pushing it will give you around a mile of electric-only propulsion.

If there's a clear forte in the CT's portfolio, it's the well-sorted handling. Combining a conventional MacPherson strut architecture up front with a double wishbone array in the rear is a good start, and Lexus has gone a step further with unusual lateral dampers front and rear that reduce vibrations, in turn delivering improved steering feel from the quick electric rack-and-pinion setup (just 2.7 turns lock-to-lock). Lexus says the costlier damper system is more effective than using conventional shock tower braces, and they may have a point – the CT tracks faithfully and grips with a conviction not generally found with low rolling-resistance tires. Ride quality is much firmer than we've come to expect from Lexus, but not objectionably so – even on Detroit's post-apocalyptic road surfaces.

2011 Lexus CT 200h headlight2011 Lexus CT 200h wheel2011 Lexus CT 200h badge2011 Lexus CT 200h taillight

Brake progression and pedal feel issued by the discs (10-inch vented in front, 11-inch solid out back) is good by hybrid standards, though at very low speeds – say, 0-3 mph when you're negotiating a tight parking space – it's got a bit of the binary 'on/off' nonlinearity that plagues other regenerative braking system. Even so, you'll have more fun staying off the binders and trying to preserve momentum wherever you can.

At the end of the day, the CT is more entertaining to drive than most other hybrids (save much costlier models like the Infiniti M35h and Porsche Panamera), but it isn't as engaging as some less expensive hatchbacks offering similar space – the aforementioned Mazda3 and Ford's 2012 Focus come to mind. The CT 200h's trump card is its handsome 43 miles per gallon city/40 highway EPA rating, figures that are easy to replicate if you don't cane it around in Sport mode all day. Yes, Mazda's new SkyActiv 3 promises the big four-oh and the Blue Oval can be had with a special high-mpg model that manages the same, but neither will touch the CT for urban economy, and the Lex has nicer materials inside. But at an as-tested price of $38,239 for our Premium model, it ought to. (The CT starts at $29,995 with destination, while our CT Premium tester begins a little higher at $31,775 with destination but before options.)

2011 Lexus CT 200h rear 3/4 view

Lexus' latest isn't perfect, but we think Toyota is onto something here, if for no other reason that it's better to drive than most everything else the marque offers, and helps that it's the cheapest way to park an L-badge in your driveway. The CT 200h is handsome, well screwed together, and while it doesn't shout about it, it's one of Toyota's boldest offerings in years.



Photos copyright ©2011 by Chris Paukert /AOL


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 140 Comments
      Jeremiah
      • 3 Years Ago
      MAJOR PROPS for the Previa reference...we used to have a maroon one!
      billfan
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sadly, I've put down a deposit and had one on order for over a month and they're still looking at another 30-60 days before anything comes in...the Japan situation is really hurting Toyota/Lexus. If you dont already have an order in, the dealers in San Diego county are saying 3-5 months wait time.
      Michael Fetch
      • 3 Years Ago
      this is the ugliest car Lexus has ever made.
        NightFlight
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Michael Fetch
        The upcoming GS will certainly give it a run for its money, the front end is attrocious.
          Helix
          • 3 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          The next GS will look hot. http://media.disqus.com/uploads/mediaupload/tmp/7ce694cd9a9acac55a0c838bd09b10bd45fc7dde940a0d119e43d03e/original.jpg
      JonZeke
      • 3 Years Ago
      This car was a huge disappointment for me in the interior, so much so that I had no interest in taking a test drive. Why are there so many rectangular blanks on the left side of the wheel? Why must the mirror and dimming controls look so obviously cribbed from a Matrix? Why are the key shapes so varied? The rubberized keys on the steering wheel clashed awfully with the mix of square, rectangular and custom button shapes. Worst of all though for me was the lack of subtlety in the use of font and linotype. A well designed control only needs a modest icon to indicate usage. Lexus, and all of Toyota puts me off with their grossly sized labeling over every function. A Mercedes or BMW might need you to pick up a manual from time to time, but I get much more delight in learning those controls than I do being spoon-fed the Lexus way. VW Golf TDI or A3 TDI beats this every time for the mix of character and design.
        NightFlight
        • 3 Years Ago
        @JonZeke
        " well designed control only needs a modest icon to indicate usage. Lexus, and all of Toyota puts me off with their grossly sized labeling over every function. " Wow, I have thought the EXACT SAME THING with all Toyota products. They've been doing this since the early 80's and it makes no sense. I don't understand why the font has to be so large, it looks awful!
        Rotation
        • 3 Years Ago
        @JonZeke
        My friend has one that is maxed out and there are still many blankouts in the interior. There must be a lot more features in Japan or something.
        JackS
        • 3 Years Ago
        @JonZeke
        You might bizarrely prefer cryptic symbols on similar looking buttons but for the vast majority of people the intuitive and easy to read labels on Lexus and Toyota vehicles are a positive thing. Very off for you to complain about the better ergonomics and usability. And the reason why thr buttons are all differently shaped is exactly so people can tell the controls apart as fast as possible. The older Benzes always drove me crazy with the zillions of tiny and identical buttons with cryptic labels on them. Maybe you enjoy reading the manuals all the time but don't assume everyone does.
      4 String
      • 3 Years Ago
      I've seen a few in person (in that dark grey/celadon-like mixture and in black), and they are absolutely gorgeous. The lines and contours are really interesting and attention grabbing... It's kind of like looking at a curvaceous woman with many fine details. And I wouldn't be surprised if Lexus dealers met their sales target. Wonder if there will be F-sport parts, not to mention a Li-ion battery later down the road. When they do, sign me up.
        NightFlight
        • 3 Years Ago
        @4 String
        "Absolutely gorgeous" "curvaceous woman" "fine details"? Do you work for a Lexus/Toyota dealer? It sounds like you do with that sale-sy line. While it might be somewhat attractive, this certainly isn't "absolutely gorgeous". By the way, F-Sport parts are outrageously overpriced, only fools would spend that kind of money.
          Quentin
          • 3 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          I find it hilarious that you can't fathom anyone liking this car unless they work for Lexus. I'm sure there are people out there that love cars that I think are absolutely hideous. Looks are subjective. It really is quite nice looking in person. The seats and IP materials are soft and smooth. Switchgear feels robust. I can't comment on how it drives because I've not even been able to get a test drive because every one I've seen on a dealer lot has already been sold. I've tried to drive 3 times, now. I figure I'll wait until when I'm more ready to purchase later in the year when hopefully the inventory is a little better.
      savingsprinkles
      • 3 Years Ago
      To be perfectly frank: it looks like an ugly, less fun, more expensive, mazda 3.
      rmkensington
      • 3 Years Ago
      0-60 mph time of 9.8 seconds For $38,000????
        Robdaemon
        • 3 Years Ago
        @rmkensington
        43/40 mpg. Lexus quality materials. You do realize that many people don't measure cars strictly by their 0-60 times, right?
          zamafir
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Robdaemon
          I'm sure he does, but he still raises a good point. The CT felt nice for a hatch but NOT up to par, especially in terms of 'quality materials' with the excessively long in the tooth a3, newish c30, or 1 series. lexus interior quality has yet to = european interior quality. it takes a lot more than soft touch plastic to beat BMW or Audi at their game and that HS-cum-corolla-plastic inspired center stack does NOT reek of 'quality' from a design standpoint. Go drive one, Go drive an A3 TDI, Go drive the C30 and get back to us - and if you already have, feel free to explain why you think this car is on par with those. It's odd AB just skips over the European focus of this car and conflates it with unit sales in the US, Interior design/quality is one of the major hurdles Lexus will need to address if they'd like to achieve any modicum of success in Europe.
          Zoom
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Robdaemon
          Many on AB don't realize that.
          NightFlight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Robdaemon
          Have you even driven one of these? The only Lexus attribute this vehicle has is the leather on the seats, there is NOTHING else in the interior that is Lexus-badge worthy.
        Jaybird36
        • 3 Years Ago
        @rmkensington
        rmkensington, if drag racing is your priority, I recommend you look at something like a Camaro.
        sysadm1n
        • 3 Years Ago
        @rmkensington
        You want 0-60 go buy a Corvette.
          NightFlight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @sysadm1n
          ..... or a A3 TDI which will likely have similar combined mileage and be over a second faster 0-60.
        MKIV
        • 3 Years Ago
        @rmkensington
        It's not a race car due.
      autoplaybook
      • 3 Years Ago
      It'd take a 128i or, if I were really that mpg-obsessed, an A3 TDI. Both are cheaper, more fun to drive, and don't look like a (slightly) gussied-up Toyota Matrix that's trying way too hard to justify itself at nearly $32k delivered.
        Gubbins
        • 3 Years Ago
        @autoplaybook
        Yes! Audi A3 TDi...much better in every way. This thing is grotesque-
      sckid213
      • 3 Years Ago
      Saw one in person the other day. Somewhat ugly and awkward in person...proportions are off. Looks better in pictures IMO. Mazda 3 hatch looks miles better
        wcmidcow
        • 3 Years Ago
        @sckid213
        You probably should look also at the 2012 Ford Focus. You don't appear to be cut-out for a Lexus.
      BRKF06
      • 3 Years Ago
      This car screams Mazda3 hatch. But with a 15k premium. That's a whole lotta gas! Get a golf TDI for 25k and the buyer will have the same level of efficiency but far more driver engagement and save a grip of cash.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        BB79826
        • 3 Years Ago
        Anyone who bashes the Civic's interior quality clearly has never sat in one.
      PlaidWare
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is a very ugly Corolla hatch.
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