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2011 Lexus CT 200h Overview
Lexus bills its new 2011 CT 200h hybrid as “the black sheep of green,” hoping to attract a young and cool crowd. The CT 200h takes a step away from the Toyota Prius's or Honda Insight’s so-called wedge-of-cheese shape, creating a premium compact 4-door hatchback designed to look sporty or at least sportier. The eternal hybrid question remains, however: Does the sporty look match sporty performance? Unfortunately, while the Lexus CT 200h does offer a luxury entry-level hybrid with a comfortable quiet ride, quality interior build materials and excellent fuel economy, the engine comes up short in its power and acceleration, and the car gets mixed reviews on its handling, with some surprised by its nimbleness, while others describe the steering and braking as numb.
The CT 200h comes in two trims: Base and Premium. Both share the powertrain developed in the Toyota Prius, with a traditional combination of a gas (inline 4-cylinder, Atkinson cycle 1.8-liter with intelligent variable valve timing) and electric motors for a total of 134 hp. Running on regular unleaded gasoline, the EPA fuel economy estimates for the front-wheel-drive CT 200h measure 43 mpg city/40 highway. The hybrid uses an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, which operates like an automatic and seems to be a weak area for the hybrid, since no manual control is available. Despite its sporty look, the CT 200h is not a quick starter out of the gate. Lexus offers a 0-60 mph time of 9.8 seconds, but other road tests produced even longer times, some as much as 10.5 seconds.
The Lexus can be operated in four different modes: Normal, EV, ECO or Sport. EV runs solely on electric power at low speeds and only for short distances. ECO modifies the throttle and climate controls for fuel savings. Sport changes the lighting scheme of the drive mode select control from blue to red, replaces the Hybrid System Indicator gauge with a tachometer and steps back the traction and stability systems while increasing the throttle and steering response for a more engaged driving experience.
There are only a handful of differences between the standard features of the Base and Premium CT 200h, with the Premium trim providing standard heated front seats and a power tilt-and-slide moonroof with sunshade. Both trims come with the SmartAccess key, which allows the driver to lock or unlock the car, open the trunk and start the engine without using a traditional key. Seating for 5 is covered in NuLuxe faux leather, which coordinates with the CT 200h’s green theme by generating fewer CO2 and VOC emissions during its creation. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, however, is leather. The front seats are adjustable with 10-way power for the driver's seat and 4-way manual passenger-seat adjustment. Not surprisingly for a compact, the front is more comfortable and spacious than the rear, whose legroom vanishes as the front seats are moved back. The center rear position may prove a tight fit for adults, as well.
Cargo space is also a tight fit. The CT 200h’s trunk can accommodate 14.3 cubic feet of cargo (less than the Toyota Prius’s 21.6 cubic feet and the Audi A3’s 19.5 cubic feet). The split-folding rear seats can help with the storage issue, but the height of the trunk floor also may make it difficult to stash taller items.
Both trims provide a standard 6-speaker premium sound system with a CD player and 90-day trial subscription to XM radio, with steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. External music sources can be played via the USB or auxiliary iPod/MP3/WMA ports. Bluetooth technology allows for compatible phones and audio to be integrated for wireless and hands-free usage. One of the smartest features in the hybrid is its electronic device holder, which can hold smartphones, music players and external navigation devices, all near the auxiliary port.
Safety features are comparable between the two trims as well. All four wheels provide standard power-assisted disc antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. Vehicle stability and traction control are standard, as are tire pressure monitoring and SmartStop technology, which helps the car stop if the gas and brake pedals are pressed simultaneously. Eight airbags offer standard protection, with driver’s and front passenger advanced airbags (detecting the presence and weight of a front passenger), front seat-mounted side airbags, knee airbags for front-row occupants and finally, front and rear side curtain airbags. In the event of a collision or other emergency, the CT 200h also provides a 1-year trial subscription to the Safety Connect system, offering emergency assistance, automatic collision notification, roadside assistance and stolen-vehicle location. Although the 2011 CT 200h has not yet been tested by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the hybrid received recognition from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) as one of its Top Safety Picks for the year, earning top scores (Good) for its standard electronic stability control and performance in front, side, rollover and rear crash tests.
The Premium does distinguish itself from the Base in its available options packages. The Premium Audio package (a prerequisite for a number of the other packages), for example, adds HomeLink universal remote and upgrades the audio system to a 10-speaker Premium Sound System with automatic sound levelizer and 6-CD changer. The navigation package adds an HDD navigation system operated via the Remote Touch control (similar to a mouse) or voice command, as well as a retractable color LCD with integrated backup camera. A 90-day trial subscription to XM NavTraffic, NavWeather and Sports and Stocks is also included. The Leather Package replaces the NuLuxe synthetic seats with perforated leather, as well as adding the Lexus Memory system (recalling settings for driver’s seat or outside mirror position preferences), as well as rain-sensing windshield wipers and auto-dimming outside mirrors. The Premium trim can also be customized with a handful of standalone technology choices, including an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with an integrated compass and backup camera, LED headlamps with auto-leveling and headlight washers. A pre-collision system (PCS) and dynamic radar cruise control can also be added when the CT 200h is equipped with the navigation and leather packages. The PCS warns of a potential front crash and takes steps to mitigate the damage (e.g., readying Brake Assist and seat belt pretensioners). In addition, dynamic radar cruise control can assist the driver to maintain a safe distance from the car ahead or maintain a set speed.
Although the 2011 Lexus CT 200h is a hybrid that provides more fun than the typically sluggish hybrid ride, it does not quite live up to the image of a hip, sport-driving machine. While offering good fuel economy and a luxury feel on the inside, it retains many of the downsides of a hybrid, with slow acceleration and power as well as a cramped rear seat and cargo room.
by Jessica McCombe
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