A DARKER SHADE OF GREEN
Published on Sun, Apr 24, 2011
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Roy Nakano AUTO REVIEW—Lexus has some nerve in introducing the CT 200h on these shores. First of all, it’s a hatchback—a body style that Americans haven’t warmed up to in years—particular for luxury brands. Secondly, as the Lexus of Priuses (or is it Prii?), one would think it should be even greener than the Prius. It’s not. For fuel economy, the Prius still reigns supreme. Does Lexus know something we don’t? When it comes to hatchbacks, Lord knows other luxury brands have tried. BMW had its short-lived 318ti, and Mercedes-Benz had its C-Class hatchback. Audi has its A3, but even Audi looks like it’s throwing in the towel. The automaker announced that its next-generation A3 will be a sedan. But, hey, this is Lexus—and perhaps this company thinks it can succeed where others have failed.
Or maybe it’s just hoping that the American consumer has finally come around on hatchbacks. With fuel economy a major concern these days, we’ve been seeing more examples of this versatile and popular European configuration showing up on our roads—e.g., the Ford Fiesta, the Ford Focus, the Golf TDI, even the Chevrolet Volt. Maybe Lexus will be the first luxury brand to make the hatchback stick among the upscale set. As for its green credentials, the CT 200h may not beat the Prius, but it’s pretty darn close. With an EPA fuel economy rating of 43 miles per gallon in the city, 40 on the highway, and 42 combined, it's the best of any luxury car by a comfortable margin. And while the CT 200h won’t out-perform the Prius in fuel economy, it will out-perform it in just about every other performance parameter. Unlike the Prius, the CT 200h can actually feel like a sport sedan. And, hence, we have the Lexus marketing slogan for the CT 200h: "The dark side of green."
In order to achieve this, the CT 200h features a bespoke suspension design which combines the MacPherson strut front system with a new (for this platform) fully-independent, double wishbone rear suspension. Setting the CT 200h’s front suspension system apart from the Prius are newly calibrated coil springs, shock absorbers, bump stops, upper supports, upper and lower insulators, a lightweight steering knuckle, and a new anti-sway bar for increased rigidity. Lexus says unsprung weight has been minimized and shock absorber damping response enhanced through the use of aluminum steering knuckles and stabilizer links, and lightweight lower arms, hub bearings and shock absorbers. The shock absorbers themselves feature lower friction valves, seals and oil, further improving damping response. The steering gearbox mounts are connected directly to the front suspension member, which Lexus says ensures a linear steering feel and enhancing the CT 200h’s straight line stability.
Four available engine settings let drivers customize their driving experience to conditions on the road, ranging from a fuel-saving EV mode that runs solely on electric power, to a Sport mode that lets the hybrid act very unhybrid-like. And in the Sport mode, the CT 200h leaves its hybrid competition in the ozone. Cornering—yes, it’s actually in this car’s vocabulary. And to make sure you have it in the right mode, the dash lights turn from eco-blue to evil red. That’s a mode to get you in the right mood. Whether Lexus succeeds with this darker shade of green (car) remains to be seen. But succeed or not, the CT 200h does offer a lot of car for the money. It’s about the same price as a fully loaded Toyota Prius. But the CT 200h has a level of luxury as well as fit and finish that is far superior. And the hatchback design is rather handsome—and, yes, very European-looking. At just under $30,000, it’s a bit of a bargain. For more information about Lexus products, go to lexus.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2011 Lexus CT 200h Premium Price: $30,900 (base) $31,824 (as tested) EPA fuel economy rating (miles per gallon): 43 city/40 highway/42 combined Engines: 1.8 liter in-line 4-cylinder DOHC with VVT-i Electric drive motor with Lexus Hybrid Drive Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable automatic Steering: Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion Suspension: MacPherson strut front system with a fully-independent, double wishbone rear suspension. Newly calibrated coil springs, shock absorbers, bump stops, upper supports, upper and lower insulators, a lightweight steering knuckle, and a new anti-sway bar for increased rigidity. Brakes and ancillary systems: Four-wheel power assisted front and rear disc, anti-lock braking system (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC) and Electronic Throttle Control System (ETCS) Wheels and tires: 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 215/45R17 all-season tires Dimensions Length: 170.1 inches Width: 69.5 inches Height: 56.7 inches Curb weight: 3130 pounds