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2011 Lexus CT 200h: First Drive

Lexus CT 200h side view on street

DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—I have to admit, I felt the need to redeem myself. I am a notorious lead foot, and I habitually get low mileage numbers in every car I drive. Even when I try to do well. Hybrid. TDI. Gasoline. It’s all the same. And it’s all bad.

So, when the folks at Lexus announced during the press preview for the all-new 2011 CT 200h that the worst gas mileage they’d seen thus far was around 37 mpg, I considered the gauntlet thrown. I absolutely could not get below that number.


And if I could beat the EPA estimated combined mileage of 42 mpg, even better.

During the first leg of the drive, I didn’t glide through stop signs, pull in my mirrors or turn off the air. I wanted to drive conservatively, but let’s not get crazy. I mean it was 83 in Florida during the preview. I kept it in Eco mode and accelerated gradually without trying to tick off too many people behind me.

I achieved 55.7 mpg. Almost 20 mpg better than the worst and 14 mpg better than than the EPA estimate. I consider that complete redemption. Combine that with the fact that when I drove normally, I achieved 47.5 mpg, and I think this little Lexus hybrid might be my saving grace. Lexus CT 200h - rear quarter view

The CT is equipped with an inline 4-cylinder engine that delivers 98 horsepower on its own. Mated with the electric motor, total output expands to 134 horsepower.

This is plenty of oomph to be peppy without being outright sporty. Even in Sport mode, you can still tell you’re driving a car with a 4-cylinder engine. Where the RX, LS, HS and GS hybrids are geared more toward performance, the CT is the first Lexus hybrid that truly focuses on being fuel efficient. And as you can tell by my gas mileage, it actually works.

The system itself is nice but not the best I’ve seen recently. The transition between gas and electric is a little rough, definitely noticeable while driving. At a stop, I was stunned by the clunky nature of the engine when it switched on. The car visibly shook. Ford and Volkswagen have more seamless systems.

Lexus CT 200h - wheelLucky for Lexus, neither Ford nor VW are considered competitors.

The CT has 4 driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. During the preview, I spent my time toggling between the Eco and Sport modes. The differences are slight, but noticeable. Sport mode has a quicker acceleration rate and slightly stiffer steering. Eco forces a gentler acceleration (unless the gas pedal is depressed quickly and completely). I also noticed a marked difference in gas mileage, even at highway cruising speeds.

Lexus CT 200h - InteriorSince the CT doesn’t have a gasoline companion, the design is completely unique to this vehicle. It’s a compact 5-door, and Lexus has actually identified the likes of Audi A3 and Volvo C30 as competitors—even though they don’t have hybrids. I think the CT looks a little like the much cheaper Mazda3, which I like. Some of my tweet buddies didn’t feel the same. Comments ranged from mild dislike to downright ugly with a few positive replies added in.

The interior of the CT mimics the other Lexus vehicles out there, right down to the Remote Touch controller if equipped with navigation. I think the center stack is attractive and simple with or without nav, and I liked that every single button, dial or control was within easy reach.

I was a huge fan of the different gauges for Sport vs. Eco. Not only does the color change (red = Sport, blue = Eco), but you get a tachometer when you switch to sport, while keeping a Hybrid System Indicator in Eco mode.

Lexus CT 200h Speedometer

The CT doesn’t offer cloth seating surfaces, but the base seat isn’t leather. It’s a kind of leatherette. I had the opportunity to look at both surfaces, and frankly I liked the base leatherette better. Who needs the leather for an upcharge?

Pricing hasn’t been released on the CT, but Lexus execs stated that the intention is for this car to fall under the IS 250. Which means the price will be something less than $32K. I find that interesting because this puts the CT clearly in the price range of a tricked-out Prius.

To me, this begs the question: Why?

Why would Lexus do this and potentially cannibalize a best seller? Why would you buy a CT when you can get an iconic Prius for less—and get better gas mileage in the process?

I’m not sure I know the answer to that, but I’m sure Lexus would indicate that they’re two different buyer profiles and never the twain shall meet.

Official pricing is set to be released at the beginning of December, and the car will arrive in dealerships at the beginning of March.

– Jill Ciminillo

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2 comments ↓

#1 M on 12.14.10 at 8:22 am

I saw one of these cars on the street, it looks GREAT. I live in Philadelphia, I want a lux small car. I need to park in the city. This car is right up there with what I am looking for. I find the A3 too bland, the Mazdas too dorky looking. I like the GTI and GTD. I will be cross shopping them. The distinct advantage here is amazing mileage. Since alot of driving here is slowly through tight city streets and stop and go on the over crouded highways, this one might just fit the ticket. A substantial reduction in the cost of gasoline allows me to pay for more car. Gotta love that.

#2 Jason on 04.01.11 at 4:58 pm

Saw them here in So Cal. They are very nice, the other reason I like them over a Prius is that the interior fit and finish are MUCH better than a Prius. Yes, you sacrifice some gas milage, but honestly, does owning a hybrid ever really pay out? With ROI in the 20+ year range, it is definiately not worth owning a tricked out Prius. I’ll get a nice Lexus with more options and a better fit and finished interior. I’m pretty sure the body, frame, suspension and engine are all the same though.

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