Up to now those in the market for a compact hybrid with the Lexus nameplate were pretty much out of luck. This month, however, all that changes.
Lexus is introducing a new hybrid to its lineup—a 1.8-liter DOCH 16-valve engine with an electric motor and regenerative braking system that converts braking energy into electricity to recharge the battery. . It gets an impressive 42 miles per gallon (combined city/highway) and is priced at $29,120 for the base model and $30,900 for the premium edition. Plan to shell out an additional $1,125 for premium audio, $2,445 for navigation system and $1,330 for leather.
Lexus is certainly no stranger to manufacturing vehicles that are environmentally friendly and exceptionally energy efficient. It was the first luxury carmaker to introduce a hybrid (the RX 400h) in 2005, and this car is now its fifth hybrid in the Lexus stable. However, what separates the CT 200h from its siblings is its size, performance and technology as well as the consumers to whom it is being marketed.
I’ll admit that my first impression of this five-door vehicle was “a Lexus hatchback, really?” However, in short order it grew on me.
On a one-day road test along the flat terrain of West Palm Beach last fall, I had an opportunity to test drive several of the vehicles. The ride was smooth, the change from electric to gas seamless and it delivered the power necessary to handle the challenges of freeway and local driving. (It promises to go from zero to 60 in 9.8 seconds.) In fact, it was a joy to drive, especially knowing that I was getting in the vicinity of 40 mpg whether I was cruising on the highway or contending with stop-and-go traffic in town.
Even the most green-minded drivers love having options, and the folks at Lexus know that and have incorporated a range of driving choices and green features into the CT 200h. It’s a compact hybrid that allows drivers to choose between three driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) to get the best fuel efficiency and handling. In our briefing before we hit the road, we were told about a firming of the steering as one switched between the modes via a dial on the center panel. I have to be honest, I tried to detect it but didn’t. However, it was pretty cool switching between modes (a light ring around the dial changes from blue to red when one changes from Eco and Normal to Sport) and watching a needle that shows the output of the motor and engine and how eco-friendly (or not) one’s driving is. The interior also features materials that are 85 percent recyclable.
The CT 200h comes with plenty of high-tech features inside and outside, including rain-sensing wipers, in-mirror back-up camera, dynamic cruise control that keeps the vehicle at a pre-set distance from others in front of it, a pre-collision system and Yamaha dampers to minimize vibrations.
The interior isn’t as ultra luxurious as one might expect with the Lexus nameplate. Interior seating features NuLuxe, an imitation leather material that was easy on the eyes. I found the back seat adequate, but I’m 5-foot-4. I doubt it would be comfortable for anyone taller or with considerable girth on anything but the shortest of trips. However the rear seats fold down (60/40), providing 14.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Lexus began marketing the vehicle in mid-2010, months before they had inventory ready for showrooms. However, they created “buzz” via a number of unique strategies, including producing a Web-based talk show in which the host interviews guests in a CT 200h; an online film “Dark Ride,” a virtual test drive and a series of green issue debates between proponents and skeptics of climate change.
Lexus officials say this vehicle is a “game changer” for the manufacturer and admit that they are going after a younger consumer who’s “independent, social, influential and tech savvy.”
With the turmoil in the Middle East and gas approaching $4 a gallon, the introduction of the CT 200h may be entering the market at an ideal time. Lexus may have a short wait to find out if their new hybrid connects with consumers.