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Lexus CT200h 2011 Review

EXPERT RATING
8

The first four-cylinder model from Lexus piggy-backs the Toyota Prius to drive silently into new territory.  The hybrid CT200h - not only the first with four cylinders from the Toyota premium division but its first hatchback and first to slide in under $40,000 - is termed a "gateway'' model and is believed to win big sales for Lexus. Already its first shipment is sold out, even before the car this week arrives in showrooms.

Chief executive for Lexus Australia, Tony Cramb, says the CT200h "challenges the established market norms" by delivering eco-friendly technology wrapped in a luxury package.

The entry level's price of the four-model range starts at $39,990 which is staring at eye-level with the $39,900 Toyota Prius. No surprises then that they share more than just parents.

VALUE

At $39,990 it's not exactly cheap but neither are its primarily European competitors. The trick is that the starter model is modestly equipped. You have to throw another $9000 at it to get what the luxury market expects - sat-nav, leather, heated seats, 10-speaker sound and a reverse camera - in the Luxury edition.

The sports-oriented F-Sport model gets blackened alloys, body kit, sports suspension (no, no and no) and sports seats for $49,990.  Ring your banker and get $55,990 for the Sports Luxury which has additional safety like Lexus' new pre-collision system and active cruise control.

TECHNOLOGY

Same as Prius. The 1.8-litre engine is mated to an electric motor that also acts as a generator and starter motor.  The gearbox is a continuously-variable unit operated by a slick electronic, Playstation-style lever. An electric motor helps reduce steering effort and another electric motor runs the water pump.

The battery at the back is nickel-metal hydride as Lexus says lithium-ion "wasn't available because of demand''. Rubbish - we've got Ni-MH because it's cheaper than Li-ion even though the latter is decades ahead in performance and lightness.

But while this is all Prius gear, there are some interesting new bits.  Lexus has fitted four adjustable driving modes - EV (electric-only drive), Eco (petrol and electric but reduced power and airconditioning), Normal (petrol and electric but designed for smooth driving) and Sport (more responsive steering, more volts for the motor, less intrusive stability control and higher engine revs).

Other handywork includes plant-derived material for the luggage floor, speaker diaphrams made from a bamboo-charcoal resin, and suspension strut bars that not only improve body rigidity but have an inbuilt absorber to reduce vibrations.

DESIGN

The CT200h is the same size as the 1999-launched Lexus IS200 but is lighter, has a much bigger cabin and is one second quicker to 100km/h.  It doesn't break any new styling grounds but follows the conservative tastes of Lexus/Toyota and, therefore, its buyers.

But it works well, with seating for four adults, a split-fold rear seat to boost the already accommodating boot space and reasonable visibility.  The cabin is better, with a dashboard that is both elegant and functional and - more importantly - more modern and youthful than Audi and BMW.

The electronics and the displays are excellent - though you'll need the Luxury model to get the sat-nav on the big 200mm screen - but the foot-operated park brake is a jarring reminder of an archaic era.

SAFETY

There's a five-star crash rating, eight airbags (the extra two are the knee airbags for the driver and front passenger) plus stability control, ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist, a hill holder - uphill or downhill - and traction control.  The seats are also designed to make the body squat while the active head restraints move forward, reducing the impact from rear-enders.

DRIVING

My head is saying Prius and it's not getting excited, but my heart's feeling that there's a lot of urge coming on from up front.  The weeny drive program included some city driving where the first hint of change was the firm-ish ride over Melbourne's battered city roads.  But the ride noise from the suspension was virtually inaudible, as was the engine given it was mostly turned off and it could travel for up to 2km on the battery.

Pick a tight, winding road and the CT200h - with the Power mode engaged - is an absolute surprise. Stuff the economy, this thing will run hard through the corners and draw the huge near-zero rev torque of the motor to complement the engine to deliver instant power out of the corners.

The handling is excellent, even though the electric steering can sometimes feel vague and the CVT sounds like it's spinning irrelevantly.
It's also comfortable (though some may think the ride's a bit firm for oldies) and really feels taut, confident and fun to drive. Definitely not words you'd use to describe Prius.

LEXUS CT200h 

PRICE: from $39,990
WARRANTY: 4-years/unlimited km
RESALE: n/a
SERVICE INTERVAL: 15,000km/12 months
SAFETY: 5-star Euro NCAP
ENGINE: 1.8-litre, 4-cyl petrol engine, 73kW/142Nm; electric motor, 60kW/207Nm
BODY: 5-door hatch
WEIGHT: from 1370kg
TRANSMISSION: CVT, front drive
THIRST: 4.1L/100km, 91 RON, CO2 95g/km

"Affordable luxury with a green tint''

Pricing Guides

$17,425
Based on 18 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$13,995
Highest Price
$22,900

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CT200h F Sport 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $16,888 – 19,880 2011 Lexus CT 2011 CT200h F Sport Pricing and Specs
CT200h Luxury 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $15,900 – 22,900 2011 Lexus CT 2011 CT200h Luxury Pricing and Specs
CT200h Prestige 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $13,995 – 17,900 2011 Lexus CT 2011 CT200h Prestige Pricing and Specs
CT200h Sports Luxury 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $14,080 – 18,590 2011 Lexus CT 2011 CT200h Sports Luxury Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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