NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: I had a decent night in this sporty hybrid, running an errand on the other side of town and then lapping back into work the following day. In sport mode, this is a respectably fun little hatch with tight steering that picks up quickly off center. The power is adequate considering that total output is just 134 hp. There's a nice amount of response through maneuvers via the wheel, and the leather and stitching present well. The engine is a bit raspy, but again, we're talking about a four-banger here.
Normal mode lived up to its name, not really inspiring me either way. In eco setting, things slowed down a bit and the steering is the loosest of the three modes. Power was still adequate. I merged onto a busy expressway in rush hour, but adequate is the best you can say about this unit. Really, it can feel quite slow. The CVT is fine; it's a CVT. I think paddles would make this car much more fun and would help it reach an enthusiast market looking for some interaction. There's a ton of technology going on in here, and the mouse control was different but sort of cool.
The chassis is tight, and it's a well-mannered car that holds lines through curves. The interior is reasonably quiet, though some wind noise does pervade. I found the seats extremely comfortable and supportive; they offered an excellent road view and everything was within reach. I feel the center console is a bit busy, and one of the first things I did was rip off the iPod holder, which looked cheap and seemed likely to break off when reaching across the car. I wasn't a fan of the door-panel materials but the rest of the cabin was well done. The backup camera is one of the clearest I've seen in any car.
I like the looks and have been consistent on that since I saw this car revealed in Geneva in 2010. Frankly, I think it could be sauced up a little more, but it's a nice silhouette.
My verdict: In sport mode the CT 200h can be fun, especially with the tight steering. But the sticker is a little too high for me, even with all of these options and goodies.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Lexus has really been pushing this 2011 CT 200h hard lately. I've seen tons of commercials proclaiming this as the "dark side of green." So I guess if Darth Vader was in the market for a hybrid, he would be at a Lexus dealer plunking down for this? Doubtful.
What we do know is that Lexus is targeting a younger demographic with this car and is trying to sell it on the notion of being fun to drive, which sadly isn't all that true. Blame the hybrid powertrain for that, which is the same one found in the $24,280 Toyota Prius with a net horsepower output of 134 connected to a dreaded continuously variable transmission.
It's a little disappointing that the CT 200h, which starts at $29,995, doesn't pack at least a little more power. I mean, couldn't the Toyota engineers find at least another 10 hp or 15 hp somewhere to help warrant the $5,715 price difference? OK, I guess the Lexus badge and more upscale interior does do a fair amount to make up for the price difference. Oh, and there is a rear double-wishbone suspension instead of a torsion beam, which is also worth something.
The sad part is that I wanted to like this car. It looks sharp with an attractive hatchback silhouette. The interior is also passable for an entry luxury vehicle with soft touch points throughout, deeply side-bolstered front buckets that keep you locked down and comfortable and a thick-rimmed steering wheel.
But the drive is disappointing because you're essentially buzzing around in a more upscale Prius. I had sport mode engaged the entire time, bringing up the tachometer in place of the hybrid power indicator on the cluster. Even with the "sharper" throttle, the CT 200h still felt slow (0 to 60 mph comes in 9.8 seconds, according to Lexus), but steering response is respectable.
I will say this, though: This car could be an entertaining entry-level Lexus with the right powertrain. The suspension with MacPherson struts in front and the double wishbones in the rear can certainly handle more power. Once up to speed, this car does ride comfortably and quiet, and through corners it feels solid and stable. Lexus should really consider putting a regular four-cylinder in this car with 200 hp, mated to a traditional automatic transmission (or do one better and offer a manual) to make it an alternative to the Audi A3.
However, as it is with this hybrid powertrain and CVT, I'll have to pass. Also, it is scary how fast the price can climb on this thing. Our Premium trim tester, which adds a standard moonroof, heated front seats, optional navigation and more over the base CT 200h isn't worth $38,000-plus in my book. Give me an Audi A3 TDI, which starts at $33,125 with the dual-clutch sequential manual transmission instead. It probably gets better real-world mileage and you'd have a lot more fun doing so.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: I want to like this sporty-looking little Lexus, but the powertrain just won't play along. Like Honda's CR-Z, I want Toyota to build the same car, but with a nice, fuel-injected, high-revving four-cylinder engine hooked to a nice stick (or at least a paddle-shifted autobox). I really like the looks of the car, from the chunky, big-hatchback exterior styling to the sharply upholstered interior with its perfectly positioned driver's seat. Everything is laid out for ease of use, but I could do without the odd shifter.
As Greg notes, putting the car in sport mode helps (and activates the tachometer in place of the eco gauge on the instrument panel), but sliding the shifter over into "B," regenerative braking mode, also helps with powertrain and car control.
Overall, this could be a lot of fun, but a CVT and hybrid powertrain add mpg, just not enough zip.
COPY EDITOR CYNTHIA L. OROSCO-WRIGHT: This Lexus looks great from the outside, with its hunkered-down stance and nice sheetmetal. It looks sporty, even a bit racy. But, the cabin and the drive turned me off. The seats were quite uncomfortable, and you can't position the seatback into anything that resembles upright. I'm not one of those people who like to be reclined in my seat, so I drove with my back not touching the seat. Uncomfortable. Also, there was little space between my head and the headliner. I felt as if I was sitting on top the car, not in it. And, I would like the steering wheel to be more adjustable height-wise. On top of all of that, there was the contorting and ducking to get into and out of the car.
In either eco or power mode there's not much go, and sport mode does little to improve the situation. You have to put you foot into it a bit to move the car off the line or to merge into expressway traffic. Once up to speed, there's OK power, to the CT 200h's credit.
The center stack is pretty busy but all of the controls are at hand, which is nice. And the materials are good.
I can see this car appealing to people who want to be green but also keep a sporty edge. But to me, this just isn't the package.
MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: I could like this car on its own with a conventional powertrain. As a small hatch, it has some swagger to its appearance, and if I absolutely had to drive one or the other, I'd much rather drive this Lexus than the Prius from which it cannibalizes its hybrid powertrain. I also liked the seating position, the steering wheel feel (which is not the same as the bland actual steering feel) and the interior in general quite a bit. I still hate this nav/audio interface, though. Call it a pointing stick. Call it a mouse. Call it garbage.
Goodness, this car is indeed a dog. Is it presented as a sports car? Certainly not, but it's almost painfully slow, with slow-motion response to throttle commands and a concession go-kart feel under acceleration (in case that's a little-known term, a concession kart is what you find at your local mini golf course, not a fun, indoor-racing kart). In fact, it's so the opposite of quick that I found it hard to project what the suspension as is could handle. It feels at times as if there's perhaps a bit of playfulness on-hand here, but the utterly unsatisfying powertrain ruins any attempts at enthusiastic cornering.
There are so many significantly less expensive options that equal or exceed this car's real-world mileage performance that I can't see anyone who doesn't place a premium on their image within their relatively well-to-do neighborhood thinking this makes any kind of sense--from either a financial or an enthusiast point of view.
2011 Lexus CT 200h Premium
Base Price: $31,775
As-Tested Price: $38,239
Drivetrain: 1.8-liter I4 hybrid; FWD, continuously variable transmission
Output: 98 hp @ 5,200 rpm (134 hp net system output), 105 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,130 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 42/32.8 mpg
Options: Navigation system including backup monitor, Lexus enform with destination assist and edestination, voice command, satellite radio with weather, traffic, sports and stocks ($2,445); leather package including perforated leather seats with driver's memory seat, rain-sensing intermittent wipers with mist cycle and auto-dimming out mirrors with memory ($1,330); LED headlamps including auto-leveling and headlamp washer ($1,215); premium audio package including 10-speaker premium audio system, in-dash six-disc CD changer, auto-dimming electrochromic rearview mirror and universal garage-door opener ($1,100); illuminated door sills ($299); cargo net ($75)
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