Entry level Lexus offers luxury, hybrid performance – but not a lot of "Go!"
By Jim Bray
The "littlest Lexus" returns for 2012 in much the same form as in its 2011 debut, but with some minor upgrades and packages that could make it more compelling for those who like a little "joy" with their luxury.
That's what Lexus says, anyway, with its announcement of an available F-Sport Package for 2012 that includes front and rear performance dampers, distinctive steering wheel, 17 inch alloy wheels, leather seats, spoiler, grille, scuff plates, interior trim and pedals.
The test CT Lexus Canada provided only had the Premium package, which adds $5000 to the car's base price of $30,950 Canadian ($29,120 U.S.) but does little to aid its performance.
Fortunately, the CT is a very nice car, anyway, a lovely little front drive hybrid wagon – and for those who only want a reasonably economical and luxurious ride, it might be your cup of tea.
And that appears to be the audience at which Lexus is aiming. According to Larry Hutchinson, Director of Lexus in Canada, "The CT 200h responds to the demands of a new luxury customer – one who is urban aware and desires road-hugging performance and class-leading fuel-efficiency, plus all the rewards of a luxury vehicle that suits their modern lifestyle." As for the performance, Hutchinson says that for 2012 Lexus has taken "The world’s first luxury hybrid sportback" to the next level: "The available F-Sport package enhances the performance of the CT 200h while adding distinctive styling cues that speak to this advanced hybrid’s fun to drive character."
Perhaps. While the F-Sport package's performance dampers undoubtedly help the car handle better, the lack of engine tweaks means that there's still little love to be had from mashing the gas pedal to the floor.
The heart of the Lexus CT 200h is an 1.8 liter in-line four-cylinder gas engine with Variable Valve Timing with intelligence on the exhaust cam (VVT-i), and an Exhaust Heat Recovery System. The engine works with a high-torque electric motor, a hybrid storage battery and a power management system that sends its "134 net horsepower" gently to the wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission.
You can operate the vehicle in a choice of four modes: Sport, Normal, ECO and EV, the latter of which is "all electric" and is only practical if you enjoy getting your doors blown off by pedestrians. Sport is the only one that offers anything close to driving excitement, and it isn't that close.
It's a decent handler, though, featuring an independent front suspension that uses Macpherson gas struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar (Lexus says it's "optimized to enhance handling and ride comfort"). The rear features a double-wishbone suspension with stabilizer bar, which is good stuff. The suspension helps give the CT pretty good nimbleness in the twisty bits; it just takes you a while to reach them…
Lexus' sample CT had a storage bin where the more upscale models put an LCD screen – up above the dash board. The only problem is that, if your arms aren't those of a taffy puller, you might not be able to reach the stuff you put in there.
Since the front wheel drive CT 200h is a Lexus, you'd expect it to be chock full of amenities, and you'd be right. Standard equipment includes a six-speaker audio system (AM/FM stereo/CD with MP3), USB and auxiliary audio input jack. Naturally, you get Bluetooth capability and steering wheel-mounted controls. The climate control is automatic and dual zone, with a dust/pollen/odor filter.
The interior is comfortable and laid out well. Instruments are highly legible, though you may find reading the LCD's a tad problematic if you're wearing polarized sunglasses. The "eco-friendly NuLuxe seat surfaces" (which are heated up front and offer an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat and four-way adjustable passenger seat) are very comfortable; the rear splits 60/40 and folds for extra storage space. And since the CT is a wagon to begin with, storage space is generous.
Naturally, you also get stuff like power door locks and smart key with push button start/stop, power windows (and there's auto up/down on all of them!), 16 inch aluminum alloy wheels with locks, a cute rear spoiler and (to show how eco-friendly you are) Lexus hybrid blue badging.
The projector style headlamps do a nice job of illuminating your path, and the variable intermittent wipers do a nice job of cleaning the front glass.
The Premium package of Lexus' test vehicle includes 17 inch aluminum alloy wheels and a power moon roof, a decent 10-speaker audio system with six-disc CD changer, integrated garage door opener, leather, driver's seat memory, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with a back-up camera and compass built in.
The Touring Package includes the Moonroof, the 17 inch wheels and a storage compartment with auxiliary power outlet, while the Technology Package adds a voice activated hard disc-based navigation system that also features Lexus' cool "mouse like" Remote Touch haptic controller and a back-up camera in the navigation display. You also get LED headlights with washers.
Oh, to have tried the new F-Sport Package, even though the stuff it adds other than the handling tweaks seem mostly cosmetic.
When all is said and done, the Lexus CT 200h is a nice little wagon – kind of a flat-topped luxury Matrix or VW Golf, though the non-hybrid Matrix and Golf will undoubtedly blow its doors off.
It really cries out for something like a turbo four cylinder engine to be offered for those who value performance as much as luxury.
If you don't care about that and are looking for a nice, luxurious and reasonably economical vehicle with lots of storage space, however, this might be a good choice for you.
Copyright 2012 Jim Bray
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