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Just In: 2011 Lexus CT 200h

Consumer Reports News: March 29, 2011 03:56 PM

And now for something completely different from Lexus… The Lexus website says that the CT 200h is “unlike any hybrid you have ever known,” but this rather small hatchback explores new territory for the brand, as well. Well-known for their posh and isolating sedans and SUVs, the CT 200h instead aims to be sporty to drive, as well as being an efficient hybrid.

The CT 200h is powered by a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. The batteries and two electric motors can propel the car on electric juice alone under low-load conditions. While this 134-hp powertrain is very similar to the one in the Toyota Prius, the heavier and less-aerodynamic Lexus can’t match the Toyota’s fuel economy. EPA estimates for the CT 200h are 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway; the Prius is 51/48. (We averaged 44 mpg overall with our 2010 Prius.) The other small Lexus hybrid, the 187-hp HS 250h, returned 31 mpg in our testing.

Upscale hatchbacks like the CT 200h haven’t done well in the United States. For example, even though the Volkswagen Golf is an excellent car, the Jetta sedan vastly outsells it. The CT 200h’s most direct competitors, the Audi A3 and Volvo C30, haven’t set American sales charts ablaze. Intended originally for European and Japanese markets, Lexus must be hoping that the CT 200h will grab fuel-conscious buyers worried about gas prices or recession-wary consumers lured in by a Lexus with a sticker starting under $30K.

You might think there’s another group of potential buyers. No doubt there are plenty of Prius owners out there who would like (and could afford) a hybrid with a nicer interior and more aggressive styling. The Lexus delivers that, but those Prius owners would have to be willing to give up their car’s roomy interior and take a considerable fuel economy hit for the style and sharper steering of a CT 200h.

Not surprisingly, the typical CT 200h will cost more than the just-under-$30,000 base price. Our CT 200h Premium has a moon roof and heated seats. An accessory package of vaguely-useful bits (cargo net, cargo mat, wheel locks) brought the total to $31,012. That money doesn’t buy you leather seats; our car has NuLuxe seats, a synthetic leather substitute.

First thoughts? The CT 200h is sportier than the average Lexus, but that isn’t really a big stretch. If your idea of “sporty” is “quick,” this isn’t the car for you. The interior is tight with a narrow driving position, cramped rear seat, and not much cargo space. We got 42 mpg with it on the mostly-highway trip home from the dealer.

Once the car’s broken in, we’ll see how well it does in our instrumented fuel economy tests. We’ll also see if this sporty hatchback matches the expectations of its Lexus badge.

Tom Mutchler

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