If we say “Lexus,” what comes to mind? Like most of us, you probably think smooth, conservative, premium luxury. And while that’s true, Lexus would like to broaden that definition to aim for a younger, hipper buyer.
Enter the all-new 2011 Lexus CT200h—a 5-door hatchback with European flair, hybrid technology, a very sporty drive, and surprisingly attractive price.
It certainly doesn’t look like any Lexus of recent memory. A snug, low-slung 5-door hatchback, the CT looks like the kind of vehicle you see running around Europe. Helping to stand out, our tester wore a metallic bronze-gold that Lexus calls Daybreak Yellow Mica. It was interesting to note that passersby either loved the little Lexus’ looks, or were turned off. We take that as a plus and think the edgy styling will really appeal to the younger buyer Lexus is hoping to attract.
The Lexus CT200h not only looks different, but drives different from other Lexus models, too. Sharing much of the running gear with the Toyota Prius, we were surprised how much fun the little Lexus is to drive.
Like the Prius, the CT features a 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain, which totals out to 134 hp. While this doesn’t sound like much, the CT200h feels peppy and responsive in traffic, and manages an impressive 40 mpg city/43 mpg highway rating—the highest of any luxury car. And we found those numbers to be pessimistic—you can see mpg in the 50s if you show some restraint.
We, however, lack restraint. The Lexus gives you a choice of four driver modes: Eco, Normal and Sport modes, as well as a limited-distance all-electric EV mode. While the other modes are fine for maximizing your economy, we spent all of our time in Sport mode, which instantly changes the blue-bathed eco-mode gauge in the instrument panel into a red-bathed tachometer. Neat. Sport mode also sharpens the throttle and steering response and really wakes up the car.
This is a great chassis that’s tons of fun to zip around traffic and attack your favorite set of curves. Employing a first-for-Lexus lateral performance damping system, it gives a solid, responsive feel and a Euro-firm, but never harsh, ride. And even driving like a crazed European, we still were managing an average 39 mpg. Phenomenal!
No matter your personal driving style, you’ll enjoy spending time in the Lexus CT200h. The low-slung sport seats are super-supportive, and the fat 3-spoke leather wheel (Lexus says it shares design elements with their $360,000-plus LFA Supercar) feels great to the hands. While this is an affordable car, it’s still a Lexus, and that means you’re surrounded by top-drawer materials all around.
What you won’t see is some advanced thinking in those materials, including a Bamboo-charcoal resin for the instrument panel, standard supple Nuluxe seating that weighs half as much as leather and creates 65% fewer CO2 emissions in its manufacturing (Luxo-types don’t fret, leather is an available option), and lightweight but strong bio-plastic materials in the rear cargo area.
Despite its snug exterior dimensions, front and rear passenger space is quite good. And truthfully, if you’re really concerned with space, a Prius or the all-new Prius V wagon is probably where you should be looking.
We’ll take the Lexus CT200h, thank you. The most affordable 2011 Lexus CT200h starts at $29,100. At the very least, we’d pop for the $30,900 Premium model, which gives you a power moonroof and heated seats, as well as opening the door for some other tempting options.
Our very nicely loaded tester featured Lexus’s Navigation system with a cool controller that’s like a computer mouse, a premium 10–speaker audio system enhanced Bluetooth, a rearview camera came in just under $35,000. For comparison, a comparably equipped Audi A3 TDI diesel will probably run you about $3,000-4,000 more.
We applaud Lexus for taking the brand in a new direction. And we really like the new CT200h; it could turn a hybrid fan into an auto enthusiast. And it could equally find a happy home in the garage of many a car lover. All that, and an affordable price, too.