Not Brand New, But Definitely Noteworthy
In the 2011 model year, Lexus introduced an entirely new category within the compact luxury market with its CT 200h, a four-door, five-seat, nearly zero-emission hatchback. For 2012, the CT 200h has received only minor changes, but it’s worth a second look and definitely worth an updated test drive. In fact, when it came to my personal parking spot in New England recently, it was one of the most attention-attracting vehicles that I’ve had this year, plus the CT 200h is one of the most fun-to-drive small cars I’ve tested with a dual mission of responsive motoring and accountability to the environment.
Having It All
For the past two decades or so, the trade-off was clear: get a sweet ride or get a nice, responsible car with good gas mileage. However, as consumer preferences and federal regulations have evolved, carmakers started to get creative about how they could deliver performance while inching up the numbers on their EPA estimates.
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h is a great example of that next generation of vehicles that deliver on the promise of better fuel economy without losing the heart and soul of the machine. A Lexus, after all, is supposed to be luxurious – and inherent in the definition of “luxury” is something that isn’t practical or ordinary.
So it seems fitting that for the CT 200h’s sophomore year, Lexus added only a new exterior paint option and two F Sport packages, one of which is a “Special Edition.”
What We Drove
We spent a week in the 2012 Lexus CT 200h, using it as a daily driver to run errands, and ferry friends and family. Its Daybreak Yellow Mica paint was an upbeat part of its allure but, beyond that, the CT200h is one of the most eye-appealing small cars to come to market in the last decade. Eschewing the front-end dominating, wide-mouthed grille of many new autos today, the CT200h wears a sly smile with its split grille of mild-mannered proportions. Its front and rear oversized bumpers have the puff of Angelina Jolie’s lips but, rather than communicating “big and bulbous”, they say “safe” in a small package.
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h is priced starting at $30,900. Our model was a Premium edition, with an upgraded stereo system ($1,100); a leather package that included NuLuxe trim on seats and steering wheel ($1,330); and a high-end navigation/traffic/communications and telematics system that bundles nearly every goody offered in upscale autos ($2,445). With destination and delivery ($875), our test version added up to $36, 725. Its
The CT200h drives likes it should. The hybrid system is transparent, except when you start and stop, with the engine running; it goes silent with the exception of the audible warning system for pedestrians and cyclists, when in EV mode. Its steering is nimble and power is more than ample for motivating the short-wheel-based runabout. The CVT is impressive and for all intents and purposes acts like an auto transmission.
Heavy Hitting Hybrid
A few weeks ago, we read a comment about a popular hybrid automobile which characterized most hybrid models as “weenie” cars that belong in the slow lane.
In contrast, the 2012 Lexus CT 200h is powered by a 1.8-liter 98 hp. gas engine and 80 hp. electric motor for total system power output of 134 hp. Zero-to-60 performance is just under 10 seconds, and the motor tops out at 113. While it’s no Ferrari, it’s not a science fair experiment, either. Combined EPA estimated fuel economy rating is 42 mpg.
Drivers can choose EV, ECO and SPORT ‘on-demand’ drive modes, or remain in NORMAL. In EV mode, the electric motor works alone, resulting in zero NOx and particulate emissions when driving for up to one mile at speeds of up to 28 mph. ECO mode significantly reduces fuel consumption through “relaxed” driving (shift points are calibrated to come early in the rpm range), while SPORT mode holds engine revs at a higher rpm. In SPORT mode, throttle and Electric Power Steering (EPS) settings are modified to be more responsive.
During deceleration and under braking, the electric motor acts as high-output generator, recovering kinetic energy (normally wasted as heat under braking and deceleration) as electrical energy for storage in the battery.
Mated to the hybrid powerplant is an Electronically-Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) that is engineered to Shift-by-Wire and uses an electronic shift lever system.
Slipping Into Something Comfortable
The compact 2012 Lexus CT 200h is somewhat spacious inside considering its small footprint, with ample room for four and stowage in the backend for goods and gear. Metallic finishes and dark, soft-touch materials are used throughout the front and rear, and seating surfaces are available in either black or grey leather. Everything just looks good and feels sumptuous, as a luxury cockpit should.
Also impressive are a host of cool technology touches, like the dual-zone dash with an upper ‘Display Zone’, that houses the eight-inch, LCD multi-display screen, and a lower ‘Operation Zone’, which allows access to the shift lever and system controls such as Remote Touch that operates like a PC mouse to let users interact with the navigation and other systems like a ‘video gamer’.
The Lexus navigation system comes standard, as does an audio system with CD player, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, six speakers and USB and auxiliary port connectivity. Bluetooth is onboard, too. A premium 10-speaker system, with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and an uplevel navigation package that bundles numerous telematics interfaces, can be ordered, as well.
Head and shoulder room are plentiful in front, though it is more snug in the rear seats due to its contoured roofline. The cargo area stows 14.3 cubic feet.
How To Make Sensual Make More Sense
On the outside, the 2012 Lexus CT 200h carries over its handsome looks from last model year, unless you happen to order it in Nebula Gray Pearl (which replaces Smoky Graphite Mica as an exterior paint color). This small wagon evokes European design with its sporty wheels, sharply angled headlamps and rounded rear liftgate. A wide track and long wheelbase make it look even more track-ready; seventeen-inch wheels are standard.
The only other changes for this year’s model are part of the F Sport options – F Sport Package and F Sport Special Edition, which can be tacked on to CT 200h Premium models. The F Sport editions are mainly badge-and-chrome-type options, including distinctive 17-inch wheels, metallic trim on the interior and racing-inspired touches like aluminum sport pedals. The F Sport Special Edition also includes ocean blue leather seats and a set of F Sport-branded TUMI luggage.
A Safe, Fun Ride
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h features a MacPherson strut front suspension system with a fully independent double wishbone rear suspension setup. ABS and traction control are standard, as are stability control and electric power steering. F Sport models receive special sport tuning.
New for 2012 is the standard Vehicle Proximity Notification System, an external sound system to help assist pedestrians to be aware of the presence of hybrid or electric vehicles traveling at low speeds on city streets; the noise automatically turns off above a certain speed.
Carryover safety features include a “pre-collision safety” system, with a millimeter-wave radar sensor that scans to detect obstacles in front of the car. Dynamic radar cruise control helps drivers keep a safe distance from other vehicles, even in cruise mode. Eight airbags are standard; seats have been designed to reduce whiplash injuries in a crash. A rearview camera system is also available.
The Long and Short of It
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h is available in two models – the base model and the premium edition. Base models start at $29,120, the same price as the 2011 model year, and have a leather-trimmed steering wheel, 10-way adjustable driver’s seat, automatic dual-zone climate control, the vehicle proximity notification system as well as an auxiliary console with 12-volt power outlet inside. Premium versions, which add, heated front seats and a moonroof, are $350 more than last year and will cost you $31,250.
Factory options include several packages such as a premium audio package, leather package with perforated leather seats and a navigation package with back-up camera and HDD navigation technology.