Recently, here at "Drive...He Said", we received an e-mail from a reader. Theirs was the plight of a new job which required a 50 mile per day round-trip commute from home. The reader asked for our recommended short list for the top fuel efficient cars. In mid sentence, as we attempted to say something positive above the Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid hatchback, we were beaten back with "But that thing looks so....drab/ boring..."
Toyota's touche to that "not-so-uncommon" sentiment is the Lexus 2012 CT200h. Starting at a base price of $29,000 it is requires the lowest price of admission to Toyota's luxury line. Lexus has seen to it that with the CT200h buyers do not at all get a"cheap" car, even if the donor platform is shared with the Toyota Corolla and the power/ drivetrains come straight from cousin Toyota Prius. The Lexus CT200h avoids much of the resemblance to a Hoover upright that its cousin Prius bears. Instead it looks the part of a ballistic projectile, even if in doing so it is overly optimistic. Thin, raked-back [optional] LED headlights, trimmed in more LEDs, sitting aside that borrowed-from-Lexus-IS deep front fascia, can play the dual intimidating/ beguiling roles. Do you see a "hot hatch" back end, replete with roof spoiler and wrap around glass ala the Lexus hybrid RX400h CUV? We do.
The differences between the Lexus CT200h and your run-of-the-mill Prius are more stark inside the machine. No hard surfaces here, as in the Prius. The Prius' quirky center stack drive mode selector and start button are moved to more traditional locations: next to the steering wheel and on the center console, respectively. Plop into the deepest front buckets ever witnessed in a Lexus, covered in [optional] perforated leather, you immediately realize the effect of the high belt-line. CT200h drivers are greeted by a more traditional TFT analog instrument cluster, replete with power mode flow display. Lay your forearm arm on that super-wide center console and enjoy the deft movement of the [optional] joystick controller for the [optional] info-tainment/ navigation system with motorized screen. However, those who love the huge rear seat and hatch cargo proportions of the standard Prius may not find such joy with the CT200h. Blame it on 4" shorter wheelbase and a far more sloping roof. In the Lexus tradition, the CT200h feels rock solid. Nary a piece of trim was spared the attention to precision and appearance.
Any concession the CT200h makes to the Prius in size or overall utility should be more than rewarded in terms of driving excitement, right? Well, it is not nearly the "cardiac-arresting" kind. After all, each CT200h gets the same 98 hp Atkinson cycle 1.8L gas engine, augmented by a 60 kw synchronous AC electric motor, found in the Toyota Prius, which is good for a combined output of 134 hp. Torque ratings are the same 105 lb-ft at 5000 rpm for the gas engine and 150 lb-ft for the electric motor. The same Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack, sits under the hatch area floor and stores 27kw of juice. Power is sent to the front drive wheels by a Continually Variable Transmission. Fortunately, weight has remained in check at 3100 lbs., remarkable since the CT200h gets more luxurious trim, extra kit, 4 wheel disc brakes and larger alloy wheels with wider rubber.
The translation into forward motion is similar to that in "Prius-land". An urgent application of the right foot to the accelerator in the CT200h is met with an engine room inclined to deliberate over the captain's orders. Once the engine room deciphers things the CT200h will reach 60 mph in an un-hurried 10 seconds. This is so despite the re-calibration of the throttle and transmission for a more authoritative feel than what is available in the Prius. BTW, selecting "Sport Mode" also changes the instrument cluster back-lighting from blue to red, and replaces the power-flow display with a TFT tachometer. It might have been our imaginations, but even the exhaust under throttle sounded throatier.
With the Lexus CT200h there is less of a disconnect from the road thanks mostly to suspension bits. No marshmallow bushings or springs here. In "Sport" mode the electric steering rack is goosed enough to keep up with the low profile 245/ 45 series Michelin MXM Pilot all-season performance tires mounted on 17" alloy wheels. Front end plow and body roll are minimal thanks to higher-rate springs and dampers on our Premium model. Sizable discs on all four wheels of the CT200h suggest that the brakes were intended for something more than mere regeneration of electricity for the battery pack. Of consequence to those with sporting aspirations is the near-elimination of the annoying push-back of the brake pedal observed in the Prius and other gas-electric hybrids over heartier breaks in the pavement.
Fory-three (43) combined miles per gallon that we obtained in the 2012 Lexus CT200h means that our commuting reader will use but a drop over 1 gallon of gas over their 50 mile commute. While our $38,600 CT200h included $9000 in aforementioned Lexus options, it is the Lexus way of saying "tree-hugger" and "flair" in the same sentence.
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