Test Drive: Lexus CT 200 h

From first glance, the Lexus CT 200h gets high marks for styling. The five-door hatchback wears a stylish European look that sets it apart from the crowd of other smaller hatchbacks and sedans.? The distinctive style comes from the drawing pencils of the Lexus L-finesse design school.? It?s most noticeable in the sculpted front grille and fascia area and the complex ?C? pillar treatment that is unlike any other hatchback.

Overall, the interior has a high quality feel with a sculpted dash accented with a choice of brushed aluminum, ash or bamboo and finished with a look that says ?hand-sewn leather?, even though we imagine it?s more likely machine stitched high grade vinyl.? The broad center console is ?control central? for the CT with the shift control mounted far forward, audio controls, electric parking switch, the handling dynamics control panel, controls for the heated seats and the Lexus exclusive Remote Touch controller which works like a computer mouse.?

The Remote Touch control is an active pointing device that incorporates reaction feedback for a better feel when controlling the functions displayed on the eight-inch screen.? When activated, the screen rises out the center of the dash above the center console to control navigation, climate, phone, vehicle set up and includes redundant audio controls.

Moving the dynamics control dial to the Sport mode changes the performance and agility for a more sporty drive.? In addition to changing the vehicles dynamics, it also changes the instrument cluster color from blue to red and the hybrid power indicator changes to a tachometer. The controls offer both a Dynamic and Relaxing driving mode in conjunctions with the hybrid?s EV, ECO, NORMAL and SPORT, ?on-demand? drive modes.

We both fell in love with standard NuLuxe seat fabric.? This is the first car we?ve seen with the eco-friendly material that feels like ultra-soft leather and the CT 200h is the only Lexus product to use it so far.? We were told NuLuxe is also more durable than traditional fabrics and leathers, plus it resists stains better.

The newest Lexus hybrid is powered by a 1.8-liter 98-hp four-cylinder Atkinson cycle gasoline engine married to an 80-hp electric motor.? Together the pair produces the equivalent of 134-hp.? The CT 200h is a full hybrid, which means it is capable of operating on electricity or gas alone, or in a combination of both.? The electric motor, generator and power split device are all housed in a compact unit about the size of a conventional transmission.? It drives the front wheels through a shift-by-wire, Electronically Controlled continuously Variable Transmission .

A unique energy management system maximizes performance while maintaining a low level of noise and vibrations.? Lexus says it accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 9.8 seconds and has an EPA fuel economy rating of 43 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. ?Running around town and making a couple of trips over the river and through the woods, we averaged 38.7 mpg.

The CT has a sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension, plus a rigid body and low center of gravity that gives the CT driving characteristics more consistent with a sports car than a high-fuel economy hybrid.

The CT 200h pricing starts at $29,995, including the destination charge, and includes features like SmartAcess with push-button start/stop, Bluetooth?, satellite radio, USB/iPod? connectivity, 17-inch alloy wheels and dual zone automatic climate control.? In addition to a full range of electronic safety equipment, the CT is equipped with eight airbags.?? The Premium version pricing starts at $31,775 and adds a moonroof and access to several option packages including leather, navigation, LED headlights, pre-collision warning and a rear view camera.? Adding all these interesting extras will jump the final price to near $39,000, but they do give it most of the features we?ve come to expect on a premium model.

In addition to its ecological hybrid characteristics, Lexus gets extra points for the concerted effort to make the CT greener by using abundant environmentally friendly materials and processes.? For example, the lightweight and emissions friendly NuLuxe seats, the lightweight and energy efficient LED lighting and the audio amplifier, plus the speakers are made from bio-sourced materials and bamboo charcoal.

They also made a better environment for the passengers and especially the optimized driving position which combines a low hip point height with enhanced lateral and lumbar support.

Owners who purchase the Premium CT 200h get one year of access to a suite of 24-hour emergency and navigation service called Safety Connect and vehicles purchased with the optional navigation system get access to the Lexus Enform which keeps owners up-to-date about local events and exclusive owner benefits. They also get access to the XM Nav Traffic?, XM Nav Weather and XM Sports and Stocks through a paid subscription.? The services are similar to the OnStar package offered on General Motors vehicles.

??????????By Barbara & Bill Schaffer

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