Lexus CT 200h hybrid purrs on through luxury market
When Lexus introduced its CT 200h Hybrid last year, they did so in Canada’s oil capital: Calgary. Why? According to the company, this Prairie city is prime fodder for an upscale hybrid vehicle, because even here people must commute, and the price of gas at the pump isn’t much better in Calgary than it is in Vancouver—or Toronto or Montreal. What better place for an upscale fuel-sipper?
Built on a platform similar to that of the Toyota Corolla, Matrix, and Prius, the new CT 200h also draws heavily from the latter when it comes to hybrid technology. Its hybrid drive system is much the same, with a few minor modifications—different software, controls, and nickel–metal hydride batteries—and it’s propelled by the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder, mated to a permanent-magnet electric motor and a CVT automatic transmission. This engine is of the Atkinson variety, which means it keeps its intake valves open longer than usual, resulting in lower compression and greater efficiency. Atkinson cycle engines are also used by Hyundai, Ford, GM, and Mercedes, to name a few.
On the ground, this translates into mediocre performance. The CT 200h is not going to set any land speed records, and is actually one of the slower vehicles I’ve driven lately. There are four driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal, and Sport, but the Sport setting, which is supposed to enhance performance, is basically all sound and fury. The EV setting is all-electric and the car runs on pure battery power until about 40 kilometres per hour, depending upon how you drive it. You can actually go farther than that if you’re easy on the gas. Most drivers will opt for the Eco mode on the highway and Normal around town. The company is claiming an overall combined fuel economy of 4.6 litres per 100 kilometres.
According to Lexus, the new CT 200h emits almost 50 percent fewer hydrocarbons than a comparable diesel engine, and has fuel economy over 25 percent better than its nearest diesel competitor, which, as far as the company is concerned, would be the Audi A3 TDI.
Lots of interesting little bits and pieces here. For example, the CT 200h has Smart Stop technology, which means that when you brake, the drive train automatically decelerates to provide a little more stopping power via engine compression. The driving modes also have ambient lighting in the cockpit—red for Sport and blue for Eco—and there are eight airbags, two of which are for knee impact. The Exhaust Heat Recovery System, meanwhile, warms up engine coolant more quickly, for reduced emissions, and an exhaust-gas recirculation system keeps the engine running cooler once under way.
The CT 200h also utilizes LED lighting throughout, and the sound-system speakers have diaphragms made from bamboo charcoal, fibre, and resin. Apparently, bamboo is much more durable and lighter than other materials currently used in speakers and is, of course, sustainable. Emulating Mercedes, perhaps, the CT 200h also has Lexus’s own brand of nonleather, non-Naugahyde upholstery in the form of NuLuxe, which apparently produces less carbon dioxide and requires less power during the manufacturing process, compared with other petroleum-based polyethylene materials.
What it lacks in power, the CT 200h makes up for in handling and ride comfort. On the highway, it is quiet, stable, and well-planted. You don’t need to crank up those bamboo speakers to hear the sound system or shout to be heard over road noise, and aside from being a titch shy on elbow room, the CT 200h is comfortable and driver-friendly. It also has surprisingly good handling and manages most tight corners with poise and a nice sense of balance. Bonus: a very tight turning radius of 11.2 metres. However, don’t pull out to pass that 18-wheeler unless you’ve got plenty of daylight in front of you. This is a slow car, remarkably lacking in bottom-end grunt and usable reserve power. Think of the Prius and you’ll get a fairly clear picture of its performance characteristics.
Lexus is now the hybrid leader in Canada’s upscale car market. With the addition of the CT 200h, it will have five models on the market. At least 13 percent of the company’s sales come from its hybrids, and the CT 200h will be its “gateway” model, starting at a hair under $31,000.