2012 Lexus CT 200h Premium

  Unless it is a high(ish)-end German vehicle or something that is somewhat quirky (e.g., a Nissan cube or a smart fortwo), chances are most people in the U.S. figure that most cars (and all trucks) were specifically designed and engineered for the U.S. market.

 

Unless it is a high(ish)-end German vehicle or something that is somewhat quirky (e.g., a Nissan cube or a smart fortwo), chances are most people in the U.S. figure that most cars (and all trucks) were specifically designed and engineered for the U.S. market. Yes, this even includes the panoply of cars from Toyota and Honda and so on. This is not a wholly unwarranted assumption, because the U.S. market, even though it had really been down on its heels and is just now getting its footing back but is still a stretch away from where it had been before the banana peel hit, is the biggest automotive market as regards a place where a single language can be used to sell cars (think of all of the languages in the European market or the various official languages in China). That’s no small advantage. So developing vehicles to appeal to the U.S. market is thoroughly understandable.

But it’s not like that’s (1) the only approach taken (e.g., the aforementioned German luxury cars) or (2) the best approach in all cases.

Which brings me to the Lexus CT 200h.

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If you look at this picture, you may assume that the setting isn’t in the greater southeastern Michigan area. And if you do assume that, you would be right. It was actually taken in France. When Lexus had an event for the global launch of the car, the company selected Chantilly. Thus, the chateau.

But arguably, the vehicle was developed for the European market, where (1) hatches aren’t suddenly a viable alternative, as they have become in the U.S. of late, and (2) fuel efficiency has long been a concern because of the chateau-like prices at the pump throughout the European community.

And this works to the advantage of the buyers in the U.S. because the CT 200h is a wonderful car for those who like small hatches (and I must admit that I do).

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The first thing to know about the Lexus CT 200h really ought to be the last thing to know about the car. That is, it is an important characteristic, but it is one that I think really need not be as big a part of the equation because the rest of the car is so well put together.

The CT 200h is a hybrid. (Thus, the “h.”)

So there is a traditional engine. A 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that runs the Atkinson cycle. Which essentially means that its combustion cycle is one that focuses more on fuel efficiency than power. This is a sophisticated engine, with four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) on the intake. It has peak output of 98 hp. Which, of course, is rather, well low by nearly any metric (e.g., a Toyota Yaris is rated at 106 hp). But that’s where the other shoe drops for the CT 200h in the form of the rest of the powertrain: a two-motor hybrid system and an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. There is an 80-hp drive motor that is combined with the internal combustion engine, but straight math notwithstanding (98 + 80 = 178 hp), the vehicle is actually rated as having total system horsepower of 134. Why? It’s complicated. Suffice it to say that Lexus claims a 0 to 60 mph time of 9.8 seconds, and in real-world driving I found the accelerative capacity of the car to be more than ample, even when passing at “freeway speed.”

The point that is more germane vis-à-vis this being a hybrid is the fuel efficiency of the CT 200h. The sticker says 43 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. According to the trip computer, during more than 500 miles of winter driving, a good bit of that on the aforementioned freeway, I averaged 37.4 mpg, which is really quite respectable if not remarkable because this is a Lexus and not only did it have one of the most comfortable seats my posterior has ever been positioned upon, but it gave up nothing in terms of amenities.

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Full disclosure would require me to point out that the car as driven had a base MSRP of $30,900, and with the Premium Audio Package ($1,100), LED headlamps and washer ($1,215), Leather Package (ahh! I mean, $1,330), Navigation System ($2,445), Illuminated Door Sills ($299), and Cargo Net ($75—and I’m betting a dealer would throw that in), that price rose to $37,364 before the $875 delivery, processing and handling fee.

That said, the premium compact CT 200h is a pleasure to drive and worth the money. One of the predicates of the pleasure is actually something that hasn’t been used on other Lexuses yet: a lateral performance damper system. Briefly: Instead of fixed bracing as found on many vehicles, the CT 200h has a damper in the front that connects the left and right suspension towers and a damper in the back that connects the left and right sides of the rear structural frame. This helps minimize body vibrations, as well as provides a more linear steering feel (there is electric power steering, which is not only speed-sensitive, but which has inertia compensation control, friction feedback, and recovery control assist, all of which add up to a nicely transparent steering system.

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Getting back to the powertrain for a moment: There is a nob that allows you to select Normal, Sport or Eco settings. (There is also an EV button that lets you drive for a short distance on electricity.) While some people might think that the dial does little more than cause the colors on the display to change (e.g., put it in Sport and it goes red, presumably signifying hot! not stop!), the knob actually results in throttle response settings to be modified in order to provide the driver with the appropriate performance (e.g., when doing that freeway speed overtaking, the Sport setting provides a discernible difference).

While I have been in some cars during the past that have an MSRP approximate to that of the CT 200h, I think that the level of interior materials and refinement handily bests all of them. And I suspect some of this goes to the European expectations. Some cars from luxury marques that are at or near the bottom of their offerings are typically “regular” cars in their home market; consequently the interiors aren’t as nice as one might expect. But in the case of a Lexus, it seems as though a Lexus is a Lexus is a Lexus. And the CT 200h is all that.

Selected specs

Engine: 1.8-liter four cylinder with VVT-i

Material: Aluminum alloy block and heads

Horsepower: 98 @ 5,200 rpm (not including hybrid drive)

Torque: 105 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm (not including hybrid drive)

Transmission: Continuously variable

Wheelbase: 102.4 in.

Length: 170.1 in.

Width: 69.5 in.

Height: 56.7 in.

Base curb weight: 3,206 lb.

EPA: 43/40/42 mpg city/hwy/combined