Two of my favorite Lexus models of all time are the 2002 IS300 wagon and the current HS250h. The wagon was arguably ugly, but I liked the size, sporty feel, and impeccable build quality. It was also a little out of the Lexus mainstream, which added cachet. Despite its high price, the HS250h has a luxurious leather-lined cabin that also taps the tech genies for a powerful hybrid system, heads-up display, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and a space shuttle’s worth of toys. Put them together, and you get something like the CT200h.
There’s a lot to like. I heard plenty of differing comments, but I warmed to the Daybreak Yellow Mica Paint. The interior is loaded with the softest heated leather seats, perfectly-sized leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, USB input for iPods, Bluetooth, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The dash stitching is primo and the swept back center console feels futuristic – wholly appropriate in a top-flight hybrid.
Under the controversial styling are a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, batteries, electric motors, and a continuously-variable transmission. Regenerative brakes replenish the batteries during deceleration; to conserve fuel, the engine shuts down while stopped at lights. It’s an efficient car that achieves 43/40 mpg city/hwy.
A big stainless knob lets drivers choose between “Sport”, “Normal”, and “Eco” modes. There is also a clever “EV” mode that lets you go short distances at low speeds without using gasoline. Eco mode makes the throttle less sensitive; Sport makes it ultra-sensitive. I prefer Normal for regular use. While putting the car into Sport mode changes dash lighting from blue to red, and makes the car peppier, it doesn’t magically fire in more ponies. Power is marginal in any of the modes, and when revved, sounds like tortured banshees.
On a smooth road, the chassis is superb and provides handling not normally seen in hybrids. Steering is predictable and the suspension loves to play. Having a lot of battery weight low down in the body doesn’t hurt. Engineers succeeded at making a Prius that is much more enjoyable to drive.
As good as all of this sounds, the car has some lumps. There is absolutely no excuse for the harsh suspension during city driving, the angry weedeater sound of the engine, or the squeaking and creaking of plastic panels over every imperfection. Using a mouse to control navigation and audio while driving a car is not cool. I could name a long list of hybrids and electrics that have body structures and interior quality equal to their technology. Although they made great car, engineers need to sweat the details in the CT200h.
In the end, this is a $38,239 Lexus — based on the world-beating Toyota Prius — that is fun to drive and comfortable as a sporty Lexus should be. The gas mileage is superb. Attention to detail, and a substantial re-work of the suspension, would make it stellar. It’s close to a perfect combination of the IS300 and HS250h. But, Lexus can do better…and it should.
2012 Lexus CT200h
Five-passenger, FWD, 5-Door
Powertrain: 134-HP – 1.8L I4, Batteries, CVT
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels: 17”/17” f/r
Brakes: Regenerative discs with ABS
Must-have feature: Technology, style
0-60 mph: 9.8s
Fuel economy (city/hwy.): 43/40 mpg
As tested price: $38,239