Motoring: Premium hatch proven hybrid tech

The Lexus CT 200h goes head-to-head with two other luxury hatches.

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h is a sporty, hybrid hatchback that is the gateway to the Lexus lineup in North America.

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h is a sporty, hybrid hatchback that is the gateway to the Lexus lineup in North America.

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h is unique in the entry luxury car segment as the only hatchback to offer a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain.

Introduced in 2011, the CT 200h joins four other models in the Lexus lineup offering hybrid power, but it is the only hatchback along with a group of three sedans and an SUV.

I’ve always liked hatchbacks as many Canadians do, unlike our American neighbours who are just starting to catch on to the utility that they can offer.

Hatchbacks, or “sportbacks” as Lexus likes to call them, have always been a tough sell south of border, but indications recently are that the tide is turning and the five-door models are starting to move off dealer lots in larger numbers.

The Lexus CT 200h is more than just a North American model as it goes head-to-head with two other luxury hatches, the Audi A3 and Volvo C30, here and elsewhere in the world.

The sporty Ford C-MAX has recently joined the hybrid hatch party, but it is not in the same premium category as the Lexus CT 200h.

What sets the CT 200h apart from the Audi and Volvo hatchback models is its hybrid technology, proven after years of service in the Toyota Prius and other Lexus models. The result is outstanding fuel economy, particularly in urban driving situations.

Toyota/Lexus is the world leader in the production of gas-electric hybrids having passed the three million mark in sales of the Prius model worldwide at the end of June.

In Canada alone, Toyota sold nearly 10,000 Priuses in calendar year 2012 and 1,640 Lexus CT 200h units.

This year, hybrid sales have been off somewhat, perhaps because of relatively low gasoline prices with sales of 3,927 Priuses and 506 CT 200h models at the half-way mark of the calendar year.

The CT 200h is the point of entry into the Lexus lineup, starting at $31,450. Lexus hopes it will broaden the appeal of the brand to a new segment of the buying public—upwardly mobile, eco-savvy urban drivers who want to move up to the luxury segment.

But while the CT starts at just north of $31K, it doesn’t take much for the price to climb near the $40K mark. Our tester included just one option group, the F Sport Package adding $5,950 to bring the final tally to $39,848, including $1,995 freight and PDI.

Granted, the F Sport Package is an extensive one, including features like a three-spoke F Sport steering wheel, front and rear performance dampers, special 17-inch alloy wheels, sport seats, rear spoiler, aluminum sport pedals, F Sport scuff plates, metal interior trim and other added goodies.

This is one of four option packages and a new one for 2013.

Mechanically, the CT 200h is very similar to the Prius, using the advanced Hybrid Drive System featuring a 98 hp 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle inline four-cylinder gasoline engine, a high-torque permanent magnetic electric drive motor, a powerful nickel metal hydride battery system and a sophisticated power management system. In total, the horsepower rating is 134.

It has four driving modes—EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. Even driving in the more performance-oriented Sport mode, the CT 200h is far from a sports sedan.

Nevertheless, it is a step ahead of the Prius models in driving enjoyment.

It boasts a 0-100 km/h time just a touch above the nine second mark and a sportier ride and handling thanks in part to its low centre of gravity and the suspension upgrades.

This is the third time I’ve driven a CT model since its introduction and my experience is similar to before—the power is adequate for most situations except perhaps for very steep hills.

But power is not going to be top-of-mind for buyers of this particular car. They will be looking for outstanding fuel economy and the clean green technology incorporated in this Lexus.

In Sport mode, the steering is more direct, throttle response is more immediate and traction and stability control are less intrusive.

If you want a more reserved driving response, dial in the Eco, EV or Normal modes. EV uses battery power only for up to one to two kilometres and speeds up to 40 km/h.

Eco model adjusts air conditioning settings and throttle for best possible fuel economy.

I found the Normal setting where I spent most of my driving time, however.

The front-engine, front-wheel drive CT has seating for five, but four would be most comfortable. This is a compact so rear seat legroom is at a premium, particularly when the front seats are at their rearmost setting.

The F Sport bucket seats did not work for me at all— my butt is just too large for the highly bolstered seat cushion, and I found it difficult to get in and out of the car.

Personally, I would pass on the F Sport package, but I acknowledge there are those who would want the snazzy features included in the F Sport model.

Lexus sees the CT as largely an urban vehicle and one highlight is its tight turning circle of 11.2 m (36.9 ft)—ideal for tight parking lots and congested city driving.

Engineers went to great lengths to reduce weight in the CT and it comes in at 1,420 kg (3,130 lb). The hood and rear hatchback are lightweight aluminum and high-strength steel is used extensively on the body.

The rear hatch is easy to open and close and the 60/40 split rear seats fold down to enlarge the cargo area that is 405 litres (14.4 cu ft) behind the rear seats.

The CT is loaded with safety features, including eight standard airbags, an anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), traction control and vehicle stability control.

Inside, the car is nicely finished, but may not have the same premium feel as more higher end luxury models. Nevertheless it is pleasant, well outfitted but a somewhat tight fit as one would expect in a compact.

Of course, being a hybrid the best part of the CT is the fuel economy. It is rated at 4.5/4.8/4.6L/100 km city/hwy/combined, which is truly hard to beat.

In my time with the car, I consistently averaged in the 5.5-5.9L/100 km range.

In short, the Lexus CT 200h is not an inexpensive car, but if you want outstanding fuel economy in a premium compact vehicle, take a look at this hybrid hatchback that is the entry point into the Lexus brand.

Lexus CT 200h 2011

Body Style: five-door premium hatchback.

Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel drive.

Engine: 1.8-litre gasoline Atkinson cycle DOHC four-cylinder engine combined with an electric-drive motor (134 total system horsepower).

Cargo Volume: 405 litres (14.4 cu ft.) behind rear seats.

Fuel Economy: 4.5L/100 km (63 mpg) city, 4.8L/100 km (59 mpg) highway, 4.6L/100 km (61 mpg) combined.

Price: $31,450. As tested $39,848.45 including $1,950 freight and PDI.



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