Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lexus hybrid requires pre-purchase homework

Sacramento, California – The new-for-2011 Lexus CT 200h is a mass of contradictions.

The new hybrid offering has a decidedly sporty Euro-look that young motorists should find very appealing. At the same time, the CT 200h has the dreaded “hatchback” label, which supporters will simply convert to “five-passenger” wagon in their minds.

The propulsion system is anchored on the gas side by a nicely tuned, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. With the electric drive motor doing its part, the front-drive CT 200h moves smoothly through street and highway traffic, with an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission handling the shift chores.

But my Premium version tester – starting price $30,900, with another $4,000 in goodies added on – required serious pressure on the gas pedal to get the CT 200h up to high speed. You really have to put your foot DEEP into the well to get the maximum experience.

Not that all buyers will want the maximum experience. Fuel mileage is a big consideration, and the CT 200h is rated at 43 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

That’s very nice, but at the same time, I wonder how many buyers will crave a CT 200h that’s essentially a bump up in class compared with Toyota’s Prius. True, some people just want a Lexus with plentiful perks, as opposed to a Toyota. So, maybe that’s enough.

It’s hard to say. Obviously, I’m conflicted.

Let’s start with the things I like.

Safety features are off the charts. There are enough stability control systems on the CT 200h to fill a high-luxury Lexus, and the airbag/emergency/enhanced structural systems are top-notch. No wonder the CT 200h won a “Top Safety Pick” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Totally deserved.

The number of standard luxury, comfort and convenience features certainly supports the Lexus label. Leather trim, power everything, moonroof and heated seats are part of an extensive package. Cool-looking dashboard lighting and colorful illuminations make you feel hip … even if you’re not.

I can picture myself running around town in this car. Likewise, I can picture my wife and grown son enjoying it locally.

As a long trip vehicle, however, I’m not so sure. Three folks in the back are going to be cramped. And unless the highway is clear of cars and allowing for cruise control, I’m pretty sure my right foot would get pretty sore after a day of mashing the accelerator to keep up with the surrounding high-speed traffic.

So, yeah, this is a homework car. It might work perfectly for your commute and lifestyle. Others might be inclined to pass it up. So, study up before heading to the dealer lot.

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