2012 Lexus CT 200h

The Good:
– Interesting styling
– Comfortable ride
– Astounding fuel economy
The Bad:
– Limited rear legroom
– Not very fast
– Pricey in top trim

The world is ending. Save the world by buying a hybrid. That’s the mentality of hybrid drivers in the Western world, and everybody else hates them for it. Of course, nobody living in the Middle East wants to save the world, least of all the Western expats. So how does a carmaker sell a car here without promoting its main virtue? By simply calling it something else. And that’s how Lexus has introduced the CT 200h in the UAE – as a new “entry-level” Lexus, not as a “hybrid” Lexus.

The CT 200h certainly fits the bill as an entry-level model. Smaller and cheaper than an IS 250, the CT is a handsome compact hatchback, belying its Toyota roots. Offered in only two trim levels, both versions are very similar, with 16-inch alloys, flashes of chrome trim and hidden exhaust tips, the higher version identifiable only by a different “sport” front bumper.

Climbing into the interior, surprisingly, is akin to “falling into” a sports car, because the CT 200h rides very low to the ground, lower than even a Chevy Camaro. The interior itself is rather interesting, with a unique dashboard holding the a/c controls and flip-up computer screen, and the sloping centre console holding every other control, including the puny shifter, the multimedia controller and the drive “mode” selector. Material quality is nicely upscale, with soft-touch upper dash and door-sill trim, stitched-leatherette centre console, padded armrests and cushy leather door inserts. In the back, the rear doors get the same nice leather inserts, although the upper door sills are now hard plastic, in an unnecessary bit of cost-cutting.

Space up front is perfect, and all-round visibility is good even if the driving position is low. The front seats are moderately bolstered, power-adjustable for the driver only. But space is limited in the rear, with barely enough legroom and headroom for average-sized adults, let alone taller folks. Cargo volume out back is about enough for one big suitcase and a duffel bag maybe, although the rear seats fold down for more hauling capacity. While front passengers get door pockets and two cup-holders in the form of a gaping hole in the centre console, rear passengers get nothing – no cup-holders, no door pockets, not even a centre armrest.

Tech features are ample though. That flip-up LCD screen houses a multimedia system with a kicking CD/MP3 stereo, USB support, navigation that is not too hard to use, working Bluetooth phone, and an entire graphical display showing the inner workings of the hybrid system in real time, all controlled by a joystick-mouse thingy. Additionally, there is intelligent keyless entry with starter button, pretty good a/cparking sensors, HID headlights, LED driving lights and tail lamps, front airbags and side-curtain airbags, cruise control, sunroof and, of all things, seat heaters.

The CT 200h is powered by a 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine, good for 98 hp at 5200 rpm and 142 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm by itself. With the addition of an 80 hp electric motor that offers 207 Nm of torque with the help of a 37 hp battery pack, total horsepower somehow adds up to only 134 hp. All anyone really needs to know is that this power is fed to the front wheels via a CVT automatic. All we know is that during our April test was a 0-100 kph time of 11.4 seconds.

But beyond numbers, there are more practical aspects to this powertrain. There is always decent low-end torque for overtaking and in-city driving, thanks to the electric kick. It becomes completely silent when trolling around parking lots under 40 kph, as the car runs purely on electric power. And the engine shuts off at traffic signals to save fuel, starting up again when it’s time to move, all designed to save fuel. Oddly enough, the harder we drove it, the more fuel we saved. While we still haven’t figured that part out yet, we managed a consumption figure of 6.1 litres/100 km, possibly making the CT 200h the most fuel-efficient car we’ve ever driven without actually trying to drive efficiently.

The CT 200h is a comfortable cruiser too. Fitted with meaty 205/55 tyres on 16-inch alloys, ride quality is largely smooth, contrary to what we expected from a small car. It rides a bit firmly so there is no floatiness over bumps either, and outside noises are muted for the most part, as expected of a Lexus. About the only unrefined bit is how the engine restarts itself with a noticeable mild shake every time at traffic signals or stop signs.

This hybrid has some sort of sporting pretensions too, what with a “sport” mode residing alongside the “eco” mode on the dashboard dial. While we never touched “eco” we’re told “sport” is supposed to firm up steering and throttle responses, but we didn’t notice. It handles pretty well, with reasonable grip and not a lot of body roll. At the cornering limit, the car understeers wide in a safe predictable manner, although limited feedback from the chunky steering wheels and unremarkable stopping power from the regenerative brakes mean that the drive never feels sporting enough.

Still, the Lexus CT 200h is an intriguing car, if only going by its unseen technology alone, and drives pretty nicely too, if all you’re after is a comfortable ride with the added benefit of killer fuel economy. With rising fuel prices, hybrids need to make an appearance in the Middle East somehow, and Toyota was rather smart introducing it as a premium model here to justify its price.

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