First drive: 2012 Lexus CT 200h hybrid in Dubai
For those not in the know, a hybrid is a car with a petrol engine that also has an electric motor attached that provides additional power when needed and recharges its battery as the car moves, all while saving petrol, saving the environment and saving the whales. The theory goes that petrol is cheap in the GCC, so no one cares about hybrid cars. While that is definitely true, we live in the UAE, which boasts the highest petrol prices in the region and is proudly increasing prices further to match international market rates eventually. Suddenly, a hybrid doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all.
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h is the cheapest hybrid on the market, even though it is still priced on the premium side. So far, marketeers figured that only rich people wanting to make an “environmental statement” will buy one, and so the GCC market is filled with illogical hybrid versions of the BMW X6, Porsche Cayenne and others. Ironically, it is the less well-heeled who’d appreciate the fruits of lower fuel consumption that a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight would offer. While the latter hybrids aren’t offered here, the Lexus CT 200h is about as affordable as it gets in the UAE, with the added benefit of being a luxury-branded car.
The UAE dealer for Lexus held a media launch in Dubai, with a driving event to showcase the strengths of the CT 200h. Rather than being forced in a convoy to Fujairah or Hatta, we were made to get our photos taken at four checkpoints around Dubai, with the objective of achieving the highest fuel economy and the lowest distance within two hours. Nine press teams in nine fully-optioned cars were competing, all outfitted with leather and navigation.
So I and our photographer, Faisal, drove off from the Al Badia Festival City golf resort to the Jumeirah Beach checkpoint first, taking highways for the most part, with a few signals on the way. We noticed how surprisingly comfortable the car was, largely thanks to the use of 16-inch alloys instead of even larger wheels. We were doing 90 kph on roads with a 120 kph limit, and even followed a few trucks to cut wind resistance. The engine is audible on acceleration, but when the car rolls to a stop at signals, the engine shuts off in dead silence. It seemlessly starts up again once the accelerator is pressed, with a nice kick to it.
At the first checkpoint, we went through a low-speed slalom of bamboo shoots, only to highlight the fact that the CT 200h’s speaker cones are made of bamboo. From there, we set off to the next checkpoint, which was a Starbucks branch on Jumeirah Beach road.
The CT 200h can go into full “EV” electric-only mode at the press of a button, at which point the car doesn’t use the petrol engine at all. But it only works under 40 kph, and after trundling along at 39 kph on a 70 kph road, we depleted the battery and were on engine power by the time we reached the coffee shop, surrounded by big 4x4s in the parking area. With the free coffee offered to us there, we suspect Lexus was hinting that the Starbucks-drinking crowd would be their target buyers, assuming they still have money for a down-payment after their daily coffee binges.
Armed with overpriced coffee in the cup-holders, we switched seats and set off from Jumeirah towards the Zabeel Park checkpoint. Our juice for electric-only mode was depleted, so the system refused to engage even under 40 kph. We still trundled along at 20 under the speed limit on engine power. On the shifter, there are choices for Reverse, Neutral, Drive and a mystery “B” with a “Park” button below it all. We pulled out the instruction manual to see if “B” could help us, but it turned out to be something to force engine braking on hills. The CT 200h does not have a tachometer, that being replaced by a gauge showing “Charge”, “Eco” and “Power” divisions, so our usual method of driving at constant revs wasn’t going to be easy here.
We reached the park by ignoring the navigation directions and scoping out the shortest route on the navigation map by ourselves, driving through the mildly-crowded Diyafah Street and the Trade Centre roundabout. At the checkpoint, we were shown how to check the amount of energy left in the batteries and other computer displays, just to highlight how fancy this car was. We snuck a peak at the consumption readings of other teams and we realised we were not in the lead.
So we again manually scoped out the shortest route to the next checkpoint, the Falcon Centre in Nad Al Sheba, and trundled along at maybe 50 kph all the way, past the Meydan racecourse. A man with a Shaheen falcon waited for us there to give us the lowdown on what he was holding. The only connection between the local hunting falcon and the Lexus was that they’re both hybrids. We were told one of them can do 300 kph, and we can tell you it’s not the car.
We set off from there back towards the hotel, pretty much crawling at ridiculously low speeds. Once we entered the Festival City area, we were doing 39 kph again, having regained the EV mode after automatically recharging our batteries by now. We can confirm that it was an eerily quiet ride, broken only by the regular honking of angry motorists behind us.
We apparently reached the hotel last, and the readings by the marshals at the various checkpoints were secretly tallied. It turned out the winners, our friends at CAR Middle East, managed something like 7.1 litres/100 km in 58 km. We averaged 7.7 litres/100 km in maybe 68 km. How they overtook us by such a “huge” margin is beyond us, considering they were claiming to drive hard and getting lost. They even video-filmed the winners’ announcement for your amusement. We were expecting the guy from Wheels to win, considering he was driving alone, but he wasn’t even the runner-up. The worst number of the day was an anonymous 10.5 litres/100 km, probably by a couple of women who seemed to be speeding everywhere while still seemingly overtaking us five times during the day.
So our Lexus CT 200h did not post anywhere near the touted 4.1 litres/100 km official figure. However, when you note that we drove in the city with the auto a/c on during the afternoon, it is more commendable. More than that, it is interesting that the car manages relatively economical numbers even with flat-footed drivers at the wheel.
Photos by co-driver Faisal Khatib. For prices and specs, read the Lexus CT 200h buyer guide.