The optional upgraded stereo sounds great, and XM satellite radio, a USB auxiliary input, and Bluetooth are standard. As a radio or CD player, the system is easy to use, but the small, green-backlit LCD display (the same one Toyota has been putting in cars for some twenty years now) isn't sufficient for iPod song-hunting. The optional navigation system takes care of the display problem but adds Lexus's polarizing, console-mounted joystick. Keyless start is standard, as is dual-zone automatic climate control.
Strangely, no HIDs are offered -- only standard halogens or optional all-LED headlamps, which are sure to be expensive. Happily, all CTs come with a horizontal row of bright LEDs for daytime running lights, clearly inspired by Audi.
The interior can be trimmed with either a new, polyurethane-based NuLuxe, which comes standard, or with optional leather. The former is a softer and, according to Lexus, greener alternative to vinyl, but we think other manufacturers' synthetic leather looks, feels, and breathes better. A backup camera is available with its display either in the rearview mirror (good) or in the navigation screen (great), and we'd recommend either one given the CT's small rear window and largish turning radius.
The nickel-metal-hydride battery pack is mounted high in the trunk, compromising storage space, but the rear seats fold easily (even with the front chairs pushed all the way back), making the best of the space available. And while we're on the subject of sliding seats, we should note that power controls aren't available for the front passenger seat.
No big deal, you say? Well, the car market is often price-driven, and for the CT's expected $31,500 base price, there are vehicles that can do better luxury-car imitations, with heated and cooled power seats, for example. We expect one car in particular, the forthcoming Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, to make huge strides toward CT-like fuel economy in a substantially larger package.
But remember, Lexus didn't design this car for cheapo Americans and their big, soft-car tastes. The European premium market is chock full of small cars for people with big wallets -- and the CT200h is the fi rst entry in this segment with the snoot factor of a hybrid label. And kudos to Toyota for not just slapping a Lexus badge on a Prius. Sure, a Prius with the Cadillac Cimarron treatment would have been an easier Lexus to make -- and might have even appealed to more people than this CT will. But at the end of the day, there's just no comparison between a pain au chocolat and a Hershey bar shoved between two pieces of Wonder Bread.
2011 LEXUS CT200h
BASE PRICE: $31,500 (est.)
ENGINE: 16-valve DOHC I-4
DISPLACEMENT: 1.8 liters (110 cu in)
HORSEPOWER: 98 hp @ 5200 rpm
TORQUE: 105 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
BATTERIES: Nickel-metal-hydride, 202 V
MOTOR: 80-hp AC
TOTAL HORSEPOWER: 134 hp
TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable
STEERING: Electrically assisted
SUSPENSION, FRONT: Strut-type, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR: Control arms, coil springs
BRAKES, F/R: Vented discs/discs, ABS
TIRES: Michelin Primacy MXM
TIRE SIZE: 215/45VR-17
L x W x H: 170.1 x 69.5 x 56.7 in
WHEELBASE: 102.4 in
TRACK F/R: 60.0/59.8 in
WEIGHT: 3130 lb
FUEL MILEAGE: 42/41 mpg (est.)