Model: Lexus CT Hybrid 11 (Premium)
0-60MPH: 9.8 seconds
Top Speed: 113 mph
Having first become aware of the new Lexus Hybrid just over a year ago following the debut of the LF-Ch at the Frankfurt auto show we have been anxiously awaiting a chance to get some hands on experience with the car and log some actual wheel-time in what Lexus credits as a hot-hatch for the Hybrid market. Flash-forward to spring 2011 and we finally have our chance, set amidst the backdrop of Lexus’s new television marketing campaign promoting the new hybrid-luxury-hatch and the buzz off of Sebring and the upcoming Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
At first glance I’ve got to admit that I am not all that impressed with the aesthetics of the CT-Hybrid, that’s not to say its ugly so much as just not what I’ve come to expect from Lexus in terms of design. In all honesty, right off the dealer’s lot the car strikes me more as a misplaced Scion or Mazda 3 derivative loaded with luxury accoutrement and a hybrid drivetrain… I give Lexus credit however for being daring enough in this economy to add a “hot-hatch” style of design to their growing hybrid lineup, though I’m not sure it will really appeal to the appropriate demographic given it’s badging and introductory price-point. The CT-H does however mark a definitely new direction for the Japanese luxury market and indeed packs some rather unique features and approaches into a relatively affordable $30k price tag. All things considered the CT-H represents a move that is if nothing else refreshing, surprising, rewarding and at times perhaps also a little disappointing.
One of the more interesting features being introduced on the 2011 Lexus CT-H is its “Dynamic Drive” button, which changes the mapping of the engine/transmission (aCVT) from SPORT to NORMAL to ECO to EV. Logicly, one can turn or press the knob in order to get the kind of driving response/experience they want, but regrettably the EV factor is disappointingly minimal and curiously not on par with Ford’s specs for the all-electric 47 mph in the Fusion hybrid…
Interestingly, the electric power-assisted rack & pinion steering system’s feedback and damping qualities also change with each different setting on the Dynamic Drive. Shifts seem quicker, steering more responsive and damping more sporting in the Sport mode; the other three selections return exactly the response one would expect from their names and projected intentions. The Lexus hybrid indicators become a welcome tachometer when the Sport mode is selected.
It is extremely quiet inside the Lexus CT-H, thanks to the quality of accoutrement and Lexus’ attention to detail where it pertains to noise, vibration and harshness. It actually took some hunting to find the single exhaust beneath the chassis–I certainly couldn’t hear it while stowed away in the cabin. Body rigidity is excellent and aids handling immensely. Lexus is using a lower independent rear suspension that allows added space in the trunk for things the market segment would need to carry, not just for the battery packs. The hatch impressively affords 14.3 cubic feet of cargo-room, making it an excellent candidate for stowage on anything from a trip to the local grocery to a family cross-country road trip.
Speaking of trips…the only noticeable holdback on lengthy drives is the size of the fuel tank at 9.9 gallons. Of course, if you’re driving around the city or metro it’s not such an issue, there’s always someplace to fill up and with mileage of 42+mpg, this really shouldn’t be a bother anyways, but it’s one of those things that given some consumer input we are most certain nearly all would prefer another two gallons or so in order to get the long-distance cruising range up a bit?
Not surprising in a family car such as this (it’s not really a hot-hatch after all) safety is a top priority for Lexus, and with eight standard airbags (knee protection for front seat occupants included), an upgraded electronically controlled braking/regeneration system, antilock brakes, brake assist, traction control, vehicle stability control and a hybrid version of Lexus’ brake override system. There is an optional pre-emptive pre-collision safety system that includes adaptive cruise control, as well.
In terms of size, much like a Prius or any other U.S. market hybrid, the 2011 Lexus CT will fit into any garage or parking space at measuring in at a rather mid-range 170.1 inches long, 69.5 inches wide, 56.7 inches tall on a 102.4-inch wheelbase. It’s also worth noting that the CT has an ample 5.7 inches of ground clearance while maintaining an energy efficient 0.29 drag coefficient. Curb weight is relatively low for it size and layout, weighing in at only 3,130 pounds; making this Lexus a pretty lightweight player in the U.S. luxury hybrid market.
I was impressed with Lexus’s use of ecologically sound materials in the interior of the CT, as it seems the brand has successfully managed to marry the quality of driving experience with the aesthetic appointment of reusable materials that result in a smaller carbon footprint without being at the expense of comfort.
Although our time with the CT-H was short I found the car to be an interesting proposal for customers who want luxury, but also need economy and utility. That being said, I have serious questions as to the appeal of the vehicle to a large enough market-share to make it economically viable for a luxury-brand like Lexus given the current economy and driving trends. If nothing else The CT-H is a terrific jumping off point for a new generation of energy-efficient, cost-conscious luxury cars.