Thrust vs. Thrift

Thanks to the drivetrain's immediate thrust, the CT 200h has adequate oomph for driving solo: It scoots from a stoplight well enough and maintains highway speeds with little trouble. But it lacks the reserves to pass on a whim, and barreling up to 60 or 70 mph from an on-ramp runs the poor thing out of steam. (And kilowatts, as it were.) Confident acceleration should be a given in any luxury car, even an entry-level one. Were it not for the instant power starting out Ч a characteristic of most hybrids, thanks to their torque-rich electric motors Ч I'd deem the CT a dog. As it stands, many luxury shoppers will indeed find the Lexus too poky.

At least the pokiness pays off in gas mileage. The CT has the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder and 60-kilowatt electric motor as the Prius hybrid (from Lexus parent Toyota). Total output for the engine and motor matches the Prius' 134 horsepower, and the CT's EPA-estimated combined mileage is 42 mpg. That's 8 mpg short of the more aerodynamic Prius but well ahead of the diesel-powered Audi A3 TDI (34 mpg), the Volvo C30 (24 mpg) and the BMW 128i (22 mpg). What's more, the CT runs on regular unleaded gas Ч not the norm for luxury cars. Based on my experience, the EPA figures seem conservative: On a 129-mile highway trip into the wind, I observed 43.5 mpg on the CT's trip computer. With a stiff tailwind on the return leg, another editor reported nearly 60 mpg. Temperatures both legs were in the high 40s.

Like most full hybrids, the CT can cruise on electric power alone at low speeds. An EV button maximizes the distance it can go on just electric Ч about a mile, if the hybrid battery is full Ч but requires featherweight acceleration, low overall speed and a near-comatose driver behind you. Other driving modes include Eco, Normal and Sport; our observed mileage came largely in Normal mode. Sport mode hastens drivetrain response and holds engine revs longer. It's enough to give illusions of power around town, but the fun is short-lived. Stand on the gas, and the drivetrain's shallow limits show.

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