2011 Lexus CT 200h review By G. Chambers Williams III

Lexus will bring its first compact hybrid vehicle to market early next year, the CT 200h hatchback, Toyota's luxury brand announced this week at the New York auto show.

It will be the first "dedicated" hybrid model in the premium compact class, the company said.

Dedicated means that there will be no corresponding gasoline-only version of the vehicle, just as there is no gas-only model of Toyota's groundbreaking Prius hybrid and the midsize Lexus HS 250h sedan, which was introduced for 2010. It was the first dedicated hybrid from Lexus.

Lexus unveiled the CT 200h at the Geneva auto earlier this month, but the New York show is its first U.S. appearance.

But the CT 200h is similar to a new Toyota dedicated compact hybrid, the FT-CH, which was introduced at the Detroit auto show in January. Both appear to be built on the same architecture with the same hatchback shape, and are sized comparably. The Lexus version, of course, will have more standard premium features than the Toyota model.

The five-door CT 200h will be on display at the New York show through April 11. There has been no word yet on when it might be shown in Texas.

"The CT 200h is expected to lead the class in fuel economy and deliver low emissions, but (it) isn't just about being a hybrid, it's about having fun," Lexus General Manager Mark Templin said in connection with the New York rollout. "The stylish CT 200h has an attitude and driving dynamic unlike any other Lexus hybrid. It will excite eco-conscious, young consumers and symbolize urban, luxury living."

To reach the tech-savvy buyers it expects to sell the new hybrid to, Lexus said it will "release a breakthrough interactive short film that offers a new take on the test drive by providing the viewer a fully immersive way to experience the new Lexus CT 200h."

I suppose the video will appear on You Tube, but I can't imagine it going viral. Nonetheless, that group probably would be more easily reached through You Tube, Facebook and other social media than they would through traditional advertising.

Under the hood, the CT 200h seems to have the same drive system as the 2010 Prius, which includes a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine and two motor-generators, one of which is used to power the drive wheels along with the gasoline engine.

This is a full-hybrid system, which will allow the car to run on either the electric drive motor or the gasoline engine, or a combination of the two. The nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, under the rear cargo area, recharges while the gasoline engine is running or the car is decelerating.

Available are four driving modes: Normal, Eco, Sport and EV (which allows the car to go on battery power alone at up to about 25 mph for about a mile. The Sport mode allows for more-spirited driving with decreased fuel economy. Lexus said Eco mode "adjusts air conditioning settings and the throttle for the best possible fuel economy."

The car's power-control unit delivers a maximum of 650 volts to the drive motor in the Sport mode, but just 500 volts in Eco mode.

There was no word as to whether a plug-in version of the CT 200h is planned, which would allow the battery pack to be charged from an external power source, and the electric motor could be used more extensively during low-speed short-range driving. A plug-in version of the Prius is under testing now.

The electronic stability control and traction control systems are "less intrusive" when the car is in Sport mode, which gives the driver more control, Lexus said.

An ECO driving indicator will illuminate to show the driver when the car is being driving in the most-economical manner.

Standard safety features will include front and rear side-curtain air bags, driver and passenger front seat-mounted side air bags, and driver and front passenger knee air bags; active headrests in both front seats; antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; and the electronic stability control with traction control.

Other available technology will include radar cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, and a pre-collision system that takes over control of the car when a collision is determined to be imminent.

Inside will be steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a synthetic leather-like interior fabric, fold-flat rear seat, keyless entry and start, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, front sport seats (with eight-way power driver's seat), and the Lexus Safety Connect system, which is similar to GM's OnStar.

It will also come with a six-speaker Lexus Premium audio system with a CD player, auxiliary and USB inputs, integrated iPod control, Bluetooth connection, and XM satellite radio.

Optional will be a moon roof and a navigation system with hard-disc drive, backup camera, and voice recognition.

No prices have been announced yet.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; chambers@star-telegram.com.

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