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New Lexus - darker shade of green

2011-08-05 07:57

THE WHITER SIDE OF GREEN: The new Lexus CT200h is a full hybrid car, compact and city-friendly but, if you choose, a sporty side as well. Picture gallery.

Vehicle Specs
Model LEXUS CT200H
Engine 1.8-litre, four-cylinderAtkinson cycle, aluminium block and head, quad valves; high-output permanent magnet electric motor
Power Combined 100kW
Transmission Constantly variable
Zero To Hundred 9.8sec
Top Speed 180 km/h
Fuel Tank 45 litres
Fuel Consumption 5.6 litres/100km
Weight 1499 kg
Boot Size 850 litres
Steering Electric power assistance
Airbags Eight
Tyres 215/45 on 17"x7" alloy rims; compact spare
Front Suspension Macpherson struts with coil springs
Rear Suspension Double wishbones with coil springs
Service Plan Four years or 100 000km
Warranty Four years or 100 000km
Price R343 300 - R434 200
Rivals Toyota Prius

Les Stephenson

So, Lexus at last brings “affordable” hybrid motoring to its showrooms with the arrival in South Africa of the CT200h, three versions of a crossover four-door hatchback with, essentially, the same 1.8-litre drive petrol/battery drive train as the long-running – indeed, almost venerable – Toyota Prius.

Not a bad thing; the Prius has been around for more than a decade and, in drive train and looks, is pretty much unchanged though it has hardly caught on as mass transportation; indeed, hybrids have not been accepted in big numbers at all – only about one in 200 cars in the US is a hybrid.

Nevertheless, sales in the US topped a million at the end of 2010 and, globally, have reached three-million.


The CT200, the baby Lexus not only in age but also in size, is a “compact”, barely a four-seater despite the rear doors, but better-looking than the now dated sister-ship Prius – depending on your sensibilities. It’s 14cm shorter and six higher than the Prius and promises seriously low fuel consumption: I drove a Sport version for close to 100km this week and the trip data computer told me: 5.6 litres/100km. It's also claiming a sporty image - sort of the darker side of 'green'.

Lexus claims 4.11/100km and 94g of carbon dioxide out of the exhaust every 100km – which means no SA ‘green tax’ to be paid. That was mostly on city roads through and around Cape Town but Lexus’ data information says consumption doesn’t change much at any reasonable speed, thanks to the hybrid powertrain.

I could have left the owner’s manual behind and perhaps saved a few cc’s of fuel: the information is encyclopaedic – three volumes on two shelves in what in a normal car would be called “the glove box” but in this Lexus could be called “the library”. Perhaps some oak veneer, here, guys...?

There’s the “owner’s manual” (752 pages), the “quick reference” (only 130 pages) and the satnav information/audio etc manual (a middling 413 printed pages). I’ll save you the calculator - that’s 1295 pages in all and all in English.

The cars, only recently launched in Europe and the US and first shown as the LF-Ch at the 2010 Frankfurt auto show, were designed by the team that also penned the Lexus LS600h whose long-wheelbase model sells in South Africa for an astounding R1 679 000 – definitely NOT affordable motoring unless you have your own family trust to handle the monthly payments.

The Littlest Lexus is much more reasonable – you could buy five for the price of an LS600h L. Here’s why...

CT 200h S - R343 300
CT 200h F-Sport - R398 500
CT 200h F-Sport 10SP HDD - R434 200

There are options, but I’ll get to them shortly.

So, what does the CT200h family bring us? Well, a proven all-aluminium, 1.8-litre, quad-valve Atkinson cycle engine with a 13:1 compression ratio supported by a high-output electric motor – the two able to power the car individually or together – though it has a range of only about two kilometres on batteries alone.

And yes, i tried it. Two kilometres and then the engine cuts in before you stop the traffic. Handy, though, if you want to creep into the garage without alerting your spousal or other partner to it being 3am...

TUCKED TAIL:The Lexus CT200h shars its drive train with the venerable Toyota Prius hybrid but, the automaker insists, there the similarity ends - everything else is new.

However the real benefit of the two propulsion units comes when they work in tandem to produce about 100kW (still a pretty low figure, given what other modern engines can produce) and return a top speed of 180km/h and a 0-100km/h time of 9.8sec from the constantly variable automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.


Towing a caravan would not be a reasonable proposition if that’s your idea of a fun weekend; indeed Lexus’ Brian Hastie told me there is not even a facility on the car to attach a tow ball.

The CT200h has four driving modes – none of them particularly fancy but useful if you live in, say, the London Congestion Zone or some other eco reserve that focuses on clean exhausts. ‘EV’ mode simply translates to ‘electric vehicle’ and uses only battery power (for two clicks); ‘normal’ uses petrol engine and battery selectively and intelligently for “quiet, smooth progress”; ECO optimises the use of the aircon and moderates acceleration.

And then there’s the funner one – ‘Sport’. Lexus internet promotional literature suggests you might make this selection on “a particularly curvy road” or “when your favourite tune is playing on the radio”. Euphemisms for when you’re regretting trading in your high-performance Mini or BMW 1 Series M Coupe in a wave of “save the planet” green-ness and just want to get your fast-driving rocks off.

IMPECCABLE FEATURS: The CT200h might be the smallest Lexus so far but it's still big on features, finish and quality.

Which, in a restrained kind of way, you can because ‘Sport’ tightens the steering response, increases battery-power delivery and lets you, the driver, take a little responsibility away from the computer-controlled traction and stability control systems.


Drifting through those curvy corners might just be possible... oh yeah, and the backlighting on the instrument panel changes from traffic-calming blue to exciting red as the hybrid-power monitor screen becomes a rev-counter. The wonders of the digital world...

The reality is that it’s about as much fun as driving a 1.4 Toyota Corolla quickly, except the Corolla is more exciting...

Sorry, but that’s the way it is. The CV transmission winds up noisily but not spectacularly and the kick-down effect is about as stimulating as cold porridge. But what the hell, if you’ve bought a Lexus hybrid it’s because you want to save on your fuel bill (though you could do that just as well with any number of small diesel cars these days and Lexus just doesn’t do diesel) and play the green card at social events and the golf club.

You will, of course, have fun (at least, perhaps, for the first couple of months) playing with the abovementioned four driving modes, selectable via a rotary switch like those on your electric stove and a push-button with EV embossed on it. Then, like people who buy cars with paddle-shifts behind the steering wheel, become content with letting the car do is own thing through hills, valleys and corners.

Which also is not a bad thing; the Lexus CT200h is not for having fun in; it’s for responsible adults who believe they’re doing the right thing for the planet. That involves the car having an electric motor that becomes a generator on engine over-run and when braking to recharge the drive battery (there’s a separate normal battery to start the petrol engine and run the lights and other ancillaries) and a computer to sort out the most economical combination of petrol/battery drive for the circumstances.


And talking of batteries, let’s dispose of a myth: the expense of battery replacement. Toyota/Lexus says it is not aware of (as at April, 2011) any battery failure during the life of any of its hybrid products and they’re guaranteed for at least 100 000km.

And here’s something you probably won’t be told by your neighbourhood Lexus salesman: the CT200h is one of a very few (perhaps the only) series production car whose rear disc brakes are larger than the front – 27cm in diameter against 25.4 – to handle the extra load of battery-charging.

And talking of brakes, they live inside rather sexy 16 and 17”, spoked alloy rims shod with 215/45 low-profile tyres.

The Littlest Lexus, i was told at the Cape Town launch presentation, is regarded by its parent as a premium compact car, one intended to tempt younger buyers to become lifelong Lexists and older ones to buy down while still chasing high quality for less than R350 000. Indeed, the quote by Calvyn Hamman, senior vice-president for sales and marketing at Toyota SA, was: “The CT 200h is defined by Lexus as being the world’s finest luxury hybrid compact car.”

You could argue that it’s the only one...

Lexus SA has elected to bring two distinct models into SA, though each has precisely the same drive train and performance. The difference is in the “extras” – the ‘S’ and the F-Sport (though don’t, as I’ve already noted, get excited by the ‘Sport’ badging, it just means the car has more electronic bling).


Both models of the CT 200h are immediately available in South Africa. The CT200h S has, among other features, a full leather interior, dual-zone aircon with heatable seats, power mirrors, keyless start, auto headlights with daytime running lights, USB connectivity and Bluetooth with voice command and 16” alloy wheel rims.

The car can also be ordered as an F-Sport, which comes with 17” alloy rims, LED headlights and a larger boot spoiler, sports seats - the driver’s item eight-way electrically adjustable with lumbar support - and cruise control. It also has performance shock-absorbers.

As an option, the F-Sport can be ordered with a “convenience package” that includes an upgraded sound system with four extra speakers and an amplifier, “smart entry”, rain sensing windscreen wipers, a colour monitor with hard-disc navigation and voice command.

It also has a reversing camera with guideline parking – and a moon roof is an extra option.

The CT 200h has already rated five stars in EuroNCAP crash-testing, thanks to eight airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic pressure distribution and emergency stopping assistance along with traction control, IsoFix child-seat anchors and child-locks on the rear doors.


 “The Lexus CT200h is a major step forward for the sub-premium hatchback segment,” the automaker says, “bringing full hybrid technology as a mainstream alternative with the real-world benefits of flexibility and economy.

“Its sophisticated efficiencies make an indelible impact on pollution. It also opens the Lexus ownership experience to a broadening set of customers who will now be able to understand the satisfaction and quality independently recognised as the industry benchmark.”

All Lexus products are sold with a four-year or 100 000km warranty and the same period of service plan and roadside assistance.

Take a close look at the Lexus CT200h in your own time.

The black sheep of green – Lexus CT200h brochure.

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