2011 Lexus CT 200h Premium Review

,Front 3/4 view of gold 2011 Lexus CT 200h Hybrid parked in resort setting
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h.

Extending your brand is a tricky thing...especially if you're well-defined. Take Lexus, for example. The name says upscale, well-built, smooth, quiet and refined.

Lexus has broadened beyond that successfully with their IS 350, a performance machine, and it's done it not all that successfully with the HS 250h.

The latter fell short because it's clearly a re-badged Toyota hybrid (one not sold in the States), slathered in so much Lexus luxo that it starts at $37,000 and can be optioned (as ours was) to within a few bucks of $50,000.

Well, this time around, Lexus has done about all it can do if it really wants to sell small hybrids...it's come up with another one, but this time kept the price in line.

Rear 3/4 view of 2011 Lexus CT 200h Hybrid parked in front of building
The Lexus CT 200h hybrid. Is the world ready for a Lexus hatchback?

How'd they do that? Well, they started with a smaller Toyota. The CT 200h is 14.7 inches shorter than the HS 250h, with a 3.9 inch shorter wheelbase, and it's 8/10ths of an inch narrower. Headroom and front shoulder room, however, are better in the smaller car (sold in the UK in non-hybrid form as the Toyota Avensis).

The gasoline engine is smaller, too...1.8 liters and 134 horsepower as opposed to 2.4 liters and 187 horsepower. And that results in better EPA figures...43 city/40 highway compared to 35 city/34 highway.

As a result of all that, the base price for the CT 200h Premium is $30,900 and it comes with an impressive list of standard features: Moonroof, heated seats, NuLuxe trim interior, three-spoke leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, a 10-way multi-adjustable power driver's seat with 2-way power lumbar support, SmartAccess with pushbutton start, electroluminescent Optitron gauges, automatic dual-zone climate control, a tilt/telescoping steering column, 4-mode drive mode select, driver information center with trip computer, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM audio system with USB and miniplug inputs, Bluetooth, power windows and door locks, personalized settings, a tonneau cover and carpeted floor mats.

Four-way view of 2011 Lexus CT 200h Hybrid interior
The 2011 Lexus CT 200h hybrid interior. Lots of gadgetry, but does the quality say "Lexus"?

The tester came with a few options, too: A Premium Audio Package (taking us up to 10-speakers, 6 CD changer instead of a single-play, plus an auto-dimming electrochromic rearview mirror with compass and a Lexus Homeline universal transciever) for $1,125...LED headlamps with auto-leveling and headlamp washers for $1,215, the leather package (perforated leather seats with driver seat memory, rain-sensing intermittent wipers with mist cycle and auto-dimming outer mirrors with memory) for $1,330...a cargo net for $75, and illuminated door sills for $299.

That makes the bottom line with delivery fee $35,819...which is still less than the base price of the HS 250h we drove.

But three things hover over the CT 200h.

One...it's slow. Just a hair shy of 10 seconds 0-60. Those four driving modes we mentioned? They're EV (purely electric for short distances at slow speeds...you'll never use it on the street for more than a few feet) , Eco, Normal and Sport. And that almost 10 second 0-60 time? That's Sport.

Two...do not adjust your monitor. That exterior color is real. It's called Daybreak Yellow Mica. And it's scarier in person than it is in pictures. It also makes the CT 200h look like a cheap little car. Which, when you're a Lexus salesman trying to get someone to part with between 30 and 36 large and one in that color is sitting on the showroom floor, has to make the job a bit harder.

And three...the question of whether Lexus should be in this segment at all. Wouldn't a real Lexus, something a bit further from the Prius, be a better move? Maybe a hybrid version of the IS250?

Then again, maybe not. The CT 200h was the third-best selling hybrid in the U.S. in July, 2011...and in the top 10 for the calendar year to date. If you see what we don't, click the "comments' button and let us know.

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