Electric start for Lexus compact
Lexus is banking on younger buyers, writes James Stanford in France
CRUCIAL new Lexus compact hybrid, the CT200h, will hit Australia with price tags starting below $50,000.
The car is coming Down Under later this year after a preview at the Paris Motor Show with a green promise and a bottom line that significantly undercuts current Lexus starter, the IS.
But there will be changes, as preview cars in France reveal significant shortcomings— mostly in refinement and noise suppression — Lexus Australia promises to overcome before the first local customers get their cars.
The CT is aimed at a much younger group of buyers and will go head-to-head with a range of European compacts including the BMW 1-Series, Mini Cooper, Audi A3 and Volvo C30, with the distinction of a hybrid powertrain.
The CT is the only car in the class with such technology and it is not available with a regular petrol or diesel engine.
The CT200h has a traditional five-seater hatch package and is a similar size to a Toyota Corolla or Prius, though Lexus says it is built from a different mechanical base and has a custom independent rear suspension system.
The powertrain is almost identical to the petrol-electric power package in the Prius, though the intake and exhaust on the engine — plus electronic controls— have been tweaked.
That means it has a 1.8-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, tuned for economy, linked to an electric motor and fed by a nickel metal hydride battery pack. The petrol engine produces 100kW and the electric motor contributes an extra 60kW on demand.
Like the Prius the CT200h can operate on the electric motor only at low speeds, and has a continuously-variable automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
Lexus Australia says the CT200h will be its biggest launch since the RX crossover wagon arrived in 1995 and will become a major model alongside the RX and the IS.
‘‘We are going to enhance Lexus Australia sales by introducing a third volume vehicle line and we are going to provide a gateway vehicle for first time luxury buyers,’’ Lexus Australia chief executive, Tony Cramb, says.
Lexus has an average customer age of 53 and believes the new car will help bring down that number with its green appeal, hatch practicality and more affordable price— despite questions in Paris about the car’s styling.
‘‘The compact luxury segment in Australia is in need of a shake-up and CT is just the car to do this,’’ Cramb says.
Dashing entry: the Lexus CT200h has a sharp exterior and Eco mode.