Elec­tric start for Lexus com­pact

Lexus is bank­ing on younger buy­ers, writes James Stan­ford in France

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige -

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.

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