Lexus turns up­the heat

Hy­brid high per­for­mance is the goal, writes James Stan­ford in Paris

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige -

WORK on a hot ver­sion of the Lexus CT200h hy­brid hatch has started even be­fore the stan­dard car reaches show­rooms.

Lexus will not bring its new small hatch­back to Aus­tralia early next year, but the chief en­gi­neer of the ve­hi­cle is al­ready talk­ing of po­ten­tial high-per­for­mance ver­sions.

The CT200h runs a lightly mod­i­fied ver­sion of the Toy­ota Prius power pack, which in­cludes a 1.8-litre eco­tuned petrol en­gine and an elec­tric mo­tor fed by a nickel-metal hy­dride bat­tery back.

It is set up for econ­omy, record­ing a fuel econ­omy av­er­age of 3.8 litres/ 100km in Europe, but the first Lexus hatch is no rocket and takes 10.3 sec­onds from 0-100km/h.

The car is con­sid­ered a ma­jor model for the lux­ury brand and Lexus Aus­tralia’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Tony Cramb de­scribes it as ’’the biggest launch for Lexus Aus­tralia since 1995’’.

Osamu Sadakata, who has de­vel­oped sev­eral Lexus hy­brids, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal RX400h of 2003, tells cars­Guide the com­pany has al- ready played with higher-out­put ver­sions of the CT.

‘‘We have stud­ied this, but I can’t say when we will pro­duce it,’’ he says.

The first al­ter­na­tive power sys­tem is from the hy­brid Camry, which will move from the cur­rent 2.4-litre en­gine to a 2.5-litre, four-cylin­der en­gine work­ing with an elec­tric mo­tor.

‘‘We have tested the 2.4-2.5-litre hy­brid and it does fit. It is an op­tion for Lexus,’’ Sadakata says.

But Sadakata seems to be luke­warm on this so­lu­tion and is keener to talk about a pos­si­ble plug-in ver­sion of the CT which would op­er­ate pri­mar­ily as an elec­tric ve­hi­cle, with a petrol en­gine as a range ex­ten­der.

‘‘We are look­ing at a plug-in hy­brid,’’ Sadakata says. ‘‘ The Tesla Road­ster is a very good idea. The only prob­lem is that the driv­ing range is not too long.

Toy­ota is deep into devel­op­ment of a plug-in hy­brid Prius us­ing us­ing lithium ion bat­ter­ies rather than the cur­rent nickel-metal hy­brid type which and are bet­ter suited to high­er­out­put ap­pli­ca­tions.

Lexus is ex­pected to use lithium ion bat­ter­ies for the first time with the next gen­er­a­tion IS, which is the Lexus ri­val for the 3 Se­ries and Mercedes-Benz C-Class and is ex­pected in 2012 or 2013.

It is the last model in the Lexus range — other than the hulk­ing LX Land­Cruiser clone and SC con­vert­ible — to get a hy­brid power sys­tem.

‘‘The next gen­er­a­tion should be a very good hy­brid sys­tem,’’ Sadakata says with a smile.

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