Hy­brid and mighty

The first sub-$40K Lexus is so much more than a Prius

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - NEIL DOWL­ING neil.dowl­ing@cars­guide.com.au

THE first four-cylin­der model from Lexus pig­gy­backs the Toy­ota Prius to drive silently into new ter­ri­tory.

The hy­brid CT200h— not only the first with four cylin­ders from the Toy­ota pre­mium divi­sion but its first hatch­back and first to slide in un­der $40,000— is termed a

gateway model’’ and is hoped to win big sales for Lexus.

Al­ready its first ship­ment is sold out, even be­fore it ar­rives in show­rooms this week. Lexus Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive Tony Cramb said the CT200h

chal­lenges the es­tab­lished mar­ket norms by de­liv­er­ing eco-friendly tech­nol­ogy wrapped in a lux­ury pack­age’’.

The en­try-level price of the four-model hy­brid Lexus range starts at $39,990.

That fig­ure is star­ing at eye­level with the $39,900 Toy­ota Prius, which has be­come the dar­ling of the tree-hug­ging set. It should also come as no sur­prise to any­one that they share more than just par­ents.

VALUE

At $39,990 it’s not ex­actly cheap but nei­ther are its pri­mar­ily Euro com­peti­tors. The trick is that the starter model is mod­estly equipped. You have to throw in an­other $9000 to get what the lux­ury mar­ket ex­pects, such as satnav, leather, heated seats, 10-speaker sound and a re­verse cam­era, which are all in the Lux­ury edi­tion. The sport­sori­ented F-Sport model gets black­ened al­loys, body kit, sports sus­pen­sion and sports seats for $49,990.

Ring your banker and get $55,990 for the Sports Lux­ury which of­fers ex­tra safety fea­tures like Lexus’ new pre­c­ol­li­sion sys­tem and ac­tive cruise con­trol.

TECH­NOL­OGY

Same as Prius. The 1.8-litre en­gine is mated to an elec­tric mo­tor that also acts as a gen­er­a­tor and starter mo­tor. The gear­box is a con­tin­u­ously vari­able unit op­er­ated by a slick elec­tronic, Plays­ta­tion-style

lever. An elec­tric mo­tor helps re­duce steer­ing ef­fort and an­other elec­tric mo­tor runs the wa­ter pump. The bat­tery at the back is nickel-metal hy­dride as Lexus says lithium-ion wasn’t

‘‘ avail­able be­cause of de­mand’’. Rub­bish— we’ve got Ni-MH be­cause it’s cheaper than Liion even though the lat­ter is decades ahead in both per­for­mance and light­ness.

But while this is all Prius gear, there are some in­ter­est­ing new bits. There are four ad­justable driv­ing modes— EV (elec­tric-only drive), Eco (petrol and elec­tric but re­duced power and air­con­di­tion­ing), Nor­mal (petrol and elec­tric but de­signed for smooth driv­ing) and Sport (more re­spon­sive steer­ing, more volts for the mo­tor, less in­tru­sive sta­bil­ity con­trol and higher revs). The other good­ies on of­fer in­clude sus­pen­sion strut bars that im­prove body rigid­ity and also have an in­built ab­sorber to re­duce vi­bra­tions.

DE­SIGN The CT200h is the same size as the 1999 Lexus IS200 but is lighter, has a big­ger cabin and is a sec­ond quicker to 100km/h. It doesn’t break any new styling ground, but it works well, with seat­ing for four adults, a split-fold rear seat to boost al­ready ac­com­mo­dat­ing boot space and rea­son­able vis­i­bil­ity. The cabin is bet­ter, with a dash­board that is el­e­gant, func­tional and more youth­ful than Audi and BMW. The elec­tron­ics and dis­plays are ex­cel­lent— though you’ll need the Lux­ury model to get the sat-nav on the big 200mm screen. How­ever, the foot­op­er­ated park brake is a jar­ring re­minder of an ar­chaic era.

SAFETY There’s a five-star crash rat­ing, eight airbags (the ex­tra two are the knee airbags for the driver and front pas­sen­ger) plus sta­bil­ity con­trol, ABS brakes with EBD and brake as­sist, a hill holder for up­hill or down­hill, and trac­tion con­trol.

DRIV­ING The weeny drive pro­gram in­cluded some city driv­ing, in which the first hint of change was the firm-ish ride. But sus­pen­sion noise was vir­tu­ally in­audi­ble— as was the en­gine given it was mostly turned off and could travel for up to 2km on the bat­tery. Pick a tight, wind­ing road and the CT200h (with the Power mode

Con­fi­dent and comfy drive: The CT200h gets the nod as a driver’s car

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