2012 Lexus CT200h – Range Expansion Attracts GenX and GenY to Lexus0
Think Audi A3, BMW 1-Series and Volvo C30 and you can better understand the competitive set Lexus is targeting with its all new CT200h 5-door hatchback to be launched in February 2011. Also think of the CT200h as a product really designed for the European market where it is right-sized and right-styled.
The competitive set in the USA sells less than 1,500 units per month now – or about 18,000 per year – small potatoes in a 12,000,000 unit industry. Lexus is going after 1,000 units per month – immediately intending capturing 40% of this small segment. Can they do it?
Given pricing in the low $30,0oo range, the CT will undercut the IS 250, but Lexus management tells us it won’t squeak in under the $30K barrier which could prove to be a psychological threshhold.
The Lexus CT200h does many things right. It is very nice looking… substantial looking for a small car. Upscale looking as befits its premium brand. The car has a distinctive Lexus face with contemporary headlamp design and the euro-esque LED trim lighting (daytime running lights) ala Porsche and Audi. When ordered with optional LED lighting the CT200h has a total of 89 LEDs – 46 in the headlamps and running lamps, 35 in the taillamps and 8 in the side turn signal lamps.
Latest Version of Hybrid Drive System CT200h is powered by a 1.8L version of Toyota’s 4th generation hybrid drive system. So it is not identical to that in the Prius or HS250h or the RX450h, but similar. As chief engineer Osamu Sadakata explained, “a chef can use many of the same ingredients to create very different dishes”. He has set up the CT to deliver a much sportier and fun to drive experience than the other hybrids.
For example, the hybrid system in the CT200h has four different selectable driving modes ranging from “sport” to “EV” with ECO and normal in between. The 1.8L Atkinson cycle DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine (98-horsepower) plus the hybrid electric motor (36-horsepower) provides a total of 134-horsepower and can accelerate to 60-mph in 9.8 seconds while achieving 42 miles per gallon in the city, 41-mpg on the highway and 42-mpg combined. This is best in class fuel economy in the USA with only the Audi A3 turbodiesel coming close (Audi TD actually beats the CT200h in highway fuel economy but falls way behind in city fuel economy). The CT, however, cannot beat its Toyota brand sibling – the Prius which gets 51/49/50 – almost 10-mpg higher.
Given essentially the same powertrain as the Prius, how can this be? Lexus tells us it comes down to the CT200h’s extra curb weight (about 100 pounds more), less favorable aerodynamics, stickier tires and less aggressive regenerative braking.
There are also some enhancements to the powertrain that may make the CT even more desirable. Selecting the “sport” mode transforms the car from a typical hybrid to a performance sedan. Through the marvels of modern electronics, the throttle response shifts to be more aggressive and the electric steering is dialed in to be tauter. Suddenly, in sport mode, the car becomes responsive and much more fun to drive than in the default “normal” setting.
When selecting the “sport” setting, the left hand gauge in the reconfigurable LED instrument cluster shifts to a tachometer rather than the hybrid system indicator found in the default hybrid modes. This is an early example of the flexibility possible in instrument displays we will see in the near future.
Class Leading NVH – An Example of Pursuit of Perfection – Performance Dampers As usual, Lexus has devoted a lot of time and money in engineering in quietness to the CT200h. Lexus’ objective is best in class NVH. Any other result would have been a surprise. There has been a considerable amount of detail work in body rigidity and tuning even to the point of using an innovative performance damper in lieu of traditional strut braces front and rear. The performance damper uses a damper or very rigid shock absorber in the middle of the strut brace to fine tune the NVH. These dampers dramatically improve the frequency response of the body in over-the-road conditions.
Package Challenge – Targeted Towards GenX and GenY To achieve a low and sporty center of gravity CT has adopted thin seats that drop the seating position towards the floor. The steering column has been lowered and the foot pedals have been re-angled for this lower driving position. This sportier seating position is tailored to young adults looking for something more engaging than a Prius.
The rear seating is tight. With the front seats in normal positions (not rearmost) the kneeroom is very short – almost coupe-like. This being the case, the CT200h is suited to a couple with one or two small children or, better yet, DINKS – dual income no kid families.
The hatchback bodystyle provides a generous cargo area with a relatively high loadfloor. Under the loadfloor is a storage bin above the spare tire that is about six inches deep implying that there is room for more batteries should Lexus decide to go that direction.
CT200h in the USA Lineup Every auto distributor in the USA has been given a “gift” by its parent company once, twice or three times in its life. Probably more. This is an example of the parent company, in this case Toyota, developing a car that is targeted for another market – in this case Europe and Asia – and deciding the USA can sell a few thousand units. That appears to be the case with the CT200h. Early reports were the car was to be sold only in Europe and Asia. Adding it to the Lexus lineup in the USA appears to be somewhat of an afterthought. Lexus USA probably did not ask for CT200h, it was a gift.
As Lexus’ price-leader it slots in below the present Lexus lineup and its buyer target aims to broaden the luxury brand’s customer base. Admirable objectives. In a good year, Lexus’ sales objectives of 12,000 units wouldn’t be much of a stretch given its brand strength. CT200h provides an interesting lure to young buyers aspiring to a luxury brand and sporty ride.