Barely two weeks after the launch, the latest Lexus CT200h became our vehicle for the first transport stage to the Sampaguita Rally in Subic. The first two hours could not have been tougher: Friday afternoon, Makati to Subic, with a detour to Commonwealth. Wonder if the daily EDSA-C5 grind is tougher than the Sampaguita Rally?
High society show bizzy
Being a Lexus, the CT200h's launch had to appeal to those who equate the best with over the top. Consider; prime time exclusivity of the Manila Pen lobby, Rigodon Ballroom set up for 3D presentations, Oh no its Johnny [Litton] and a concert introduced by David Pomeranz before Zsa Zsa Padilla and Pops Fernandez came on stage. The front wheel drive hatchback CT200h is Lexus's "gateway" model. Away from the show-biz glitter we welcome this calmer opportunity to get to know the CT200h better. Lexus is a cerebral product, best appreciated in the contemplative silence that Lexus is known for.
Drool with envy, Dr. Piech ?
The CT200h, like a Toyota Prius, is a respected badge of sustainable ecology. Differently proportioned to Toyota's Prius, the CT200h is the smallest Lexus model and the third hybrid introduced here after the Premium SUV 450h and the limousine LS600h last year. As an "entry level" product, the engineers were challenged to sophisticate the CT without making it feel inferior to its upper classmates. Cognizant, perhaps, of the above average discernment of the Philippine luxury car market, Lexus decided to launch the Kyushu made CT200h here, one and half months earlier than the all important North American market. It lacks not an iota of engineering exotica that would make a Prof. Dr. techn. h.c. Teutonic CEO drool with envy.
EV ECO all the way
We navigated the seriously stuck traffic in Global City, C-5, Green Meadows, Cubao, Elliptical, Commonwealth, Central Ave., Visayas and Congressional mostly in ECO mode. Beside our own audio entertainment, the noises we could hear were tricycles, jeepneys, market vendors and security guards whistling to stop traffic to allow customers to back out of on street parking - all outside. Our trip computer at this stage was showing 5 liters/100km. Which means we were only using battery power most of the time with the engine kicking in to top off the battery charge.
In ECO mode, the combined 134hp power flow from the 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle engine and 650V electric motors, hybrid epicyclic transmission, which stores energy on the overrun and a heat recovery system allow a highway consumption range of 24.4km/l to 26.3km/l. This is a full hybrid system wherein all power suppliers adjust delivery over a wide range to create propulsion at the least harm to the environment. For the puritans, the option to drive in urban environments in full Electric Vehicle mode is a mere press of a button away.
Shape: politely unique
It's body has an aerodynamic 0.28 drag coefficient is made with recyclable lightweight alloy panels and bio-plastic interior parts. LED headlamps and daytime running lights, are but a few of the 500 long list of Lexus "musts". Having optimized the body for high torsional rigidity and low center of gravity, Lexus deploys an industry first: lateral performance dampers that improve the Scion Tc based platform in cornering integrity and reduces NVH [noise-vibration-harshness]. Thus, the CT200h established new NVH goals for other luxury makers to strive for. The CT200h's Assistant Chief Engineer Yoichiro Kasai pointed out that the hybrid battery pack location makes for a handling positive center of gravity but at no sacrifice to trunk space at 375liters or 985 liters with the 2nd row folded. The CT200h uses the Lexus HS250h sedan's fully independent rear suspension, so there's no confusing this suspension to the torsion beam of the Auris and Prius.
Change your mood, change the mode
The CT200h's piece d' resistance is its ability to respond to the driver's change of mood. In NORMAL mode, the CT200h is as sublime as any big Lexus. In ECO mode, even throttle openings and air con compressor engagement are optimized for economy. In both modes, the car's ambient lighting is a cool and calming blue. Press SPORT, and the lighting turns red while the hybrid drive display morphs into a sports car tachometer with a 5,400rpm redline. This signals a change in the car's character as the computers takes on the performance values of the sporty Lexus IS-F. Electronic programs for traction control, transmission shift points, throttle openings, power steering feel, etc. all reconfigure to deliver high performance responses.
Its not tight for three friendly adults, even for such a small car. With, the NLEx and SCTEx, the nation's world class expressways in between, the 170km journey was 7.6% urban in distance but it took 68% of total travel time. The CT200h made a cameo appearance in the venerable Sampaguita STV Rallye. Despite its sporting nature, the CT200h looked at home in another temple to fusion Zen: the Balinese inspired Segara Villas.
Quiet and fast
In ECO mode, the CT200h's calm comportment was perfect for the animated chattering of grown men listening to the out-takes of the Fab Four from a 25,000 song iPod playlist. High speeds did not induce any tone down in volume or language. Get into SPORT Mode and the driving mood becomes a better visual fit with the squat low roof and shallow windows, as if the CT200h is squinting with intense concentration.
At 1.4-tons, the CT200h can tail premium [German] hot hatches with turbo diesels on the max speed long sweepers of the SCTEx, when the speed traps are taking a break. With 16-inch wheels, the suctioned-to-the road handling and ride is akin to an Audi A3 or a Volvo C30, with the supple cushion of a big-Mercedes. SPORT mode changes the power plants responses and puts on more steering feel "weight" ushering sharper steering responses. Stats of 10.3secs 0-100 acceleration and 180.8km/h top speed are better than class average. Even when caning it uphill at 160km/h and downhill at an indicated 190km/h [with speedo error] the fuel consumption was a 8.54 liters/100km or 11.70km/liter. At these speeds, the electric motor behaves like a power boost turbo as the Atkinson engine is doing all of the propulsion. The seats are more comfortable than a BMW 1-series. Whether in SPORT or ECO mode, noise never intruded into the cabin occupants appreciation of the Fab four. The CT200h's low driving seat and thick rimmed steering wheel makes it feel more like a MINI than a Prius.
We dare not comment on the overall design of the CT200h though we will venture to say that Lexus made sure it won't be mistaken for anything Prius. There are a lot of engineering details to make the CT200h torsionally stiff, details that only schooled engineers can appreciate.