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Lexus luxury in a hybrid

The Car 2011 Lexus CT200h: For years, sticking the word luxury in front of car has meant ample (and sometimes more than ample) power reserves big engines and the big fuel bills to go with them.
With a crisp design and sporty 17-inch alloy wheels the Lexus CT200h has plenty of curb appeal.

The Car 2011 Lexus CT200h:

For years, sticking the word luxury in front of car has meant ample (and sometimes more than ample) power reserves big engines and the big fuel bills to go with them. Lexus, on the other hand, has a full range of luxury automobiles that combine not just a wafting ride and high-tech amenities, but also clean-running hybrid powertrains. The CT200h is the smallest and most efficient Lexus you can get, but how does it do as a luxury car?

The numbers:

Price $41,300 including freight

Power 134 horsepower, 153 foot-pounds of torque (combined electric and gas engines)

Fuel Economy (city/hwy) 4.5/4.8 litres/100 kilometres

The tech:

Standard Vehicle Stability Control, SmartAccess and push-button start, power heated seats, Bluetooth hands-free, dual-zone automatic climate control

Options (Tech package) power moonroof, hard-drive-based satellite Navigation, rearview camera, LED headlights, premium sound system, 17-inch alloy wheels

The drive:

Optioned up to just north of $40,000, the smallest Lexus is a handsome little thing. It wears the angular corporate styling of its bigger siblings well, and has a sporty look that's lacking in its closest relative, the HS250h sedan.

In Matador Red Mica, the LED daytime running lights and the slightly-blued hybrid badging stand out and might alert passers-by to the fact that this little sportback is essentially a higher-class Prius. However, step back a few paces and all you see is the crisp design and sporty 17-inch alloy wheels. First test passed, it's got plenty of curb appeal.

Sliding into the comfortable bucket seats will have you mentally checking off the second box: it's certainly a luxury-car level interior. Like other Lexuses (Lexii?), the CT200h has a driver-focussed feel, with a slightly left-canted centre section and maximum adjustability for wheel and seat to get the driving position just right. It's comfortable, it's loaded up with options including an easy-to-use navigation system, and despite the faux-leather trim, has the feel of a proper premium automobile.

And what's this? A sport button?

Unfortunately, here's where the CT200h might disappoint a hot-shoe. While the sport button firms up the steering and it's frankly surprising how good the CT200h is at taking a quick corner it's completely against the nature of the car to drive in an aggressive manner. Relax! the CT200h seems to say, I'm a hybrid, remember?

With the exception of the odd on-ramp that required maximum throttle response, I left the CT200h where it was happiest: in fuel-saving eco-mode. Here it shines, reminding you that Lexus has always been the Japanese version of Mercedes-Benz. While they can build hot rods like the LFA supercar or the IS-F V-8 sedan, Lexii are primarily about smooth, quiet travel: it's what they do best.

Here then, the CT200h starts to make sense. It's extremely quiet, has an excellent stereo and is smooth and comfortable over bumps. If your commute is a stop-and-go nightmare, the CT200h is a relaxing travelling companion, and, when needed, the effortless zip provided by that instant-on electric engine torque gets you off the line quickly.

What's more, the CT200hs small size makes tucking it into a tight parking space a cinch, and the hatchback helps you make the most of the reasonably sized cargo area. It's a perfect fit for the urban environment.

The verdict:

134 horsepower. That doesn't sound like a number that you'd associate with a sporty luxury car. But for the CT200h, it's just right. There would be little point in ramping this car up to the 200 h.p. level that was rumoured during its development.

It may seem like faint praise, but the CT200h is just what the critics say: a much nicer Prius, and what better car to base a luxury ride on than a vehicle that's already very popular with well-to-do folks who want to wave the green flag a little? There's no rule that says a luxury car has to burn plenty of fuel; a well appointed hybrid makes perfect sense for the smart money.

The only real question is, will the CT200h's nicer interior and better options be able to win over people shopping for a compact hybrid? It might be the better-optioned, sharper-looking choice, but let's not forget about that last box on our luxury-car checklist: image.

Which would you rather say, I drive a Prius, or, I drive a Lexus.?