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As <A HREF="http://www.ct200hforum.com/forum/lexus-ct200h-news-reviews/117356-first-lexus-ct-200h-rides-europe.html">we recently reported on the Front Page of CT200hForum.com</A>, Lexus Europe has allowed a select group of journalists a first ride as passengers in Lexus' upcoming premium compact hatchback, the CT 200h. Curiously, the only two English-language accounts that have surfaced were those featured in our previous story, from the United Kingdom's Telegraph and from Autoblog. Conspicuously missing in action were the UK's major automotive publications and websites, such as Car, Top Gear, Autocar and Auto Express, as were their U.S. and Australian counterparts. Yet, it defies logic that Lexus would go to the trouble of setting up this event for just a couple of English-speaking journalists. By serendipitous coincidence, my father returned from vacation in Spain last night, bringing me a copy of the latest print issue of Autopista, Spain's sister publiation to the UK's Autocar, France's L'Automobile and Holland's Autovisie, among others. And, right there, on page 24 was Juan Carlos Payo's account of his own "test ride" in a CT 200h prototype. An edited version of the article appears <A HREF="http://motor.terra.es/pruebas-coches/articulo/lexus-ct-200h-55566.htm">on the Autopista.es website</A>. If you want a word-for-word Spanish-to-English translation, you and Google are on your own, but I will translate the highlights and bits of new and interesting information that appear in Payo's review.

Osamu Sadakata, Chief Engineer for the Lexus CT 200h, was not present at the briefings that preceded the Belgian test rides, but three of his capable engineer lieutenants that helped develop the CT were, namely Hirokazu Koga (general manager of the Lexus Development Center, Master Craftsman for Vehicle Dynamics and one of the principals behind the Lexus IS F); Bruno Reinke (a German vehicle performance specialist for Toyota/Lexus) and Isao Kanehara (an Assistant Chief Engineer who worked on the 2nd-generation Lexus IS).

Author Payo is struck by the CT 200h's low stance and ground clearance, which he says is a deliberate decision by the engineers to lower the center of gravity and thus improve the car's roadholding behavior. He describes the driving position as low, almost racecar-like and outstretched, yet comfortable and with good visibility and ample headroom for a driver 1.8 meters (almost 5'11") tall. He also raves about the thick steering wheel, supportive front seats and roomy back seat.

Lexus justifies the CT 200h's modest 136 hp output by reminding us that, in Europe, barely 16-17% of C-segment cars have a power output over 150 hp and, instead, emphasizes its low (under 100 g/km) CO2 emissions, a crucial number for emissions-based taxation schemes prevalent in a number of European markets. At this point, Kanehara goes into some detail on the so-called performance dampers that are one of the most touted, yet not totally understood engineering feats of the Lexus CT. The two performance dampers (the front one just behind the engine, between the suspension's McPherson strut towers and the rear one under the rear bumper) use viscous fluids and gas charging to help reduce internal noise, vibrations and harshness without an undue weight penalty. This, of course, begged the question of what CT 200h's curb weight will be. After an initial evasive "the same as a competitor's Diesel model" reply, Lexus officials later admitted to "a bit more than 1.4 tons". This requires some clarification. That would be 1.4 metric tons, with a metric ton equalling 1000 kilograms, or 2205 lbs. Thus, we're talking 2205 x 1.4, or 3087 lbs. With "a bit more" fudging, call it roughly 3100 lbs. Kanehara then repeats the revelation by Noah Joseph of Autoblog that CT 200h will have a drag coefficient of 0.28.

Payo notes that CT shares its blue starter button and foot-operated parking brake pedal with the Toyota Prius and, as he and the Lexus driver (presumably Bruno Reinke) get underway, the default Normal drive mode soon gives way, via the push of a button, to electric-only EV mode, which propels the CT for "2 or 3 kilometers, according to traffic and orography, or elevation". Once the batteries —which are visible under the trunk floor—are drained, a warning chime indicates a return to Normal mode, followed by increased noise levels as the gasoline engine kicks in. At this point, Payo asks the driver to hit the gas pedal in each of the three gas-electric drive modes. Even as a passenger, author Payo notices how sluggish Eco mode feels. It feels noticeably peppier in Normal mode and even more so in Sport mode, but, like Jesse Crosse of the United Kingdom's Telegraph in his earlier review, Payo cites a noticeable increase in the noise levels under Sport mode. Earlier, Payo praised the rear double-wishbone suspension, noting that it made the Lexus CT 200h corner "as if on rails, in spite of its quick pace" on the twisty two-lane roads surrounding the Belgian capital.

The Spanish writer also features some useful bits of information in asides and sidebars that accompany the article. Lexus Europe will begin taking CT 200h orders coinciding with the Paris Auto Show (October 2-17, 2010), with some European countries starting sales that month. Spain, though, won't get CTs until February 2011, roughly the same time frame we'll start seeing them in North America. Lexus Europe describes CT 200h as a key model to Lexus' future there, and they expect it to double existing sales levels for the brand. The manufacturer's specifications add some figures that Lexus' USA website hasn't divulged, namely a front and rear tread width (track) of 60.2"; trunk space of 345 cubic decimeters (12.2 cubic feet) with the rear seat up and 700 cubic decimeters (24.7 cubic feet) with the rear seat folded flat; and steering with 2.6 turns lock-to-lock. And Payo's verdict? "I admit that I expected to find merely a fancy Prius. Lexus' engineers showed me how hard they've worked, especially in terms of minimizing noise, vibrations and harshness. Like everything in life, if the price is competitive, it could be a tough rival to the new premium models we'll see in two years." This is surely a veiled reference to the fact that, within two years, we should be seeing new generations of its German archrivals, the BMW 1-Series, Mercedes-Benz B-Class and Audi A3. And the latter, like the Lexus CT, will launch a new platform that will most likely trickle down in simplified form to less expensive models from other corporate siblings. Payo then closes with an odd observation: "Difficult styling, especially in its front end, which leaves no one indifferent." To this author's knowledge, the front end styling has been universally lauded, with the side around the C-pillar (the roof pillar behing the rear side door and the rear window) being the most divisive and controversial element. Oh, well, to each his own...

 

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Interesting to have these insights on what the car is like and what went into developing it. Sounds like it's really geared towards the European market.

I hope that the lower ride height doesn't come standard for North America as I would prefer a more normal clearance to cope with snow on the roads. Anyways, a February 2011 launch date may be too late for me to delay buying a new vehicle.
 

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So, the CT200h will have a curb weight of around 3100 lbs, same as my Prius. It is about 5 inches shorter, 1 inch or so wider, and lower to the ground than my Prius. Same powertrain. Same 17" tire size as my Prius. Basically, it is a bit smaller than my Prius, but weighs as much due to the added luxury stuff (sound proofing, etc). This means that it will likely match my Prius in efficiency (51/48 mpg). Acceleration will likely be in the same ballpark too, which ain't exactly Corvette ZR-1 territory.<!-- google_ad_section_end --> :( <!-- / message --><!-- sig -->
 
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