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CT 200h is the green, lean entry to Lexus

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CT 200h is the green, lean entry to Lexus

The CT 200h is the smallest and least expensive of all Lexi, sold in base and Premium models with starting prices of $30,000 and $32,125.

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POSTED February 1, 2012 10:30 p.m.

The Lexus CT 200h begins its second full year on sale and debuts a new external sound system for pedestrian notification that will be applied to other Lexus hybrids. Also new for this hot-looking, five-passenger, four-door hatchback is an F Sport Package.

The CT 200h is the smallest and least expensive of all Lexi, sold in base and premium models with starting prices of $30,000 and $32,125.

It also is the sportiest of all gasoline-electric hybrids and has wide-and-low Lexus styling that looks rich and fast. It gets up to 43 mpg running around town and 40 on the highway on regular unleaded. And under ideal battery-charge and terrain conditions, the CT can be driven on battery power about a mile up to about 23 mph.

The hybridization is transparent to the driver: regenerative braking, engine shutoff at traffic stops and the transmission's B mode to recapture even more energy on deceleration and on downhills.

The top-line test car was $35,320, with what I expect would be popular extras. The Navigation Package, $2,445, adds a back-up camera and Lexus' Enform system for infotainment, smartphone apps, voice command, XM NavTraffic and more. The Premium Audio Package, $1,100, is a 10-speaker upgrade, with six-disc, in-dash CD changer and more.

The CT shares a powertrain from the Toyota Prius, with modifications for performance. The CT is the handsome cousin: slightly larger and heavier with more emphasis on luxury refinement and soundproofing. Instead of low-rolling resistance tires, it rolls on Michelin Primacy MXM4 rubber, a luxury touring tire also good for fuel efficiency and handling.

The Atkinson-cycle, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and motor generator spin up a combined 134 horsepower. The continuously variable transmission is a champ of efficiency, but the motorboating-acceleration effect of engine noise followed by acceleration is pronounced.

Hyundai went with a traditional six-speed automatic in its Sonata hybrid because it gets better highway fuel economy. And it gives a much more satisfying driving experience. The CT does have a sport mode, which helps to put some snap in the acceleration, but a sport-plus wouldn't be too much.

The Vehicle Proximity Notification System is intended to alert pedestrians when the CT is cruising slowly on battery power, such as in parking lots. It turns off above a certain speed.

Ride quality is sports-car firm but can feel hard on rough road. And there is ambient wind and road noise on the Interstate. The aerodynamic drag coefficient is fairly low at 0.29, and the turning circle is low at 34.2 feet.

The CT is a small car, but it feels spacious in the front-seat area. The cabin is nicely appointed and functional for storage areas. Driving efficiency can be monitored in the eco-meter, which through virtual imagery turns into a tachometer in sport mode. Like many hybrids now, the gauge illumination changes from blue in economical driving to red in sporty driving.

Back-seat space is snug, but the 60/40 seatbacks fold almost flat. The cargo opening will be a challenge for loading something like a bicycle with the front tire removed.

The F-Sport package adds special suspension tuning, 17-inch F Sport wheels, a mesh grille and larger rear-deck spoiler. It includes metal front scuff plates, aluminum sport pedals, metallic trim on the dash panel, a leather-trimmed shift knob (instead of chrome) and a black headliner.

The package is $1,000 with NuLuxe seats (a lightweight, leather-like upholstery material) and $2,300 with real leather. NuLuxe seats have perforated black-leather inserts with white perforation holes.

The CT buyer is watching fuel prices but not pinching pennies to buy gasoline. This car is a lifestyle statement: "I want to be green. I want style. And I don't have to skimp."

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