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2011 Lexus CT200h. (Bill Petro/Toyota)
2011 Lexus CT200h. (Bill Petro/Toyota)

2011 Lexus CT200h

Lexus CT200h is like a Prius with attitude Add to ...

I was prepared to dismiss the 2011 Lexus CT200h hybrid as nothing much more than a tarted-up Toyota Prius. Yet after a week with this four-door hatchback, I decided that such an offhand dismissal was unfair.

Start with the price. The CT200h at $30,950 starts at barely $3,000 more than the Prius four-door hatch ($27,800).

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Of course, the Lexus buyer can push things to nearly $40,000 by adding the $8,400 Technology Package (power moon roof, six-disc CD changer, 10 speakers, driver’s seat memory, rain-sensing wipers, voice activated navigation, back-up camera and more). The Tech collection is nice but not necessary for the premium buyer who wants to put a green tint on the daily commute.

Sure, it’s possible to argue that Toyota/Lexus should have done a bit more to separate the performance of the CT from the Prius. That is, the under-hood hardware is virtually the same and shouldn’t be.

The basics include a 1.8-litre, 98-horsepower, Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder engine. It’s paired with the Prius’ 80-hp electric traction motor. Total system horsepower: 134. Yes, real-world performance isn’t very different between the two. Moreover, the continuously variable transmission and power-sorting helical gear set are the same and those two matter most of all in Toyota’s hybrid design.

And then the Lexus people come back on a different tack, saying the CT’s rear suspension is an independent, double-wishbone arrangement. Nice and modern. The Prius has a fairly pedestrian torsion-beam rear end.

Here, Lexus is onto something. In fact, the independent rear comes complete with “lateral performance dampers” and hydraulic mounts across the left and right shocks. You should care. All this means the CT feels more agile, body roll is limited in turns and bumps in the road are nicely managed. Overall, the CT is smoother, quieter and more pleasant than the Prius.

Then there is the design story. The Prius may look like the ideal Vancouver taxi that it has become, but the CT is something else entirely. The design is striking and the paint is delicious. The nose is aerodynamic and interesting, who wouldn’t like the teardrop roof and the rear fenders give the car sinewy shoulders. The best-looking Lexus? Yes.

With its own design, ride qualities, equipment, and interior design and packaging, Lexus is not out of line asking for an extra three grand over the Prius. And so I found myself wondering if I would fork over my own money for the CT.

Certainly the car does the expected job of pampering an owner. Acceleration is hardly frightening, but it’s quick enough for merging with traffic. The CT is heftier than the Prius and thus slower. As well, the fuel economy falls short of the Toyota, too: 4.5 litres/100 km in the city, 4.8 on the highway (versus 3.7 city/4.0 highway for the Prius).

Let’s not get carried away, though. The CT’s fuel economy is still brilliant and I can live with a 0-100 km/h sprint in the 10-second range. It’s a hybrid, right?

So for the Prius owner who wants to make small step up, the CT is a perfectly reasonable choice on several levels. The Lexus has some gee-whiz stuff, too.

For instance, using an oversized silver knob, you can dial in one of four driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. Yes, the CT, like the Prius, can run in electric-only mode in slow traffic. Just hit the EV button.

On the other hand, in Sport mode you dial up weightier electric power steering, the batteries put out more and throttle response is a shade more aggressive. Let’s not get carried away, though. We are talking about a 1,380-kilogram car.

And if you run away hard at a green light, the CTV will howl like an angry Ski-Doo despite all the Lexus sound-deadening. Stay calm and drive like you’ve just come almost comatose from a two-hour Yin Yoga class and the CT is ideal.

Just don’t try to load up the back seats with Sumo wrestlers. Legroom is tight and the rear doors are so small there’s a chance they might tug away at that Sumo thong. Cargo space in back will sorta hold two full sets of golf clubs, but loading is far easier with the rear seatbacks spit and folded flat.

Speaking of the cabin, it is very well done with outstanding fit and finish. I am a particular fan of the mouse-like controller on the centre console.

Its main features are a comfortable and ideally positioned wrist rest and a fingertip-operated joystick. Where the German premium car companies have all managed to make these sorts of devices absurdly complicated, Lexus has invented a convenient and intuitive way to access many functions. Bravo.

The question, then, is the CT worth $3,000 more than the Prius? Yes, because it’s not a big stretch dollar-wise from the Toyota to the Lexus.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2011 Lexus CT200h

Type: Compact premium hybrid hatchback

Price: $30,950

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, DOHC

Horsepower/torque: 98 hp/142 lb-ft

Electric motor: 80 hp

Battery pack: 202-volt nickel metal hybrid pack

Combined net power: 134 hp

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4.5 city/4.8 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Audi A3 TDI, Toyota Prius

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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