Downsizing the Premium Market
It's now confirmed, the Lexus CT 200h hybrid will come to the U.S. in early 2011. It looks kind of like a luxury version of the Toyota Matrix, or the Nissan Versa, but it has all of the premium features expected from a luxury brand, and that's what makes it interesting. For too long in the U.S., "compact" meant "less comfortable, fewer features, inferior technology, etc" to a lot of people, an association that was mostly created by automakers because they preferred to sell high-margin behemoths (elsewhere on the planet, "compact" and "premium" coexist just fine).
The Lexus CT 200h is a 5-door hatch dedicated hybrid (meaning that like the Prius, is has no gasoline-only counterpart). The EPA fuel economy numbers haven't been released yet, but Lexus says that "The CT 200h is expected to lead the class in fuel economy and deliver low emissions." This could be good or bad, depending on how they define "class" (are we talking about compact cars? or just about luxury compact cars?).
Update: We heard back from Lexus, and the "class" the CT 200h will compete in is the "entry luxury segment" which includes the Audi A3, Volvo C30 and BMW 1-Series. They won't have fuel economy numbers until we're closer to the launch.
The CT 200h is powered by a 1.8L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gas engine with Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and Lexus Hybrid Drive technology.
"The CT 200h's Lexus Hybrid Drive technology features two motor generators. Each performs specific functions and can operate as both a motor and generator. The engine-driven generator can charge the battery pack or provide additional power to the drive motor as needed. The drive motor is driven by electrical power from the hybrid battery pack or generator and provides motive force for the front wheels. The hybrid battery pack is located under the rear cargo area within the wheelbase for optimized balance. "
No word on battery chemistry, so it is probably NiMH like in other Toyota/Lexus hybrids (lithium-ion would've been nice).
The transmission is an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (E-CVT), like in other Toyota/Lexus hybrids. As expected, there's tons of safety features (vehicle stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, ABS, optional Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, etc).
Four Drive Modes
As with recent hybrids by Toyota and Lexus (and Ford and Honda...), the CT 200h will have many driving modes to tune performance between better fuel economy and more spirited driving:
The CT 200h will also be equipped with four drive-modes: Normal, Eco, Sport and EV. Normal mode has an essentially linear throttle response that gives naturally progressive power while the Power Control Unit (PCU) limits drive voltage to a maximum of 500 volts. The Eco mode adjusts air conditioning settings and the throttle for the best possible fuel economy. For an enhanced fun-to-drive experience, Sport mode, a first for the Lexus hybrid line-up, can be selected. Sport mode provides more direct Electric Power Steering (EPS) settings and throttle while the PCU boosts drive voltage to a maximum output of 650 volts. Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC) are less intrusive when Sport mode is selected, allowing for more lively driving. In EV mode, under certain circumstances, the vehicle can be driven up to one mile using only the electric motors.
A New Trend?
Let's hope this is the beginning of a trend in the US. Some people will always spend more for luxury features, so they should have low-emission and fuel-efficient choices. This seems to work quite well for Europe (though to get to the same point in the US, fuel is going to have to be more expensive).
More on Toyota and Lexus
Kaizen Fail: Toyota Recalls 437,000 Hybrids Worldwide, Mostly 2010 Prius Models
Toyota to Recall the 2010 Prius in U.S. and Japan for Braking Problems
NHTSA to Look Into 2010 Toyota Prius Braking Problems