Thursday, August 9, 2012

First Impressions - 2013 Lexus LS

2013 Lexus LS

Lexus has grown quite a pair as of recent.

Yes, yes, I know they've produced the LFA super car as well as the BMW M3 fighting IS-F but those, as far as I'm concerned were oddities in a lineup that has, since its inception, stressed isolation, quality and refinement over excitement. The first LS400, for example, was a car that was so much better built and offered the same amount of luxury amenities. refinement and arguably better quality as the benchmark Mercedes S-Class, that it caused quite a stir in the luxury segment. Other Lexus products that followed adhered to this formula for quiet, unobtrusive motoring with the ES sedan and RX crossover becoming bestsellers in their individual markets. Lexus did try to inject some excitement with the second generation GS line in the 1990s and the first generation IS line in the early part of the last decade but they couldn't shake the subdued and milquetoast nature that they had built up over the years.

Then came the 4th generation 2013 GS previewed by the LF-Gh concept...and with it, the new corporate (and angrier) face of Lexus.

Lexus LF-Gh concept

BMW has its signature twin-kidney grille, Audi has the one piece mug that dates back to its Auto Union days, Acura has...that beak and Mercedes gets by simply by having that three-pointed badge. Lexus hasn't had anything to distinguish its products until now. Starting with the new GS line, Lexus has now incorporated a new 'spindle' grill design to work with a refinement of its L-Finesse design that apparently harks back to Toyota's early days as a spindle company. Think of an Audi grill with the top third pinched towards the center and you get the idea. The GS concept that debuted this new design was striking and, in my eye anyway, a tad overwrought but it was definitely distinctive and won't be easily confused with anything else. So far the grill has proliferated throughout the Lexus line, exhibiting the automaker's (and Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda's) new emphasis on making its products visually and dynamically exciting. I wondered how Lexus would imbue its flagship LS sedan, arguably the pinnacle of smoothness, isolation and quality in its segment, with this new direction.

2013 Lexus LS 460

On first glance, quite well it seems. The 2012 LS struck a quite handsome stance and was a good recipient of the brand's L-Finesse design that debuted early in the last decade, though it was not that exciting to look at. The new design finally gives a bit of menace and character to the dowdy LS, the centerpiece being that angry looking face. The headlights have been redesigned with arrow-shaped LED accents on the lower-end while the headlamp apertures themselves angle downwards to meet the grill, giving the LS a more creased-brow look. The awkward looking fog light fixtures on the 2012 model have been replaced by boomerang LED lights that frame the lower air visages while the hood now incorporates some surface creasing to enhance the more aggressive look. Looking head-on, the new LS looks positively mean compared to its predecessor. The creased upper surfacing follows a character line all the way back to the rear end which also gets some nip/tuck treatment. The tail lights are now a series of L-shaped LEDs and the fancy chrome exhaust finishers remain (I always liked the look of these). All in all the exterior is more muscular looking than the smooth but bland 2012 model.

2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport

Perhaps most surprising is the introduction of a new F Sport model which seeks to inject a bit of driving character into what has been ritually known as a smooth operator. The LS has never been particularly exciting to drive, rather excelling at providing a magic carpet ride that allows the big sedan to eat up highway miles at a relaxing rate. Give it a series of switchbacks and it all falls apart but no more. Along with the redesigned exterior comes an enhanced structure which is shared with all new LS variants. The F Sport adds to this with a lowered right height, retuned air suspension, new dampers and a Torsen limited slip differential to help improve putting down the power of the warmed-over 4.6 liter V8 which sees its output increased slightly by 6hp to 386. The eight speed automatic remains but also sees revising for quicker shifts, steering has been improved for more feel and response and 19 inch wheels fill out the wells nicely. The F Sport also gets an even more aggressive exterior with flared fenders, round LED fog lights, tapered and finned extensions for the front, side and rear valance and the dark, chrome edged grill protrudes ever so slightly, giving the F Sport a wide and planted stance.

2013 Lexus LS Interior

Inside, the LS gets a total makeover. A new 12,3 inch screen (which debuted on the 2013 GS) dominates the dash and finally marks the debut of the Lexus Enform Apps multimedia system in the LS. This system can be controlled by either voice command or the new Remote Touch controller (I found this to be not as easy to use as the ones available from BMW or Audi) and allows access to such apps as iHeart Radio and Pandora. An excellent sound system as well as navigation with NavTraffic and NavWeather are also standard features while every surface that hands may come into contact with has been improved.

2013 Lexus LS 460 L

2013 Lexus LS 600h L

Along with the new LS 460 F Sport variant, the three other models carry over which include the standard LS 460, the long wheelbase LS 460 L and the top of the line all-wheel-drive LS 600h L hybrid with its V8/electric motor system putting out 438hp. On sale date is targeted for the first half of 2013 with a base price in the mid $60,000 range.

While the 2012 LS was a quite handsome car to look at, Lexus has definitely kicked up the styling of the new 2013 model a few notches. It remains to be seen if the flagship can cash in on the new found sportiness that the exterior promises but if driving reviews of the new GS model are any indication then what started with the LFA and IS models could be a sign of good and exciting things to come for the 2013 Lexus LS.

Images courtesy of world car fan and Lexus .

Monday, August 6, 2012

Long Term: 2006 Mazda 6s AKA The STEED


I've reviewed quite a few cars, given my first impressions on others and touched very lightly on my own car. So I thought for a change, I'd put my own ride in the spotlight. It's not new and certainly no beauty queen (except in my eyes) but she provides all the transportation and kicks that I need when it comes to driving. Before I go into the car itself, first a bit about its owner.

I'm a car lover, but actually it isn't my first love. That will always and forever belong to aviation. I grew up around aircraft thanks to one parent working for the airlines that also afforded the privilege of traveling often. As a kid, I would go to the airport's waving gallery if for no other reason than to watch the endless cycle of aircraft taking off and landing. My father indulged this passion every Saturday afternoon by buying pastries and taking my younger brother and myself to an area that overlooked the airport and afforded an unobstructed view of the runway. I think in this way, my love for all things cars also grew. We were always a two-car family and the cars that have passed through our garage were varied but basically the same design: four door sedans. No they've never owned sports cars (though Dad did own a few two doors before marriage) but one thing was always present in at least one of them: a manual transmission. My father stipulated that a car with a manual transmission was the only way to get my license and I followed through by achieving it on the first go. The car I drove for that test, an old beaten up 1968 Ford Escort was my first real introduction to that transmission and though difficult at first, I found it fun to match revs and manage the gear shifts in a smooth manner. From then on I vowed every car I owned would have that fabled transmission.

Like all things, life has a funny way of throwing a brick at your plans. I've gone through three cars before this Mazda, only one of which had a manual transmission but that one car could not have been more appropriate. A used 1996 Honda Civic EX Coupe finally graced my driveway...errr...parking spot, bought with my own money. Back then in the early 2000s, VTEC was all the rage and to be able to peg that little D16YA motor to its 6800 rpm redline manually provided immense enjoyment. Honda engines were noted for their rev-happiness by the motoring press and this one was no exception, providing some 80,000 miles of VTEC excitement. Of course, being the young man I was (and wanting the Fast and Furious look), I tried to improve on perfection by attaching freer breathing devices like a K&N air filter and beer can exhaust while making the exterior look speedier by installing aftermarket headlamps and those then-cool Altezza tail lamps (I know, the older me isn't proud of it either looking back). That Honda met an unfortunate end at the hands of a wayward minivan driver and afterwards I was saddled with an automatic 2003 Hyundai Elantra (a car that would change my view about Korean cars forever but that's another story).

Now we come to the Mazda's acquisition. Initially my casting net was specific: after years of driving the smooth but dynamically uninspiring Elantra, I wanted a manual transmission. But not just ANY manual transmission car, I wanted a Mazdaspeed3. Something about 263hp in a small compact hatchback (I have a thing for 5 door wagons) equipped with a 6 speed manual just appealed to me on all fronts. And I knew how much I wanted to pay for it. After a few months, I widened my net to include the manual equipped Mazda6 just in case (and deeming the Mazdaspeed6 a bit too complex and expensive when it came to maintaining its sophisticated AWD system). Finding a Mazdaspeed3 with the right mileage and price, I printed the online ad and took it to the dealer, naming my price (knowing that any car's price can be bargained). To my surprise, the salesman stated the online price was incorrect, citing the actual price was a few thousand dollars more than advertised. He decided to offer the car at the advertised price but wouldn't budge any lower, no matter how close I came. I was about to call it quits when he mentioned another car I could be interested in: a black 2006 Mazda6. Having been positively smitten with the Mazdaspeed3's 263 turbocharged horsepower and still reeling by the defeat of not being able to purchase it, I was a bit underwhelmed by this new entry, thinking this might be the 2.3 liter motor sans turbocharger, until he opened the hood. Lo and behold, the 215hp Ford Duratec 3.0 liter V6! Sure it wasn't as powerful as it's sporty little brother, but having sampled one at a Mazda event a few years back, I knew the power would be smooth and torquey given the car's low weight. But then I thought about the transmission. 95% of these sedans come equipped with automatic transmissions. What were the odds this one would be any different? Then the driver's door opened and there stood quite prominently a 5 speed manual stick.

What I wanted: A 2008 Mazdaspeed3

What I got: 2006 Mazda 6s (actual car the day I bought it)

This was too good to be true. I had to ask my brother to punch me in the arm (he did it in the stomach) to ensure I wasn't dreaming. Then came the other positives: just under 23,000 miles on the odometer? Sitting for months unsold because let's face it, no one bothers with manual transmissions these days? Reminding the salesman of that last point, I offered to take the car off his hands at a price that would benefit both of us. After a brief test drive and a thorough walk-around, I drove off the lot, instantly falling in love with the Mazda I've now dubbed the STEED (yes, all caps).

5 speed manual! Yeah!

It's no turbo, but the 3.0L 215hp V6 is adequate

Dynamically, the Mazda6 has lived up to the hype of Zoom Zoom. The suspension offers a firm but compliant enough ride for the everyday commute and the transmission is direct, engaging each gear effortlessly with a nice 'snick' each time. It's no Camry, every bump and road irregularity is felt through the seat and the steering is right-now direct, offering great communication between the driver's hands and the front tires. The 3.0 liter V6 might not be as punchy as the Speed3's turbo 2.3 liter 4 cylinder (215hp in former compared to 263hp in the latter), but in my estimation, it's much more tractable, especially in traffic. There's not much torque below 2500rpm, but just enough to amble along in traffic with 3rd gear. Getting off the line quickly, the V6 has to be revved, which is no problem as the engine sounds quite good in the upper ranges of the tach. Passing is also a no brainer: from top gear, a shift down to 4th is usually enough to make quick work of slower traffic, though 3rd is needed if you're shooting for that hole in the next lane. Settle in top gear and the 6 cruises effortlessly on the highway, though the engine does make itself heard at 3000rpm. Which is just as well, since anything above 70mph will have the fuel gauge moving a bit quicker in the 'E' direction. Over the years I've mastered the fuel efficiency curve of this car: if fuel conservation is a priority, short shift in the city (which means 'skip-shifting' 1-3-5) and on the highway doing a 60-65 mph cruise. My best fuel mileage to date has been about 26mpg in mixed city/highway driving.

The interior, while not luxurious (maybe so in its heyday) is comfortable and spacious enough. The cloth seats have held up well to my abuse and the materials are quite durable. The dash itself isn't of the hard, cheap plastic and feels good to the touch. Further down the materials turn to harder plastic but rarely have my hands needed to venture that far. The driver's seat offers good enough support for long distance cruising and held me in place whenever spirited driving beckoned. Back in the day a car was considered luxurious and state of the art when it came equipped with a 6 speaker Bose audio system with an in-dash 6 disc CD changer. Mazda did offer the 6 with satellite radio and a navigation system on high end Grand Touring models but my 6s model came equipped mid-level with the 6 disc CD changer. No biggie, the dash top storage bin where the navigation system would normally reside proved to be a really practical area for storing things like my trusty tire air pressure gauge and flashlight. The bin cover itself, however, is quite flimsy and is currently broken on one of its hinges; I did manage to use a screw to secure it somewhat so one end is raised a little. Other than that little snafu, the interior has held up really well.

Have I talked about the exterior styling? It's not flashy but for a 2003 design, it has aged quite well. The slim headlight fixtures with projector beams and that wide lower intake flanked by the repositioned fog lights of the 2006 model refresh give the 6 an almost Alfa Romeo-esque flair. I toyed with the idea of upgrading the stock 17 inch wheels with larger +1 sizes (preferably the stock 18s from uplevel GT models, or even those from the RX-8 sports car) but the wheel wells are filled so...well with the stock wheels I've decided against upgrades. Some people think trunklid rear wings are silly but I think this generation Mazda 6 looks odd without it. The wing perfectly compliments the Zoom-Zoom styling and offers a good frame for the twin chrome exhaust outlets that are standard on all variants. Over the years, the clear plastic headlight covers have faded and I've managed to keep them somewhat clear with headlight restorer, which can be bought at your local auto parts store. It works quite well but doesn't last very long so figure using the product about twice a year to keep your headlights looking new.

6 quarts of 5W-30 synthetic oil every 3,000-5,000 miles...oh and a new oil filter of course

As far as maintenance is concerned, I resisted doing any mechanical upgrades, opting to keep the STEED stock (and wanting to preserve the warranty). The only aftermarket equipment installed were a set of HID bulbs on the low beams with plans to add a set to the fog lights as well (is that legal?) and window tints. Maintenance is quite simple although a few high priced repairs have surfaced. I do all oil changes myself every 3,000-5,000 miles, check my brakes every 10,000 miles and keep all vital fluids topped off though I'm planning to do a full coolant flush in the near future. One expensive repair that is quite unique to manual-equipped V6 Mazda 6 models concerns the engine mounts. Automatic transmission V6 models have more mounts while manual models have less, thus stressing the rear lower mount even more. Already I've had to replace that mount 3 times and the larger mount next to the transmission once. Basically, the harder you shift, the more the engine's torque wears the mounts down. Automatic transmission models, as far as I know, aren't subject to this as the torque converter dampens the torque load on the mounts.

The other high end repair which I'm yet to make (funds are lacking, it's the recession maaan), concerns the climate control system. Details regarding the damage itself are a bit complex, but essentially the AC compressor and drier need to be replaced (apparently they're an integrated unit in Mazda6 cars, meaning one can't be replaced without other) so you can imagine my suffering in the hot, 95 degree Florida summer. I can alleviate this somewhat by an interesting feature I found by accident: keeping the 'UNLOCK' button on the keyfob pressed for greater than 3 seconds rolls down both front windows, allowing the heat inside the car to be vented out. Best believe this is now a routine and works quite well, cooling the car a bit before I get in.

Presently the STEED is showing 76,000 miles on the odo and, aside from the broken AC, runs perfectly. She's gotten me as far north as Jacksonville to as far south as Key West and pretty much everywhere in between. Highway stints are a non-issue, setting the cruise control at 70mph (65mph if I need to conserve a bit more fuel) and putting on my favorite CDs (I'm convinced there's an AUX inlet lurking somewhere in the cabin but it remains elusive). Yes, there is that rare time in stifling traffic when my left leg could use a break but that comes with the territory of owning a car like this. Fuel economy is quite good for the V6, so far I've been able to go over 400 miles of highway driving on a single tank, just over 300 in the city.

All things being equal, I plan to keep the STEED around until the wheels fall off (yes future wife, you'll have to learn how to drive stick) or some other event forces my hand. Sure, sometimes replacing those motor mounts have become an expensive affair but I'm a DIY kinda guy so I'll learn to do that myself eventually, thereby giving my wallet a break from the mechanic. Along the way, I'll post some of the repairs made, some of which are quite simple to do and will save you loads, although as cars get more and more complex, that might not be the case forever. Opening the hood of my car, I was fortunate to not be met with a sea of plastic covering the engine and related systems, a common deterrent to the DIY person (fun fact, it takes 2 minutes to change the air filter on my car. Most German cars put up fight, with only the very stubborn and determined being able to do this simple task, taking upwards of 30-45 minutes if all goes well).

So there you have it. Think of this as a long term review that started a few years late.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Review - 2012 Lexus CT200h

2012 Lexus CT200h

Can a hybrid really be fun to drive?

That was one of many questions I sought to answer when presented with this 2012 Lexus CT200h. It takes over from the Lexus IS250 by establishing Lexus' beach-head in the newly formed compact luxury segment, competing against other notables like the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Acura ILX (as well as the upcoming Mercedes A Class). Where Lexus' other entry hybrid, the HS250h was a sales flop, the CT200h remixes the formula by using the sporty hatchback form while injecting a very serious dose of suspension tuning. Is this enough to take the fight to its competitors?

Based loosely on the MC platform that forms the basis for such Toyota models as the Scion tC, Corolla and the aforementioned HS250h, the CT goes for a more upscale and dynamic look. It bears a passing resemblance in profile to a Mazda3 (which is no faint praise, the 3 being one of the sportier offerings in its class). The front end is aggressively styled and the headlights feature LED accents on the lower area that give the car a suitably wide and sporty stance when looking head on. The front overhang is long (befitting the FWD platform) but the rear overhang is short, giving the CT good proportions. Seventeen inch alloys fill the wheel wells nicely and the rear end completes the styling element with a subtle spoiler off the end of the hatchback. The design breaks no new ground, but looks surprisingly premium and whole once you stand back to admire it.

Inside, the CT200h features high quality NuLuxe (environmentally friendly) leather seating front and back with great, high end materials and tight fitting seams everywhere, befitting for a Lexus product. The bamboo wood trimmed accents look the part and weren't flimsy to the touch. It should be noted that, in a nod to the environment, Lexus has built the CT200h to be 90% recyclable. In lieu of a navigation system on base models, Lexus provides an odd "device holder" on the center console, presumably to hold a phone/storage device or an aftermarket navigation system. It looks like an afterthought, but otherwise the cabin exuded that excellent Lexus quality. Controls for the sound system were logically laid out and easy to use, including those for the climate control (that device holder did get in the way a few times however). The adjustable heated front seats offered good support, leg room was great and I got the feeling of being enclosed in a cockpit, the low seating position adding to the environment. The rear seat room is tight for anyone above say 5'10" (test: I placed the front seat in my comfortable position and sat "behind myself" in the rear...yup, pretty tight) and I wouldn't want to be stuck back there for extended drives, let alone with two other people. Cargo room is also decent and would be larger were it not for the battery cells that make up the hybrid system lurking just behind and below the rear seats.

The motivation: Lexus Hybrid Drive.
Electronic shifter, stereo controls, push button parking brake and Lexus Drive Move Selector.
For those not in the know, a short explanation regarding the CT200h's powertrain. Essentially an identical twin of the Toyota Prius, the CT200h's hybrid system is a power split variant consisting of a conventional 1.8L four cylinder gasoline engine tuned to run on the Atkinson's cycle (leaner burning) which produces 98hp and 105 lb-ft of torque, an 80hp/151 lb-ft electric motor paired with the gas engine via a planetary gearset and a 27kW/36hp Ni-MH battery pack consisting of 168 cells. Combined, the powertrain puts out 134hp. A drive-by-wire computer controls the system and allows the CT200h to run in either EV (full electric) mode, power mode where both the electric and gas motors provide power or direct gas drive where the gas motor provides the sole motivation. Power is routed to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The battery pack recharges itself by use of regenerative braking which captures the kinetic energy usually lost in heat and directs it to the batteries. The gas motor also assists in this function if the batteries get too depleted. A configurable display on the driver gauge cluster shows the system components in real time and shows the driver various functions such as battery state of charge, where propulsion is coming from: gas, battery or both. The electronic transmission also offers a 'B' mode for aggressive regenerative braking for downhill maneuvers.

Display showing both battery and gas motor are combining to provide power.

Display changes to show battery is sole power source to wheels.
Display showing regenerative braking at work, charging the battery pack

The CT200h is billed as a sporty* car to drive (notice the asterisk?). The Lexus Drive Mode Select system offers three different modes via a rotary knob in the middle of the center console: Eco, Normal and Sport. Each affects all the driving bits of the CT, from the suspension's sophisticated lateral dampers, to the steering and the drivetrain. Eco mode is obviously the more conservative of the three. Here, throttle engagement is lethargic, the steering goes fingertip light and the powertrain's start/stop function engages, shutting of the engine at traffic lights when the car comes to a complete stop. Unlike earlier start/stop systems, the CT200h was barely noticeable: an extremely faint pulsing felt through the seats whenever the engine fired up after accelerating away from a stop. A display in the driver's gauge cluster shows once Eco mode is selected and allows the driver to see how efficiently (or inefficiently) your driving is. Treat it like a game and it becomes quite enjoyable to eke out the best mileage possible, at the expense of everyone else behind you of course. The CT200h is also capable of being locked in EV mode by a button next to the Drive Mode Select knob and allows electric-only propulsion for a mile at speeds of up to 28mph, at which point the gas engine comes alive to assist. Pretend there's an egg between your foot and the gas pedal and you get why I'd recommend only using this function in parking lots or garages as it is pretty much useless on public roads. I tried it a few times around the livelier parts of my neighborhood and not once could I avoid being honked or beeped at by angry drivers behind me.You've been warned.

Lexus Drive Mode Selector

If Eco mode is way too agonizing, Sport mode livens things up a bit. Selecting this mode changes the Eco display to a red accented rev counter, steering effort increases and both electric and gas motors combine to give the driver full power. It would be nice if Lexus had programmed "shift points" in the CVT's operation to make its constant buzzing in this mode easier to live with. It would also be nice if I had some shift paddles to work with but this is pretty much nitpicking. With the combined 134hp at my disposal, acceleration was just a bit less tepid and, by my butt-o-meter, just a few ticks over 9 seconds was needed to reach 60 mph. Not a screamer in terms of acceleration in any sense but once speed is achieved, the fun begins in maintaining the momentum. Around town, the CT200h was quite comfortable, soaking up bumps and provided a somewhat firm but compliant ride. Understand though, the CT200h isn't a driver's car and isn't meant to be driven at more than say, six tenths as the limits are low and easily reached. Besides, the various active stability control systems won't let you anywhere near them anyway. That said, it is way more engaging to drive than the dowdy Prius.

Driver gauge cluster: note Eco Mode is currently selected by gauge on the left.

Left gauge changes to red accented rev counter when Sport mode is selected.

On my testing loop, the CT200h responded in a more dynamic fashion than the Prius (or even the HS250h) could ever hope to do. Credit the sophisticated independent rear suspension bits and the lateral dampers. Stability was excellent and the sophisticated dampers did their thing, stifling body roll and keeping the car composed. Don't be fooled into thinking these 17 inch tires are grippy: they're of the hard, low rolling resistance type and as a result they squeal earlier than normal tires. Still, hustling the CT at a decent clip was okay and preserving speed around the course was not an overly bad exercise. Steering was responsive if vague off center and provided little information about the level of grip available. Braking action was also quite good, though at low speeds their regenerative nature was odd, feeling less progressive and more "on/off" in nature. Give this car a proper engine and a manual transmission and it would be a great little road carver as the suspension is that good. However, one must remember the CT200h's mission in life and as such, in the end any sporting notions ultimately take a back seat to efficiency.

My tester was a base model that starts at $29,120 (excluding destination) and came well equipped with such standard features as leather interior, sunroof, dual zone climate control, AUX/USB inputs for the powerful 6 speaker stereo system, satellite radio, Bluetooth and two 120v power outlets. The CT200h also comes comprehensively equipped with outstanding safety features like traction and stability control, electronic brake force distribution and a full compliment of front, side, rear and knee airbags throughout the interior. The Premium model begins at $31,170 and features a more powerful 10 speaker sound system and an optional navigation system which includes NavTraffic and NavWeather functions and the Lexus EnForm multimedia system. An F Sport package can also be added that includes different style 17 inch wheels, a more aggressive front fascia and sportier finishes for the interior. Fully loaded, CT200h can easily approach the $40k mark.

So back to the question: can a hybrid really be fun to drive? If you're the sort of person that enjoys hugging trees, making your own fuel and singing "kumbaya" lullabies to your kids then you'll be much more satisfied with a Prius. If however, you want a car that is more luxurious, less dorky than the Prius and a bit more engaging to drive while still giving a nod to Greenpeace at an affordable, entry lux price then Lexus may have the car for you in the CT200h. In efficiency, it easily trumps its competitors with EPA ratings of 43 mpg in the city, while matching the next best Audi A3 TDi's 40 mpg highway rating. At a combined rating of 42 mpg, the CT200h is quite literally tops in efficiency and comes close to matching the A3 dynamically, if not in outright speed. Does the CT200h live up to the sporty intent that Lexus designed it for? Not chance. The CT200h is a compromise. There's nothing sporty about a CVT (c'mon, no shift paddles?), the brakes, while effective are touchy, the electric steering has no feel and is arcade-like in its actions and I can imagine some scary moments passing slower traffic on a two lane road when flooring the throttle and getting more engine noise rather than increased speed. That said, around town the CT200h is comfortable, efficient and Lexus-luxurious. For an entry level luxury car, it effectively handles its duties. But drivers wishing for a real sporty hybrid will have to look elsewhere.

Special thanks to the Penagos Foundation for providing the tester. You rock!