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Test Drive: Lexus CT 200h Lacks Pizzazz

The 2011 Lexus CT 200h doesn't look like it starts at about $30,000.

When Honda introduced the CR-Z, a sporty hybrid that starts at about $20,000, test drivers called it an oxymoron because hypothetically, a hybrid can’t be sporty, and sports cars aren’t supposed to be fuel efficient. This year, Lexus introduced its take on this idea, the 2011 CT 200h, but took its sportiness down a notch to make its fuel economy ratings average 43/40 mpg city/highway.

I drove the CT 200h nearly 600 miles, and in the end, I was more impressed with the Honda CR-Z because it is $9,775 less than the base CT 200h and has a lot more pizzazz, even though it seats two and has lower fuel economy ratings of 35/29 mpg city/highway.

I do agree with test drivers: The CT 200h is certainly sporty for a Lexus, but I thought it still looked frumpy for a “sports car.” I had the $35,850 Premium trim with navigation, moonroof, power driver’s seat and steering wheel-mounted controls. If I am going to spend that much on a car, I want it to look like it.

Inside, the CT 200h’s interior was straightforward and easy to navigate, but its similarity to the Toyota RAV4 bothered me because compared to the CT 200h, the RAV4 is a budget vehicle. I prefer the Kia Forte hatchback SX’s level of fit and finish, and comparably equipped, the Forte hatchback is almost $13,000 less than the CT 200h.

Over the first 160 miles, the CT 200h’s fuel economy ratings started to win me over, and are the only reason I would consider purchasing it if I were in the market. A trip from Washington, D.C. to Williamsburg, Va. for a wedding rehearsal dinner took me four hours with traffic. I only used a half a tank of gas to get to my old college town, which is about $20 if regular grade gasoline is $3.60 a gallon. A comparable trip in the CR-Z would cost about $21.

I prefer the 2011 Honda CR-Z.

But the more I drove the CT 200h, the more I thought about the Honda CR-Z, which won me over last fall with its space-pod looks. Initially, the CR-Z’s impractical two seats and small cargo area made me label this oxymoronic hybrid as frivolous, but I realized many young 20-somethings who can afford the CR-Z aren’t interested in practicality. They want a vehicle their friends will covet. Would people covet the Lexus CT 200h? Of course, but only because it’s a Lexus and will cost $40 to fill up, not because it’s attractive, fun to drive and has a low monthly payment like the CR-Z.

With two seats, a small trunk and lower fuel economy ratings, the CR-Z isn’t as practical as the CT 200h, but it has a sense of pizzazz and price that I find more appealing.

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