By Zack Klapman.
Since the Prius captured hearts and wallets, the hybrid market has exploded like Starbucks franchises. It’s gotten so big and diverse even SUVs weighing as much as an asteroid boast “HYBRID”! On their rockers. I think the heavier cars would benefit more from diesel power than batteries (Panamera, Escalade) but having options besides the Prius was like being offered condiments besides vinegar. Grateful we are.
Lexus, being part of Toyota, made the entry-level CT200h, basically a Prius in a 5-door wagon outfit. Same uninspiring drivetrain, but returning 43city/40 highway MPG, and the badge that told people you could afford a Lexus, albeit a $31,000 Lexus.
This 3,200 wagon was supposed to offer sport-ier driving than a Prius, but all I could find was stiffer springs and a heavier overall feel. In the realm of sport, taking 10.4 seconds to hit 60MPH is more golf than track and field.
But you do get a lot for your money: power seats, adjustable lumbar, leather, remote start and lots of other niceties. The interior is a welcome departure from the Prius’, though again, and the body is better looking by a factor of 1,000. Put the seats down and the CT will hold anything but the biggest furniture purchases. The Lexus CT200h is Toyota hybrid for someone not ready to give up all sense of style and personality for the sake of efficient functionality. If the Prius is the most popular hybrid, what could be wrong with a prettier version?
Well, things have changed since the Prius pioneered the symbiotic relationship of Lithium and gasoline, and the Chevy Volt is that evolution.
While the CT200h’s drivetrain is a combination of electric and gas, causing odd surges of power as the car decides how much of each to use, the Volt is moved only by the electric motor; the gasoline engine is just a generator, kicking on when the batteries are depleted. That keeps the driving experience constant. Whether you’re driving it within the 38 miles of electric-only range, or 600, the Volt always feels like an electric-only car, because essentially, it is. And even though it’s 500lbs heavier, it beats the CT to 60 by about 2 seconds. It never feels underpowered.
It’s more Spartan than the Lexus, lacking the power seats and lumbar support, but Chevy did a very good job with the chairs nonetheless. Unlike the Lexus, the interior of the Volt will still look current a few years from now, as long as you get it in the right color (avoid beige).
The Lexus does gain background in price: the Volt starts at $34,000, $3,000 more than the 2012 Lexus CT200h Premium. However, after federal and state refunds, the price drops to the 20s, and Chevrolet recently added more incentives to sweeten the deal. Plus, in CA and New York, it comes with a carpool lane sticker, and that’s worth millions of dollars in stress relief and time savings.
The Lexus may have the luxury badge and power seats, but the second you set out in the Volt, it feels more expensive. The CT’s interior is long overdo for a makeover, and its driving experience doesn’t impress.
On the other hand, the Chevrolet Volt feels like the future. The ride is better, the materials are nice, and being able to charge it at home, avoiding Sir Exxon and Mr. Shell, makes you and your bank account smile.
Like the 0-60 test, the Lexus is a few seconds behind.