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Test-drive reviews by NITISH S. RELE, motoringtampabay@gmail.com

When does Lexus rest on its laurels? Never! As if the HS 250h wasn’t enough to satisfy hybrid enthusiasts, the Toyota luxury division has produced its entry-level hybrid, the CT 200h. The four-door, five-passenger hatchback shares an almost identical power train with the gas/electric Prius.

A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine puts out 98 horsepower at 5200 rpm (105 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm) but the battery-powered electric motor ups the total to 134 hp. Mated to a 1-speed Continuous Variable Transmission, you can pick normal, eco, sport and EV modes. In the latter, the car can coast for a mile at 28 mph on solely electric power. During deceleration and braking, the vehicle uses regenerative braking to apply much of the wasted energy toward recharging the hybrid battery. Fuel is saved by using the electric motor at low-to-mid-speed acceleration, where a gas engine is much less efficient.

A forward-thrusted grille with the centered blue L insignia meets up with horizontal sweptback halogen headlights and a steeply raked windshield. The interior is well-appointed and stylish as is expected of any Lexus. The NuLuxe seats, though not made of leather, feel equally comfortable and rich. Keeping tabs on the driving habits is a hybrid and eco-drive monitor systems. You can toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls with the mouse-like, easy-to-use Remote Touch. Also standard are dual-zone climate controls, tilt/telescopic steering column, 10-way power driver’s seat and a split-folding rear seat.

Safety is ensured by dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, Vehicle Stability Control and traction control, front/rear crumple zones, front seatbelt pretensioners, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

With gas prices hovering over $3 a gallon, this all-new Lexus should appeal to those who want fuel savings in a pleasant ride with reasonably quick acceleration and body control.

CT 200h
Tires: 215/45R17
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Length: 170.1 inches
Suspension: MacPherson strut front; fully independent double wishbone rear
Steering: Electric Power Steering
Weight: 3,130 pounds
Fuel capacity: 11.9 gallons
City: 43 mpg
Highway: 40 mpg
Base price: $29,120
Web site: www.lexus.com


After a resounding success in Europe and Japan, Mazda debuts its smallest front-wheel-drive car in the United States. The entry-level Mazda2 is a delight to drive around corners, knowing you will get a first-rate overall balance.

Power is derived from a 1.5-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder engine, which develops 100 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 98 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. A 5-speed manual transmission provides smooth up shifts and quick downshifts. An independent front MacPherson strut and a rear torsion beam axle suspension deliver a comfortable well-damped ride.

Sitting on a monocoque and deeply-sculpted unit structure are front and rear body-colored bumpers and grille insert flanked by halogen headlights and fog lamps, chrome exhaust and a rear roof spoiler. The red piping on black cloth seats give the cabin a stylish look. So do the black instrument panel gauges with white lettering and silver garnish sprinkled on the three-spoke tilt steering column and shift gate. The standard digital trip computer will be of immense benefit to the fuel-conscious driver.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Dynamic Stability Control with traction control, side-impact door beams, crushable brake pedal, collapsible steering column, three-point safety belts and tire pressure monitoring system.

In these days of $3 per gallon gas, we averaged about 32.4 mpg in city/highway driving. Now that’s deserving of praise in an all-new hatchback, which is smooth, brisk, sporty and functional. Best of all, the Mazda2 is light on the wallet. What more can you ask for in a daily commuter car?

Tires: P185/55R15 all season
Wheelbase: 98 inches
Length: 55.5 inches
Weight: 2,306 pounds
Fuel capacity: 11.3 gallons
City: 29 mpg;
Highway: 35 mpg;
Base price: $15,435
Web site: www.mazdausa.com



The Ralliart version of the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer is not your run-of-the-mill vehicle. A high-performance sedan, the inter-cooled and turbocharged Lancer responds with agility and quickness in any driving condition. The well-composed and balanced ride offers abundant power just a throttle away.

A 2.0-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder engine cranks out 237 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 253 pounds-feet of torque at 3000 rpm. It is mated to a 6-speed twin-clutch sportmatic transmission, which can also be shifted via magnesium steering column-mounted paddles. A front MacPherson strut and a rear multilink suspension system absorbs the blows of rough surfaces with little sacrifice to the back side. The sharp and accurate steering response can be attributed to a hydraulic power system. Braking duties are handled effectively by 11.6-inch ventilated front and 11.9-inch solid rear discs. Depending on your mood, you can drive the Lancer normally or switch to sport mode for tackling peak-hour traffic.

A chrome-accented Ralliart grille and bumper, flanked by halogen headlights, meets an aluminum hood with attention-grabbing heat extractor vents. Also noticeable are front air dam, side sill extensions, dual exhausts and body-colored mirrors and door handles. The cabin is welcoming with plenty of luxury and style, from a silver-accented three-spoke tilt steering column to aluminum pedals and footrest. Also standard are automatic a/c control, 60/40-split fold rear seat, 6-way adjustable driver and 4-way manual front passenger seats, center console with armrest storage, and power door locks, windows and side mirrors.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, driver’s side knee airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, front/rear limited slip differentials, traction and stability control, front crumple zones, adjustable rear headrests, Hill Start Assist, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard safety features.

The Lancer Ralliart is more than just a sedan. Apart from boasting an airy interior and cheeky styling, its all-wheel-drive capabilities ensure aggressive handling, sharp steering and smooth shifts. Hats off to Mitsubishi for a job well done.

Tires: 215/45R18
Wheelbase: 103.7 inches
Length: 180 inches
Weight: 2,900 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.6 gallons
City: 17 mpg
Highway: 25 mpg
Base price: $27,495
Web site: www.mitsubishicars.com


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