Consumer Reports: Lexus hybrid tops in test

YONKERS, NY — The Lexus CT 200h hybrid hatchback sedan scored the highest among five fuel-efficient cars tested by the automotive staff of Consumer Reports magazine.

The other cars reviewed were the diminutive Fiat 500, the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Chevrolet Volt, the extended range electric vehicle which is the subject of an Auto Test Extra evaluation after seven months of ownership.

Lexus CT 200h

Lexus CT 200h

None of the vehicles received the magazine’s “recommended” rating, The Lexus, Jetta,and Volt are too new for the staff to acquire sufficient reliability data. The Fiat and Civic scored too low to be recommended.

The Lexus CT 200h ($32,012 as tested) was praised for its overall 40 miles-per-gallon average, its responsive handling, its smooth continuously variable automatic transmissConsumer reports:d strong brakes,

On the other hand, testers noted its leisurely acceleration, stiff ride and interior appointments which, while nice, were “more typical of a Toyota than a Lexus.”

They also reported that the cargo area could hold only one suitcase and one duffel bag with the split rear seatbacks in their upright position.

In the final analysis, they called the Lexus “a dream not fully realized.”

Despite its final score, The Consumer Reports testers found a lot to like about The Fiat 500, which is the Italian automaker’s first entry in the United States  after an absence of 30 years,

The tiny city car ($18,600 as tested) is fun to drive, the report noted, because of its , go-kart handling, crisp manual shifter, ease of parking and the flexibility of a  101-horsepower, four-cylinder engine that averaged 33 miles per gallon of gasoline.

On the negative side, it was faulted for its slow acceleration, choppy ride, noisy cabin, flawed driving position and tiny luggage area, which can hold only one suitcase unless the rear seat is folded forward.

The new Volkswagen TDI ($25,100 as tested) is powered by a 2-liter, 140-horsepower diesel engine that provides adequate power and averages 34 miles per gallon overall.

Likes included a smooth 6-speed manual transmission, a soft ride that absorbs bumps well, strong brakes and a back seat that is roomier than its predecessor.

Among dislikes were too much road and wind noise, less agility and precision than the 2010 Jetta, and a cheapened interior.

The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid ($24,800 as tested) combines a 1.5-liter, 110-horsepower four cylinder engine with a 23-horsepower electric motor to return 40 miles per gallon and provide acceleration the magazine described as adequate.

A smooth and responsive continuously variable transmission was countered by sloppy handling, a choppy ride, long stopping distances, cheap interior and excessive road noise.

In its report, the magazine noted that none of these four vehicles matches the Toyota Prius, which averaged 44 mpg.

The Chevrolet Volt ($43,700 as tested) has an electric motor which allows an owner to drive on electricity alone for about 35 miles, depending on weather conditions and driving style. Its battery pack can be recharged overnight at home.

It also had a 1.4-liter gasoline engine which can power the car for another 315 miles before it’s necessary to stop at the gas station.

According to the Consumer Reports calculations that take into consideration overall energy used to keep the batteries charged, the first 35 miles on electricity alone are comparable to 99 miles per gallon with a conventional gasoline-powered car. When the Volt is powered by the gasoline engine alone it averages about 29 mpg.

The testers found that the Volt is extremely efficient when running on electricity alone, but noted that  fuel efficiency drops to 29 mpg when it is powered by he gasoline engine.

It concluded that when trips reach 70 miles, traditional hybrids catch up in running costs.

The testers also noted several shortcomings:  the battery pack takes up the space where a center rear seat would be, limiting the number of passengers to four; there is limited driver visibility; and touch sensitive controls are difficult to use.

The full reports on these vehicles can be found in the October issue of Consumer Reports, on sale Oct. 6, and right now to subscribers at www.ConsumerReports.org.