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There was an era when luxury automakers weren’t concerned with producing a vehicle that was in an affordable price range. They were simply marketing cars for the rich, and the heck with everyone else.

However, those days have disappeared; perhaps gone forever. Now practically every luxury manufacturer (Rolls-Royce is a notable exception) are offering at least a few vehicles with an affordable price tag and smiling car buyers are driving off the lot in a Mercedes Benz, Lexus, BMW or Audi, to name a few.

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Lexus, the premium division of Toyota, is making its pitch to the middle class. Its latest offering is the all-new Lexus CT 200h, a compact hybrid, four-door hatchback that is priced at just over $29,000. That is reportedly the least expensive Lexus in almost two decades.

No one can accuse Lexus of arriving to the party late when it comes to hybrids – the CT 200h is their fifth one. Is it Lexus’ best one? Definitely not. But it gets super gas mileage (40-43 mpg), has four different powertrain selections, possesses an appealing look, and as mentioned previously, the price is right.

Still, there are more than a few things that aren’t quite right with the CT 200h. If you’re thinking because it’s a Lexus, the car will have some punch, you’re wrong, it doesn’t. Other negatives include a narrow cabin, a blind spot that hampers visibility, and it rides a little rough on uneven road surfaces.

The lack of acceleration was baffling at first because the front-wheel drive CT 200h appears to be a vehicle that is capable of getting there in a hurry. The giveaway is it has the same 1.8-liter, four-cylinder (134 horsepower) engine as the Toyota Prius, a much celebrated hybrid that gets 8 miles more per gallon than the CT 200h and costs nearly $6,000 less. The CT 200h goes from 0-60 mph in a tepid 10.4 seconds, which makes it just barely quicker than the Prius.

What is quite appealing about the CT 200h is it gives the driver four powertrain modes – normal (every-day driving), eco (for best gas mileage), sport (sportier handling that adds a definite fun factor), and EV where the car runs at up to 28 mph on electric power, but can travel no further than one mile.

The lack of real luxury shows up on the inside where the usual leather upholstery is synthetic, there is no wood trim, and the display area is a bit old school. But there are still no hard-touch surfaces, the front seating is comfortable, and the storage is good when the rear seats are folded down.

Lexus wants to go head-to-head with rivals like the Audi A3, Volvo C30 and BMW coupe. It exceeds the those models in price and gas mileage, but comes up short in performance and a few other areas.

2011 Lexus CT 200 Hybrid

Power: 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 134 horsepower
Mileage estimate: 40-43 mpg
Price: $29,000-$30,900

Standard features include: keyless ignition/entry; 10-way power-adjustable driver seat; dual-zone climate control; six-speaker stereo, CD player, satellite radio, auxiliary audio/USB jacks; Bluetooth (with audio streaming); brake assist; stability and traction control; stolen vehicle locator; emergency assistance

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