As carmakers work to satiate consumers' desire to downsize, it's becoming easier than ever to buy a quality car in the subcompact and compact classes.
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h illustrates this perfectly. Lexus hit the big time with the LS400 luxury sedan over two decades ago now, but its biggest selling model these days is a hybrid, the RX 450h SUV, and its Prius-based, hybrid-only CT 200h does battle in the compact class.
But would your $29,100 be better spent on a high-end Ford Focus? A regular, non-SFE package Focus is still an economical vehicle and even after ticking all the most expensive options at the dealer, you'll still struggle to spend $30,000. Which is the better choice?
There's no denying that Toyota's proven hybrid system makes its cars some of the cleanest and most economical in each class. That's no different here, where ratings of 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and a combined 42 mpg easily top that of the Focus hatchback. With the 2.0-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission, you'll see 27 mpg city, 37 highway and 31 combined.
Of course, if you wanted to spend less, but get more miles per gallon, you could opt for the less practical and less desirable Focus sedan in lower SE trim, with the Super Fuel Economy package. It allows the Focus to manage 28 mpg city, the all-important 40 mpg highway, and 33 combined.
It's clear to see though, the Lexus easily has the upper hand on economy and low emissions.
Lexus touts the CT 200h as something of a sporty vehicle to drive, and that's not too wide of the mark. When we tested the car we found it fun to drive, particularly in the car's sport mode, which sharpens up the drivetrain response. It's no Volkswagen GTI, but it's not bad.
The Focus is renowned for its sharp handling, and offers a more overtly sporting drive. Its engine also develops more power than the 1.8-liter hybrid motor in the Lexus. The contest is fairly close though--these vehicles both handle well and take bumpy roads in their stride.
2012 Ford Focus Titanium hatchback, New York, July 2011Enlarge Photo
Quality and cost
It's amazing how much equipment you can pack the Focus with, without eclipsing the cost of the Lexus. Sports leather seats, Ford SYNC with MyTouch, larger alloy wheels, moonroofs--you can tick a lot of options boxes and still struggle to reach the $30,000 mark. If you're looking at the SFE sedan, that price could dip to little over $19,000, with plenty of breathing space for options.
Of course, the Lexus is well-equipped as standard. There's leather trim, a cosseting cabin, Bluetooth, keyless ignition and more. There's only one significant option package, but for those wishing to match Focus levels of sportiness it could be worth looking at. The F-Sport package includes racy aluminum pedals, body styling, LED headlamps and upgraded alloy wheels.
A regular CT 200h will set you back $29,120, and options packs will quickly take you well beyond $30,000.
In reality, the decision here is whether, with $30,000 to spend, you should get the most basic 2012 Lexus CT 200h you can afford--which still isn't a basic car by any means--or spec up the popular Focus with all the options you could ever want or need.
The Focus is the quicker, more sporty choice, but it's a shame you can't combine the more efficient SFE package with the high-end Titanium trim lines. Ford is making you choose between economy and luxury, when some people might want both.
The Lexus offers no such compromise. It's not only the greener of the two, but also more of a true luxury car, rather than a regular compact dressed up with thousands of options. It's as relevant at the $30,000 price point as its Prius cousin is at just over $23,000.