A Darker Side | Courtesy of Lexus

“Sam” Sadakata, chief engineer for the new CT 200h, talks about his latest Lexus creation.

Editor’s note: Lexus’ new hybrid takes to the streets next winter, and if you’ve had a chance to see the vehicle’s new website, you’ll know that Lexus is calling this premium hybrid compact its “darker side of green.” So naturally, we had a few questions for the man who wants people to come to the dark side: CT 200h Chief Engineer “Sam” Sadakata.

Lexus: You were the Chief Engineer behind the Lexus LS hybrid in 2007—but the CT 200h is a completely new direction for Lexus. That’s quite the career trajectory.

Sadakata: I feel I was destined to work on these two models. Both have given me huge amounts of pleasure. And while they may be at opposite ends of the Lexus lineup, they both have the same Lexus bloodline. The difference is personality.

So what’s the CT 200h’s personality?

It’s the new face of Lexus vehicle design. We wanted a strong feeling of purpose and movement even when the car’s at a standstill: A low and wide profile hugs the ground; the fender design makes the tires look larger, which enhances the low-center-of-gravity look; and the body naturally tapers and stretches towards the rear. Take in the whole picture, and the CT 200h appears sculpted by the wind.

Or maybe it has a split personality? The vehicle offers more than one “mood.”

Yes, thanks to a system that actually switches the CT 200h between an "excitement" mode and a "serenity" mode, the driver may feel like he or she owns two separate vehicles. In EV, Eco, and Normal driving modes—selected using a rotary dial—the atmosphere is enhanced with soft blue lighting when the vehicle is operating at maximum efficiency. In Sport mode, the hybrid indicator becomes an rpm meter, and the lighting turns red. The drive-mode switch ring and a spotlight in the central instrument cluster also change to red.

Tell us about the vehicle’s layout, the “zones” we keep hearing about.

In many ways, we’ve created a sense of unity between the vehicle and driver. One way the car achieves this is through a dashboard separated into a “display” zone and an “operation” zone. We set the instruments and navigation into a display area to minimize eye movement and improve visibility. We put features such as the Remote Touch controller and mode-changing dial into the operation zone so drivers can control car features without altering their posture.

CT 200h

Okay, it’s January 2011, and I’ve just sped out of the dealership on a test drive. What am I feeling?

I’d say that the key words to describe your driving experience would be “agility” and “firmness.” First and foremost, both the vehicle’s intelligent package, or spatial efficiency, and the driver’s ideal seating position, which is low, were given careful consideration. Also, the vehicle’s weight was kept low, which results in greater agility, thanks in part to an aluminum hood and rear door. You’re feeling firmness because the vehicle’s body rigidity was optimized, plus there’s a “performance damper,” which absorbs minor body vibrations. Also, there’s a rear double-wishbone suspension, which is a world’s first for this vehicle class.

Lexus calls this hybrid the “darker side of green.” How does the CT 200h fit into Lexus’ 10-year-old hybrid tradition?

During the past few years, many automakers have started to introduce hybrids. However, many are still tied up with just adopting a hybrid system. This is third-generation hybrid technology for Lexus. With the CT 200h, there’s a topline emphasis on having a good time, and it opens a new chapter in the now firmly established history of Lexus Hybrid Drive.

Finally, what kinds of safety technologies will drivers find in this new hybrid?

Its safety standards stay the same as all the other Lexus models. For instance, it’s made to achieve the highest rankings in global collision tests, thanks to its robust structural elements, and it offers superb impact protection. This is supported, of course, by strategically placed impact-absorption areas within the vehicle’s structure. The car also features eight air bags, including knee air bags[1]. Of course, there are also active safety features such as Vehicle Stability Control. On top of these, the Lexus Pre-Collision System[2], the world’s first in this vehicle class, will help provide additional safety.

Legal Disclaimers

[1] All the airbag (AB) systems are Supplemental Restraint Systems. All ABs (if installed) are designed to inflate only under certain conditions and in certain types of severe collisions: frontal and knee ABs typically inflate in frontal collisions; side and side curtain ABs in side collisions; Roll-Sensing Curtain ABs at a severe tilt degree, roll or lateral G-force. In all other accidents, the ABs will not inflate. To decrease the risk of injury from an inflating AB, always wear seatbelts, sit upright in the middle of the seat as far back as possible and do not lean against the door. Do not put objects in front of an AB or around the seatback. Do not use a rearward-facing child seat in any front passenger seat. The force of an inflating AB may cause serious injury or death. Please see your owner’s manual for further information/warnings.

[2] The Pre-Collision System is designed to help reduce the crash speed and damage in certain frontal collisions only. It is not a collision-avoidance system and is not a substitute for safe and attentive driving. System effectiveness depends on many factors, such as speed, driver input and road conditions. Please see your owner’s manual for further information.

Vehicle(s) shown may feature optional equipment.