Lexus opts for China over LA, Tokyo auto shows for face-lifted CT 200h hybrid's world premier

GUANGZHOU, China – While a flurry of new car models are being paraded this week at auto shows in Los Angeles and Tokyo, Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus is using the week’s other big auto show in China to unveil the latest version of its CT 200h.

This four door hatchback hybrid is positioned as a sporty luxury compact. The 2014 model is the first major update since it was launched in China in 2011.

Changes are mostly cosmetic to give the car a fresher look. The hybrid powertrain stays the same. The F Sport version also gets a roof spoiler and suspension tweaks.

Lexus said it chose to launch the car at the Guangzhou show in southern China as a sign of its commitment to the country, which is the world’s biggest auto market and the second biggest for the company. The automaker said it would hold “more and more” global premiers in China, where auto sales grew 7.1 per cent last year to 15.5 million vehicles.

For automakers, China’s also a key market for hybrid cars, as the government encourages the development of new energy vehicles to cut air pollution and raise fuel efficiency. Lexus said hybrids account for nearly 30 per cent of sales in China, making it the company’s third biggest hybrid market worldwide.

Here are some highlights of the new 2014 CT 200h:

UNDER THE HOOD: No major changes to the 1.8 litre gasoline-electric motor putting out 134 horsepower.

OUTSIDE: The biggest change to the car is its face-lift. The car gets a more aggressive and sporty front end thanks to Lexus’ new “spindle grille” design, part of a broader effort to give all of the upscale brand’s models a new face. Other new touches include 10-spoke alloy wheels and a shark fin-style roof antenna. The rear bumper is also restyled with new vents at the corners. Buyers can also opt for two-tone colour schemes that feature a black roof.

INSIDE: Door panel and centre console trim choices now include Lexus’ Shimamoku synthetic wood. Shimamoku, which is Japanese for striped wood, is made by layering alternate strips of dark and light wood veneer in a process that takes up to 38 days. Five new upholstery colours include sand gold, topaz brown, moss, ivory and camel. The instrument display now includes a 4.2 inch (10.7 cm) flat screen that can be linked to the sound system and controlled by buttons on the steering wheel. The stereo system’s speakers are the world’s first to use bamboo fibers, which the automaker says result in “noticeably improved sound quality.”

FUEL ECONOMY: Expect it to be about the same: 43 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

PRICE: Not yet announced. The car will arrive in China and several other markets early next year. Current model starts at $33,000.