The Lexus CT 200h compact five-door hatchback hybrid has changed little since its 2011 debut, and it carried into the 2016 model year with minor feature updates, a newly optional moonroof, and a new chrome grille surround.
The Lexus CT 200h is a rarity in today’s market: a small luxury hybrid hatchback. It’s the smallest, lowest-priced model in the Lexus lineup, blending impressive gas mileage with a sporty character.
Fun to drive in Sport mode, the CT 200h is a likable and practical hatchback that handles decently. In real-world driving, 40-mpg fuel economy is easily achievable.
Sitting low on 17-inch wheels, the CT 200h has an assertive profile, with appropriate chrome trim and a long, flat roof that ends in a spoiler. Next to the CT 200h, many similar-size economy cars look drab and dull.
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, rated at 98 horsepower, works with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Powertrain output totals 134 horsepower. Essentially, it’s a Prius powertrain, but in a more refined model.
Dual motor-generators can propel the car without the gas engine at low speeds. They also add torque to supplement gas-engine output. Finally, they serve as generators to recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, located under the rear load deck. Drive Mode selection offers four choices: Normal, Eco, EV, and Sport.
Gas mileage is where the CT 200h shines brightest. No other luxury compact comes anywhere close to its EPA estimate of 42 mpg Combined city and highway driving.
Stylish two-tone interior trim, bolder than in other Lexus models, may be accented by bamboo, black wood, or ash burl. In addition to the base model, an F Sport edition features special suspension tuning, as well as a variety of appearance extras.
Standard equipment is bountiful, and the CT 200h has an extensive option list, including active-safety features. Options include a moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlights, heated front seats, parking assist, in-mirror rearview camera, navigation, pre-collision warning, and radar cruise control. Many options may be purchased in packages.
The CT 200h gets top scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which named it a Top Safety Pick Plus.
Two trim levels are offered: CT 200h ($31,250) comes with keyless ignition, Bluetooth voice and audio streaming, satellite radio, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, and the Lexus Safety Connect emergency alert system. Also standard are a rear spoiler, NuLuxe-trimmed seats, power front seats, and six-speaker audio.
CT 200h F-Sport Special Edition ($32,980) comes with machined-finish 17-inch wheels, a slightly lowered F Sport-tuned suspension, mesh grille, larger rear spoiler, and aluminum pedals. Seats may be trimmed with black NuLuxe or perforated leather.
When introduced, the CT 200h came across as a slab-sided five-door hatchback with a handsome, sporty appearance. Front-end freshening for 2014 added a spindle-style grille, but changed nothing in the CT’s straightforward profile. All the styling elements seem to work together effectively.
With its low roof and thick pillars, the CT 200h blends two concepts: the company’s flowing L-finesse design language, and a saucy, semi-aggressive hatchback shape. Wrapping into the rear pillars, the back window has a particularly curious appearance. A long spoiler pushes the roofline above the abbreviated tailgate, while thinly tapered taillights convey a taut impression.
Attractive and functional, the CT 200h cabin is largely luxurious as well. Just a glance at the wealth of knobs, switches, and display screens demonstrates that the CT is a feature-packed luxury car, despite its compact dimensions.
Front seats are thick, supportive and spacious, helped by generous headroom. Because the CT is lower and shorter than a Toyota Prius, the driver gets a low seating position, though that can enhance the sporty feel. Legs wind up extended farther than they would be in an upright-oriented vehicle.
Back seats offer acceptable, but hardly expansive, space. Taller riders may struggle for comfort. Cargo space is limited by the high load floor, which covers the battery pack. Stuff in one too many grocery bags and the rearward view through the slit-like tailgate window starts to shrink.
Only a few bits of hard plastic detract from the rich materials quality on the wide console and well-laid-out dashboard. Lexus provides ample storage for miscellaneous items, but back-seat occupants lack cupholders.
Adapting hybrid hardware from the larger Toyota Prius, the CT 200h stirs an element of driving excitement into the hatchback’s miserly fuel economy. Lexus engineers modified the powertrain to provide a more satisfying, sporty road experience.
Driven gently, in Normal mode, the CT feels neither sporty nor energetic. In Sport mode, it feels more animated; but that extra energy is accompanied by startling engine roar. Even when pushing lightly on the accelerator pedal, Sport mode provides full electric assist. As a result, the CT 200h feels friskier than its 10-second 0-60 mpg acceleration time might suggest.
If you can ignore the engine sound at higher speeds, it’s surprisingly fun to drive. Not only does Sport mode alter and improve powertrain behavior, it transforms the basic power gauge into a red-encircled tachometer for the gasoline engine. At lower speeds, with a light load, the electric motor can operate the CT 200h independently of the gas engine, at speeds up to 25 mph.
European-style chassis tuning, with a firm suspension, means CT 200h roadholding trounces any Prius model. Electric power steering is on the numb side, though the CT is agile and responsive, able to take curves crisply. Sport mode imparts a bit more road feel. Either way, passengers will notice little pavement harshness.
Except for engine noise, along with periodic steady-speed droning, the CT 200h is quiet on the road. Virtually no wind or road sounds enter the cabin. A continuously variable transmission sends power to the front wheels, with no paddle shifters to simulate the gears in a conventional transmission.
Even shorter drivers get a good view toward the front. Despite a shallow back window and thick roof pillars, rearview visibility is good, too.
Fuel economy is hard to beat, EPA-rated at 43/40 mpg City/Highway.
Lexus cut the base price for 2016, making the moonroof a $1,100 option, and the CT 200h is nicely equipped for just past $33,000 (including destination charge). Options are numerous, though, and can easily boost the total to $40,000 or more. For buyers who demand excellent economy, but dislike the drab nature of many hybrids, the stimulating CT 200h can be a revelation. A redesign is expected in the next year or two.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.