If you like Toyota’s Prius, but demand more performance and luxury, you’re a good candidate for the Lexus CT 200h.
This is a small sports hatch along the lines of a Mazda3 or Volvo C30, in that it’s diminutive in size, but sporty in handling and ride. Like the Volvo, it feels and looks a bit more upscale inside and the tested Premium model adds to that feel with a standard power sunroof and heated front seats.
Of course this is a hybrid, with the same basic system as the Prius, so it gets great gas mileage, especially around town. The CT 200h is rated 43 mpg city and 40 highway on regular unleaded. I got 42.2 mpg, about what I’d expect in about 60% city driving.
The hatchback itself handles well, with sporty steering feel and precise turn-in into corners. There was no lean when I powered in and out of some tight turns. But, I use the term “power” loosely.
That’s because of the hybrid system. Acceleration in the Eco or Normal modes is simply pathetic. Granted, the electric power from the 36-horsepower hybrid electric system and 133 horsepower from the 1.8-liter engine is smoothly delivered. The electronically controlled transmission is silky. You get used to the smooth electric power as you start, but there is little torque.
The CT adds a Sport mode that allows more of the gas power to be used and more of your battery power to be drained in order to boost the torque. So you can switch to that if you want more power. The downside is that the more you use it, the more you’re defeating the fuel consumption advantage of the hybrid.
I found the CT’s ride to be decent. The car rides on a 102.4-inch wheelbase and is good on well-maintained roads. You’ll feel all the concrete pavement seams, though.
There is four-wheel independent suspension and 17-inch tires to help soak up some of the bumps or the ride would be less comfortable. Stopping is well controlled with four-wheel disc brakes, and the car comes standard with traction and stability control.
Inside, the CT has a lot going for it, including well-formed sport style perforated leather power seats, with three memory settings for the driver’s seat and a power lumbar support. The Premium model adds heated front seats, and a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel is standard. Trip computer controls are on the lower side of its hub.
Front and rear seats are comfortable, and there is reasonable cargo room behind the rear seat under the hatch. The cargo area’s floor seems a little higher than some hatches and crossovers, so you may get a little less luggage in unless you flip down one of the rear seat backs.
Where the CT falls short is its gauges and controls. The main gauges are a blah white on black and the center stack’s buttons and controls are confusingly arranged. There’s also a mouse pad that controls the radio, navigation and other systems, which diverts your attention from driving. Some German makes use a similar system, and it’s simply too complex to allow alert driving once the car is moving.
Lexus uses the same tiny shifter knob as the Prius to put the car in gear. It’s less than intuitive, especially with a separate push-button Park setting. Push button start is standard, too.
There are some knobs and buttons on the stack though, most notably the power and volume knob for the radio. But there are no radio preset buttons. For that you must use a clunky mouse system that can be very touchy, so you slide it past a station you want to hear and then futz with it for the cursor to be in exactly the right spot to select a station.
The test car added a premium audio package with 10 speakers, which sounds great, but adds $1,100. It also includes Homelink. The navigation system with XM radio and its many traffic and weather functions added another $2,445. The leather seats are part of a $1,330 package.
So the car, which started at a moderate $30,900, climbed to $38,239. This is a much better value before all the options are added, but your savings account will dictate how much extra you need. A base model starts at $29,120.