If you’re into the relentless pursuit of fuel efficiency—but you can’t take the doorstop style of the Toyota Prius—the Lexus CT200h may be what you seek. Utilizing the same hybrid-powertrain technology as the Prius, the Lexus CT200h offers excellent fuel economy (we saw 36 mpg in our testing) and a more stylish and luxurious interior. Not surprisingly, with a total of 134 hp on hand, the Lexus CT200h is painfully slow, but the F Sport package’s suspension and wheel upgrades liven up handling a bit.
2016 Lexus CT200h
Coulda been a contender, if not for its Prius powertrain.
Overview: The Lexus CT200h is essentially Lexus’s take on the Toyota Prius. (Let’s all forget that the HS250h ever existed, shall we?) The CT has been around in its current form since 2010, meaning it still uses the previous-generation Prius’s basic platform and gasoline-electric powertrain. As the least expensive ticket into the Lexus lineup, this relatively sporty-looking hatch could be construed as a competitor to entry-level luxury cars such as the Mercedes-Benz CLA-class and the Audi A3 (the latter of which also offers a hybrid version, albeit one with a plug). But don’t be fooled by its rakish silhouette. The CT’s hybrid powertrain is focused on one thing and one thing only: fuel economy. It’s rated at a combined 42 mpg by the EPA, several mpg below the current Prius’s numbers but still well ahead of most other compact luxury cars. The CT also has the distinction of being one of the few remaining hatchbacks (we mean real hatchbacks, not those poseur higher-riding hatchbacks now called crossovers) to wear a luxury badge. With the trend toward crossovers stronger than ever, we wouldn’t be surprised if the next-generation CT, due within a year or so, gets more butch styling and a raised ride height to appeal to the multitude of shoppers who are enticed by the perception of ruggedness and practicality offered by an SUV.
What’s New: Since its launch six years ago, the only significant changes to the Lexus CT200h were made for the 2014 model year, when it received visual updates inside and out. It adopted the Lexus spindle grille design while the interior got a new steering wheel, shift knob, and infotainment technology. The optional F Sport package also received additional black trim, different wheels, and a mesh grille.
What We Like: The littlest Lexus is a sharp-looking thing, both inside and out. We like its hatchback proportions and exterior detailing, and the interior lives up to Lexus standards with its soft leather seats (hides are available only with certain option packages) and impressive fit and finish. It delivers on the fuel-economy front, too: We were able to average 36 mpg in mixed and sometimes aggressive driving without any hypermiling. The CT also handles reasonably well, with nicely weighted steering and a firm suspension that keeps body roll to a minimum, at least at lower speeds.
What We Don’t Like: You’ll be forced to get used to low-speed travel while driving the Lexus CT200h, because acceleration is downright lethargic. Getting to highway speeds is a struggle, as the CT takes more than 10 seconds to get up to 60 mph—that’s slower than nearly all of today’s economy cars, and even more sluggish than the latest Prius, the Two Eco, which performed the same task in 9.4 seconds. Because the CT is stuck with an older version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, it isn’t able to combine its gas and electric power sources as seamlessly as newer hybrids, and the four-cylinder drones noisily under hard acceleration. The decently tuned chassis is also let down by the vague feel of the brake pedal, and the mostly composed handling comes at the expense of ride quality, which verges on harsh when traversing rougher roads. For nearly $40,000 when fully loaded, we expect more refinement. And like most cars in this size class, the interior can feel pretty cramped.
Verdict: It could’ve been a satisfying hatch, but the hybrid powertrain is a letdown.