Even as it successfully launched its Scion brand to attract the youth market, Toyota did little to attract a younger audience for its Lexus brand. The new CT200h hybrid hatch is an attempt to change that. Lexus hopes that its combination of performance and its green image will capture the attention of affluent buyers in their 30s and 40s.
The performance angle simply doesn’t add up. The CT200h’s European styling and hybrid powertrain converge with Lexus luxury to make for a great vehicle, but it’s not a sporty car. With the same powertrain as the Toyota Prius, the CT200h’s total output peaks at only 134 horsepower. That’s not exactly what I would call sporty.
On the other hand, the CT200h is undeniably efficient, with EPA-rated combined fuel economy of 42 mpg. I had no trouble meeting that figure on my 30-mile round trip in city driving.
To me, the CT200h makes perfect sense for someone seeking an entry-level luxury vehicle with excellent fuel economy. Someone seeking an entry-level luxury vehicle with excellent fuel economy and sporty performance should, I think, look elsewhere.
Steve Diehlman, Assistant Web Producer
Mechanically, the CT200h isn’t all that different from the Lexus HS250h, and yet I find the smaller hatchback a much more compelling car than the milquetoast HS. The similarity stems from Toyota’s hybrid system, which imbues cars with exceptional fuel economy and enough detachment and lack of spirit to garner the “appliance” label. In the CT200h, Lexus uses the smaller 1.8-liter four-cylinder to boost fuel economy well above the HS’s 35/34-mpg rating. While I didn’t match the EPA’s 43/40-mpg rating — I don’t have the patience to drive in a manner wherein I could achieve those numbers — I was impressed with the 38-mpg average I achieved in 650 miles of mostly highway driving.
Lexus would like you to think of the CT200h as a sporty, dynamic little fun hatch, but that’s quite a stretch. It isn’t fast and it isn’t very engaging, yet I’m drawn to the CT200h for the way it combines Lexus’s signature comfortable luxury with a newfound sense of style. The lighted sill plates, cool blue illumination, and stitched leather coverings on the center console and instrument cluster are surprises from this traditionally conservative brand. The ivory leather seats are masterfully sculpted and well padded. The ride moves Lexus into never-before-seen levels of firmness (save for the IS-F, or the LFA) but still prioritizes ride comfort. It is by no means sporty, but the CT200h is stylish, comfortable, and efficient, and as a fresh, unique car for the brand, it’s an absolute winner.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Lexus is targeting this car at young, hip people who want the Toyota Prius fuel economy with Lexus style. As a 22-year-old, I’m definitely young, and I like to think I qualify as hip, which may explain why I was so taken with the CT200h. For one, I really like the slick hatchback styling, especially in white. The Lexus badge belies the (relatively) low price: A 60-something woman I know who drives a Subaru Forester guessed that the CT cost $60K but the starting MSRP is half that.
A couple of especially clever interior features: Instead of a touch screen, the Lexus Enform system, which debuted on the current-generation RX crossover, uses a trackball-like controller for the navigation and stereo, which “feels” like it snaps to the on-screen buttons. It’s very convenient and easy to use. There’s also a convenient adjustable mount that can hold phones or iPods upright near the auxiliary port — it’s very simple and highly useful.
The CT200h is based on the same platform as the European Toyota Avensis, which also underpins the Scion TC in our market, but its hybrid powertrain is essentially the same as that in the Toyota Prius. The CT200h’s 9.8-second 0-to-60-mph time (per Toyota’s testing) isn’t exciting, but the ride-and-handling mix leans more toward premium-hatch than eco-warrior. The only negative is somewhat heavy, underassisted steering. Of the three drivetrain modes — Eco, Normal, and Sport — only the first seems to have an effect, evoking tortoise-like throttle response. Would I buy a Lexus CT200h? Probably not, but it’s far more interesting than the Prius.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
This is Lexus’s effort to bring Toyota Prius owners into the Lexus fold in a small, sporty hatchback rather than the Lexus RX crossover or one of the larger Lexus hybrid sedans. The results are mixed. From a styling standpoint, I find the exterior to be kind of a generic hatchback; I walked around the car and could find few exterior styling features that would cue me that this vehicle is from a luxury automaker. I find the side rear door sheetmetal, which sweeps up behind the door glass in an odd way, to be particularly unattractive. The CT200h is not ugly, but I struggle to, at first glance, find any more street presence in it than in a Mazda3.
The driving experience is actually quite good. The brakes are touchy at first and take some time to become accustomed to, but there is quite good body control, a very plush but surprisingly well-controlled ride, and definitely some heft to the steering, even if it’s not the most communicative. So, it’s not at all a soggy mess, as a lot of hybrids, and a lot of Lexus models, have been in the past. I drove the CT200h very briskly on my favorite stretch of twisty road and was impressed: it has good bump suppression and accurate, precise steering, if not abundant in feel. I really was able to whip along with speed, comfort, and smoothness.
The interior is none too large, but it’s comfortable, with good front seats. With the driver’s seat set in a position to accommodate my five-foot, eleven-inch frame, I then sat in the left rear passenger’s seat (we auto writers call this “sitting behind myself”), and I had just sufficient leg and headroom. The CT200h is quite narrow, a reflection of the fact that it’s built on a European Toyota platform. The rear cargo compartment has a tall floor (to accommodate the battery pack underneath), so the cargo space is not very high, it’s not very deep, and it’s not very wide, meaning it’s not very big.
The readout on our CT200h showed an average of 38 mpg over a 796-mile driving period.
The interior aesthetics are far more successful than the exterior. Our example had a modern black/gray/cream combination. There’s a pronounced center stack, including the now-familiar Lexus Enform mouse-style controller for a lot of the functions on the display screen, which protrudes from the top of the dash but folds down when you wish or when the car is turned off. It does not impede forward vision.
The gearshift lever is a peculiar little chrome device, but it feels good in the hand. It resembles the working end of a golf club. The steering wheel is very nice and appropriately upscale in design and materials.
Our West Coast Editor, Jason Cammisa, reports that the Lexus CT200h is thick on the ground in Marin County, where he lives, and the greater Bay Area, so apparently it has hit its target: people who have driven Toyota Priuses for some time and are ready to trade up for more luxury, more sport, and more prestige.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
As my colleagues have stated, the CT200h is an interesting attempt to give the Lexus brand some character. Cars like the IS-F and LFA were supposed to move the needle in terms of performance, but I don’t think they’ve done much to change the rather soft image of the Lexus brand. Let’s face it, anyone considering a Lexus is more likely to be interested in fuel economy and residual values than 0-60 times or lateral grip. So Lexus is looking for a way to add a bit of curb appeal to a high-mpg package that revolves around a hybrid powertrain.
I can see the appeal of the CT200h if you’re a young-ish professional living in an urban or suburban environment with lots of traffic. The hybrid drive means impressive fuel economy while you’re crawling along and the interior is a very comfortable place to pass the time. I still don’t care for the Enform system’s mouse-like controller, but I haven’t spent a lot of time driving Lexus products with this system. I found it to be more unnatural and distracting than an iDrive/MMI/COMAND controller, but far easier to use than a MyFord Touch system. So it’s neither the best or worst solution to infotainment, but maybe it’s just what Lexus owners want. If you own a CT200h and happen to get out of traffic-clogged roadways, there’s even more to like about the car. For once, there’s a Lexus that becomes enjoyable to drive on the sort of roads enthusiasts appreciate. There are a lot of better performing premium cars, but I can’t think of anything else on the market that can match the combination of Lexus’s fuel economy figures and performance. Yes, there’s an Audi A3 TDI, but the diesel engine is not nearly as efficient in urban driving, so the CT200h makes a lot more sense unless the majority of your driving is on the highway.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
2011 Lexus CT200h Premium
Base price (with destination): $31,775
Price as tested: $38,239
1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine
Electric drive motor with Lexus hybrid drive
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
Vehicle stability control
LED daytime running lights
Tire pressure monitoring system
SmartAccess with push-button start
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Tilt/telescoping steering column
4-mode drive mode select
Lexus audio system with 6 speakers
Single in-dash CD player
XM satellite radio
Carpeted floor mats
Options on this vehicle:
Navigation system — $2445
HDD navigation system
Lexus Enform destination assist
Leather package — $1330
Perforated leather seats
Rain-sensing windshield wipers
Auto-dimming outer mirrors
LED headlamps — $1215
Auto-leveling headlamps with washers
Premium audio package — $1100
10-speaker Lexus premium audio sound system
In-dash 6-disc CD changer
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Illuminated door sills — $299
Cargo net — $75
Key options not on vehicle:
43 / 40 / 42 mpg
1.8L DOHC I-4 with electric motor assist
Horsepower: xxx hp @ xxxx rpm
Torque: xxx lb-ft @ xxxx rpm
Total system power: 134 hp
Curb weight: 3130 lb
Wheels/tires: 17 x 7.0-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
215/45R17 all-season tires
Competitors: Audi A3 TDI, Lexus HS250h
What’s new? New model