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