New & Used Lexus CT 200h: In Depth
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The Lexus CT 200h is a compact five-door hatchback that's in a class almost by itself. It's a hybrid luxury five-door, and until the Audi A3 e-tron arrives sometime in 2015, it is the only such vehicle sold in America. The next-closest option would be the larger and much more expensive Porsche Panamera plug-in hybrid, but that's a bit of a stretch.
The CT shares some of its gas-electric drivetrain with the evergreen Toyota Prius, but it's not dowdy like the all-business Toyota. The Lexus is meant to attract younger and greener new buyers into the brand's showrooms, from both Generation X and Generation Y, and does so in part by injecting some fun into Toyota's standard hybrid equation.
Farther-flung rivals are still few, what with the CT's hybrid powertrain and wagon shape, but shoppers would do well to compare other alternative-drivetrain vehicles, everything from the VW Golf TDI and Audi A3 TDI to the Ford C-Max Hybrid.
MORE: Read our 2015 Lexus CT 200h review
The CT arrived while the slow-selling and unloved HS 250h sedan, the first dedicated hybrid from Lexus, was still on the market. Now that the HS is no longer sold, the CT is the brand's sole hybrid-only offering. Most other Lexus models do offer a hybrid option, however.
The unexpected aspect of the CT hatchback is that it is also one of the most entertaining Lexus models to drive. The Lexus CT is powered by the same 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and twin motor-generators that are used in the Toyota Prius; altogether, the powertrain can provide a peak of 134 horsepower. While that figure isn't terribly thrilling, the fact that the CT is smaller than the Prius helps it move with some added verve, while a sportier control calibration works in the Lexus's favor as well.
The nickel-metal-hydride battery pack that delivers electricity to the motor is located behind the rear seat and under the load deck, somewhat reducing cargo capacity. With the CT's already-squat roofline, that makes the load bay remarkably shallow--there's less than a foot of height below the rollout security cover. Another example of utility given up for the sake of style.
Among small hybrids, the CT 200h is fairly sporty. Three selectable driving modes are available—Eco is almost painfully slow, Normal reacts like a normal hybrid, and Sport makes the experience much more interesting at the expense of some fuel economy. Sport affects the powertrain along with the steering weight and throttle mapping, while also providing more help from the electric motor under acceleration. When Sport is selected, the blue power gauge transforms into a red tachometer as Lexus's way of making the mode a little more special, bringing what the driver sees as most important at the time to the front.
The CT's lines are unique. It sits squarely on the street, with slab sides and thick roof pillars, giving it an interesting, slightly sporty stance. In the end, though, its lines say it's a standard, somewhat squat five-door hatchback--meaning it not only goes unnoticed on the street, but is hardly recognizable as a Lexus. Inside, the cabin is wide and surprisingly roomy, though all passengers sit low--especially on the short seat cushion in the rear--and the view out the slit-like rear window is minimal.
The CT 200h has a healthy list of standard equipment, although it doesn't quite have the feeling of effortless luxury that the larger Lexus vehicles carry. All CTs come with keyless ignition, iPod/USB integration, hands-free calling and audio streaming over Bluetooth, and satellite radio functionality. Options include LED headlights and rain-sensing windshield wipers, and dealers offer a host of F Sport appearance- and performance-enhancing parts.
The CT 200h has changed very little since its launch. The base price of a Lexus CT is around $30,000, but a heavy hand on the lengthy options list--especially in the electronics and safety area--can take buyers as high as $40,000. For 2015, the CT adds Siri Eyes-Free capability and an updated Lexus Enform infotainment system.