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Launched last year, the 2012 Lexus CT 200h is the car that redeems Lexus after the far-less-than-compelling HS 250h that came the year before it. The compact luxury hybrid hatchback--a category of one, at the moment--is surprisingly likable, fun to drive, and feature-packed. It's a sporty, green, tech-savvy entry luxury model. It can appeal both to first-time luxury buyers and Prius owners ready for a little more luxe in their driving lives.
The CT 200h is roughly the same size and shape as the Toyota Matrix hatchback, but it has nothing in common with that Corolla-based bargain-basement model. It's lower and more aggressive looking, almost in the same class as the high-performance MazdaSpeed3. Inside, the upscale design and fittings set it miles apart from the old "econobox" stereotype of small hatchbacks. Its low-set instrument panel is heavily horizontal, but with a thick center console containing lots of controls--a mating of hybrid tech with luxury design cues.
Mechanically, it's similar to a 2012 Prius, with a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine paired with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive transmission, which contains a pair of electric motor-generators. A nickel-metal-hydride battery pack under the rear deck stores energy produced on engine overrun and regenerative braking, using it to supplement the engine torque and, at low speeds, propel the car alone.
The electronic tuning differs from the Prius, though, to make it a sportier drive in general. And a Sport mode changes most of the controls, giving full electric assist at partial throttle and changing the power gauge into a red-rimmed tachometer. But its electric power steering is still numb, a chronic Toyota issue, and it's not quite in the same league as sporty hatches like the Audi A3 or Volvo C30.
And neither of those cars returns anything close to the combined 40 mpg ore more the CT 200h can deliver, even when Sport mode is frequently used. Learn to ignore the Eco gauge, and the rather loud engine note when revved, and you'll have fun driving while still getting gas mileage that's at the top of the ranks.
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h is roughly 4 inches shorter in the wheelbase than a Prius, almost 6 inches shorter overall, but the interior remains roomy--and the driver's seating position is particularly good. You sit somewhat lower, which makes the CT feel sportier, and the rear seat backs fold flat for a roomy cargo area when there are only two occupants.
As befits a Lexus, standard technology features include keyless ignition, fully integrated iPod control, Bluetooth hands-free voice and audio streaming, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Lexus Safety Connect. Among the many options are LED headlamps, the Lexus Enform real-time information and navigation system, and rain-sensing wiper. Dealers can also install a full line of performance and appearance accessories under the F-Sport label.
- Sporty style approaches hot-hatch design
- Good roadholding
- Low, sporty driving position
- High degree of technology
- Remarkably high real-world mileage
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Some cabin details not quite Lexus-y
- High load floor
- Acceleration can be poky outside Sport mode