2013 Lexus CT 200h Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
July 12, 2013

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h remains the only compact luxury hybrid hatchback, and it's more stylish, fun, and economical than that blend might indicate. It's got (mostly) Lexus levels of luxury and refinement, with a fun Sport mode and a combination of good value and great fuel economy.

Entering its third model year, the 2013 Lexus CT 200h still occupies a category of one: It's the sole compact luxury hybrid hatchback offered in the U.S. today. It's a surprisingly likable, fun-to-drive, and feature-packed entry for Lexus, and it redeems the brand after the disappointing HS 250h hybrid sedan, which quietly vanished after just three years on the market.

The CT 200h is likely to appeal both to Prius owners ready for a little more luxe in their driving lives and first-time entry luxury buyers, including the younger, more tech-savvy drivers that Lexus hopes the car will reach.

As the first hatchback Lexus, the CT 200h is low, aggressive-looking, and carries elements of hot-hatch design like the MazdaSpeed3. Its upscale design and fittings inside keep it miles away from the old "econobox" stereotype of small hatchbacks. The low-set, horizontal instrument panel includes a thick center console that holds lots of controls--a mating of hybrid tech with luxury design cues.

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The Lexus CT is mechanically similar to the Toyota Prius, with the same 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The pair of electric motor-generators sends power to, and is powered by, a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack under the rear deck that stores energy produced on engine overrun and regenerative braking, and then delivers it back  to supplement the engine torque and--under light loads at low speeds-- propel the car electrically.

The CT has been very differently tuned than the Prius, to make it a more sporty drive. Its clever Sport mode changes the electronic responses of most of the controls, giving full electric assist at partial throttle and neatly converting the power gauge into a red-rimmed tachometer. Unfortunately, the CT's electric power steering remains more numb than the feedback offered in sporty hatches like the Audi A3 or Volvo C30.

No hot hatchback can deliver anything like the CT 200h combined EPA rating of 42 mpg, which is likely to hover around 40 mpg in real-world usage. (The closest match may be the new SkyActiv 2.0-liter engine offered in the Mazda3, which returned more than 35 mpg in our road test.) Learn to ignore the CT's Eco gauge and endure the loud engine roar when it's revved, and you'll have fun driving and still get gas mileage at the top of the charts.

The interior of the 2013 Lexus CT is roomy, despite being about 4 inches shorter in the wheelbase than a Prius, almost 6 inches shorter overall. The driving position is particularly good, putting the driver low--which feels sportier--and offering generous headroom. Rear seats are tighter for adults, but they fold flat, giving a roomy cargo area if only two people are using the car.

The list of standard and optional features is long, as you would expect from a Lexus. Fully integrated iPod control, keyless ignition, Bluetooth hands-free voice and audio streaming, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Lexus Safety Connect are all standard. The many options include the Lexus Enform real-time information and navigation system, rain-sensing wipers, and LED headlamps. Dealers can also install a full line of performance and appearance accessories under the F-Sport label.

7

2013 Lexus CT 200h

Styling

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h is an unexpected model, with chunky but attractive lines and a more luxurious interior than almost any other compact.

Midway into its model run, the novelty of the 2013 Lexus CT 200h design has worn off somewhat. Its hot-hatch silhouette and hybrid-only body style still get looks, but new compact hybrid entries make it somewhat less distinctive than it was when introduced three years ago.

The low, sporty shape with thick roof pillars and an unusual wraparound rear window design could be ready to take on the Volkswagen GTI or Mazda MazdaSpeed3, to name two authentically hot hatchbacks. At the front, the grille and air dam have elements in common with the IS compact sport sedans, although the headlamps and 'eyebrow' marker lamps look better detailed. At the back, the CT's sharp, roof-extended spoiler and thin, tapered tail lamps add an aggressive look.

The side profile of the CT 200h is clean and neat, yet still somewhat racy, blending Lexus's flowing L-finesse design language—evident in the smoothly curved lines and gently arced back pillar—with a pert, even aggressive hatchback profile.

Inside, you won't find the basic feel or economy-minded fittings so evident in the ur-hybrid Toyota Prius that donates its drivetrain to the Lexus CT. This car is far more upscale in look and feel than most other high-mileage hybrids, with an interior look and feel that's less smooth and more mechanically influenced than on most other Lexus models lately.

The instrument panel is unique to the CT, with an (upper) display zone and most of the controls are relegated to the (lower) control zone that's part of the center console that juts upward. It's somewhat low-set, with horizontal creases and a thick center console.  

Lexus clearly wants to appeal to younger, more adventurous buyers with the CT's styling. The color choices (expanded for 2013) are more daring than its other models—including hues such as sparkly Daybreak Yellow Mica and Matador Red Mica tones, and light, glossy Starfire Pearl and Tungsten Pearl shades.

Interior trim is offered in a stylish two-tone charcoal/caramel combination, along with more predictable blacks and grays. Upholstery fabrics now include standard NuLuxe synthetic in Black, Ecru, or Caramel, with the options of Black or Water Gray leather. Simple black, bamboo or ash burl wood, or metal trim alternatives keep the cabin look luxurious.

7

2013 Lexus CT 200h

Performance

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h performs well and is fun to drive, delivering great gas mileage, though it's not as sporty as its lines would hint.

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h is an interesting, possibly unique, blend of eco-minded hybrid and somewhat sporty character. You won't find it as engaging or responsive to drive as, say, the Audi A3 or the outgoing Volvo C30, its competitors in the small luxury hatchback niche.

Under the hood, the CT is very similar to the larger Toyota Prius: It has a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine paired with the company's two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system, producing a total power output of 134 horsepower. As in the Prius, a 1.4-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride battery pack sits under the rear deck, storing energy produced by the engine and from regenerative braking, and then delivering it back to supplement the engine torque and--at low speeds and under light loads--propel the car alone.

The driving experience at first isn't all that energetic or pulse-raising. But if you ignore the Eco gauge and the substantial coarse roar from the engine when it's pushed hard, the CT 200h gets more promising. By far the most enjoyable driving comes from Sport mode, which contains different and more aggressive control settings for the hybrid performance, power delivery, acceleration, and other control systems. It gives full electric assist at partial throttle, firms up the steering, and changes the power gauge into a red-rimmed tachometer (a surprisingly neat little effect). And it makes the CT feel like it's faster than its 0-to-60-mph time of just under 10 seconds.

Just like the Prius, the CT 200h offers an EV mode. Press a button next to the controller, go light on the accelerator, and--provided the battery is properly charged and a number of other conditions are met--you can drive at up to roughly 25 mph for short distances solely on electric power.

The CT is arguably the best-handling compact hybrid yet. On rougher road surfaces up at the top of a mountain pass during our test drive, the car turned in crisply and could be hustled along surprisingly quickly without jostling passengers. Road harshness was kept out of the cabin, yet the suspension was firm and the electric power steering (in Sport mode) managed to transmit some road feel and actually kick back on rutted surfaces.

Barriers to sportiness, on the other hand, include the Prius-style shift knob, and the omission of paddle shifters to simulate stepped gear changes. Drivers can choose a "B" mode for more engine braking and regeneration on steep downhill grades,but the steady engine drone on long uphills or switchbacks may signal you to slow down even if the car's mechanicals are up to the task.

7

2013 Lexus CT 200h

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h has lots of luxury features, but it lacks a few things that would put it in the upper tier.

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h, now entering the middle of its life, offers a roomy interior for the only compact car Lexus offers. With only two occupants, the rear seat backs can be folded flat, giving a roomy cargo area for a couple.

The position of the driver's seat is particularly good, with a somewhat low, sporty stance that still offers good headroom and legroom. Engineers and interior designers made sure that the 'H-point' of the front seats—the height of the front passengers' hip joints—is actually below the car's center of mass. Otherwise, the front seats themselves are very comfortable and supportive.

The CT has less interior space than a Toyota Prius, since it's about four inches shorter in wheelbase, and almost six inches shorter overall, The back seats don't offer a lot of legroom, and taller riders will find the headroom tight as well. With the seatbacks up, there's enough room for a large load of groceries, along with a standard retractable cargo cover that helps keep valuables out of sight.

The little hybrid hatchback  offers a lot of versatility, too. Its 60/40-split seatbacks fold forward in one fluid motion, providing a flat cargo floor that's a little higher than in comparable gas-only hatchbacks, but low enough to allow enough height to carry small pieces of furniture, for example.

Storage space for odds and ends is good too, with lots of little cubbies inside. A large, shallow cargo tray that neatly fits smartphones is just inches away from a USB input and power plug. One oversight--which hints the CT wasn't originally designed for North America--is the lack of cupholders for rear-seat passengers. Perhaps the Lexus crowd doesn't buy a lot of Big Gulps.

The cabin's rich materials appear to be borrowed from pricier Lexus models, but a few details come close to spoiling the uber-luxe impression. The old-style LCD display on the base sound system doesn't match the font or display used for the climate control. Then there's the chrome shift lever, a magnet for fingerprint smudges. The pendant-style parking brake screams "old Chevy" more than "luxury Lexus," and the center-console plastics seem cheap-looking and hollow-feeling as well.

Some users will like Remote Touch—the computer-mouse-like controller that demands drivers keep their eyes on the center-dash display whenever they're using it--while others will long for a touch screen, touchpad, or a different controller with tactile feedback.

The 2013 CT 200h is pleasantly quiet inside most of the time, with almost no road or wind noise at speed, where it felt quieter than other luxury compacts. It did, however, produce a startling amount of engine noise when accelerating hard, which compromised the quiet impression.

9

2013 Lexus CT 200h

Safety

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h gets top safety ratings in crash tests, and offers standard and optional safety systems well beyond the minimum.

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h should meet the safety expectations of luxury shoppers, even those downsizing from larger vehicles into this unusual luxury compact hybrid hatchback. It has earned excellent scores on crash tests, and carries a comprehensive set of both active and passive safety features.

In tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the CT 200h has earned top 'good' ratings in all categories--as well as the vaunted Top Safety Pick designation. It hasn't been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however.

Though the CT 200h sits low, the beltline isn't that high, so the view ahead over the hood is good even for shorter drivers. And despite the thick rear pillars, we found the rearward vision to be surprisingly good despite a slightly slit-like rear window--in part because the driver sits at traffic level.

Safety features include stability control, anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist, and eight standard airbags (including knee bags for both front occupants)--all of those as standard--plus an optional Pre-Collision Safety System.

9

2013 Lexus CT 200h

Features

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h comes into its own with a features list, both standard and optional, that beats almost any other compact.

Because the 2013 Lexus CT 200h carries the badge of Toyota's luxury brand, buyers expect a healthy set of features--and the CT delivers. It includes almost all of the functions, features, and fittings you'd anticipate in a luxury car, but skews them toward younger, more tech-savvy shoppers.

The base vehicle includes keyless ignition, Bluetooth hands-free voice and audio streaming, SiriusXM satellite radio, fully integrated iPod control, and Lexus Safety Connect as a starting point. Then there's the lengthy list of options, among them the Lexus Enform real-time information and navigation system, LED headlamps, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

For buyers who want sportier looks and more customization, Lexus dealers offer a full line of performance and appearance accessories under the F-Sport label. The Lexus CT 200h F-Sport Special Edition model adds a host of performance upgrades, plus special 17-inch alloys, a larger rear spoiler, aluminum sport pedals and NuLuxe leather-trimmed seats, along an expanded range of paint colors for 2013. Functionally, it gets a slightly lowered suspension with anti-sway bars, plus premium audio and navigation.

The CT carries a base price around $30,000, but choosing extravagantly from the options list can push that up by another $10,000. Possibilities include LED headlamps with washers, a power moonroof, heated front seats, an in-mirror backup camera, rain-sensing wipers, and a couple of substantial packages that bundle premium audio with a moonroof and/or the hard-drive based navigation system. Nav systems also include the Lexus Enform information system. For 2013, Lexus Park Assist is now offered as a standalone option, and a new Seat Comfort package has been added, with heated front seats and power adjustment for the front passenger seat.

9

2013 Lexus CT 200h

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h is rated at 42 mpg combined, still ranking it among the top gas mileage cars, but competition is coming fast.

While its 42-mpg combined gas mileage rating puts it among the most fuel efficient of cars, the 2013 Lexus CT 200h faces new competition it didn't have when it was launched two years ago.

The new Ford C-Max Hybrid hatchback, for instance, gets a combined EPA rating of 47 mpg. In its highest-end trims, the C-Max can be considered a viable competitor for the less roomy CT 200h hatchback--even if the Lexus brand carries a more upmarket image than the mass-market Ford. And if gas mileage is your sole goal, the high-end model of the Toyota Prius liftback still gets 50 mpg combined.

Of course, real-world mileage varies widely (and wildly) based on conditions--as with most hybrids, and indeed any car. If you really flog the CT, you might see mileage creep down toward the 20s. Most people should achieve averages close to the EPA's 42 mpg city, 41 mpg highway ratings. Over several real-world drives, we've seen results in the upper 30s--and, with careful driving, as high as the mid 40s.

Just like the Prius, the CT 200h features an exhaust-gas recovery system that helps lower emissions and improve fuel economy. It also assists in cutting the length of time that the gasoline engine runs on short-trip use.

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July 27, 2015
2013 Lexus CT 200h 5-Door Sedan Hybrid

Big surprise, small package

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First of all. not since my Mini Cooper have we owned so small a car-and this is no Mini! But it comes close in the fun to drive department. My wife has been driving Lexus RX SUVs for years. Wen we ere ready... + More »
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April 17, 2015
For 2013 Lexus CT 200h

Fun to drive...

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And it laughs at gas stations. It can take a maximum of ten gallons so your fillup is in the twenties at todays prices. Get the nav system which adds a lot of capabilities if you have an Apple or Android... + More »
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April 17, 2015
For 2013 Lexus CT 200h

A Commuters Dream

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I drive the 405 freeway 2 hours every day. Anyone one else out there with me knows it can be grueling. But not in a CT200h. Super gas mileage is a given, but the comfort and styling make it that much better. A... + More »
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April 15, 2015
For 2013 Lexus CT 200h

Resist no more

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I went form a V-6 Audi to a hybrid Lexus CT. Admittedly, I had separation anxiety, but after about a month, I noticed that I was willing to drive more and wanting to take road trips! The fuel economy is... + More »
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