- Edgy hatchback shape
- Good roadholding, fun driving
- Low, sporty driving position
- Long list of features, options
- Real-world 40 mpg or so
- Interior has a few non-luxe items
- Low roof, high load floor
- Noisy under hard acceleration
- Sport Mode is only fun setting
The 2014 Lexus CT 200h is still the only compact luxury hybrid hatchback--and it's a lot more fun to drive than you might imagine.
The 2014 Lexus CT 200h continues into its fourth model year as the least expensive and smallest model offered by Toyota's luxury brand. It remains both its sole hachback and its only compact car, and it also remains the only luxury hybrid compact hatchback offered for sale--as it has been since 2011. The CT gets a handful of mild updates this year, including a new grille and some interior tweaks, and while it has never sold in great volume, it's considered a low-key success in the Lexus lineup.
Its mission is to offer a fun-to-drive car with a likeable character to younger buyers who haven't before considered a Lexus. They may be Prius buyers seeking a little more luxe, or more traditional luxury buyers who've decided they can downsize. Either way, like the RX crossover that not only dominates its luxury mid-size crossover segment but serves as the brand's U.S. mainstay, the little CT is backstopped by a long list of standard and available features.
A new grille and front fascia give this year's CT a frontal appearance far more closely aligned with the newer models in the Lexus lineup. The design starts with the "spindle" grille shape, and includes redesigned front and rear bumper fascias and a new design for the 17-inch alloy wheels. There are a host of little detail changes, including a roof-mounted "sharkfin" to replace the old-style aerial, plus LED bulbs for the license lamps. Otherwise, the shape of the compact hatchback remains the same: a low, somewhat aggressive and slab-sided body with a long, flat roof ending in a spoiler, standard alloy wheels, and the right amount of chrome to make it sparkle and set it apart from drab economy cars of the same size and body style.
Inside, the CT's interior is roomy in front and acceptable in the rear. It's a lower car than a Prius--and almost 6 inches shorter--and the driver sits low with legs more extended than in other compacts, but headroom in generous in that position. Luxury is conveyed by a wide center console dropping down from a broad, horizontal instrument panel. The console contains enough controls, switches, knobs, and displays to indicate that this is a luxury car with features galore. New inside this year is a redesigned steering wheel, updated display screens in the dashboard, and more minor details like a metal scuff plate to replace the previous plastic one. New interior colors complete the upgrades for 2014.
The rear seats fold flat, which may be a configuration used often by childless couples who decide this is a nicer alternative than the distinctive, numb driving of a Prius. The one flaw is the high load floor, due to the battery located underneath, with enough height only for grocery bags before impeding the view rearward through the slit-like tailgate window.
The powertrain of the CT remains unchanged even as the styling has been refreshed: It pairs a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system. This is, essentially, a Prius powertrain in a smaller but far more refined vehicle. A nickel-metal-hydride battery pack under the rear load deck powers, and is recharged by, a pair of motor-generators that power the car alone at low speeds, add torque to supplement the engine output, and act as generators to recharge the battery on engine overrun and during regenerative braking.
Being a Lexus, the CT hybrid is tuned quite differently than the Prius whose powertrain it shares. It's meant to be more sporty, and the Sport mode not only remaps the electronic responses to acceleration and braking, it also cleverly converts the power gauge into a tachometer with red lighting around its edges. The car responds well and is surprisingly agile for a Lexus, but its numb electric power steering--a chronic Toyota weak spot--is simply uncompetitive with the best from Audi or Volvo.
The hybrid system really delivers in gas mileage, though. No other even somewhat-hot hatch gets ratings anywhere near its EPA combined rating of 42 mpg, and we saw a real-world 40 mpg in mixed use that included some quite spirited driving. Ignore the CT's Eco gauge, get used to its loud engine roar when it's revved, and your driving will be surprisingly fun--and the gas mileage will still be at the top of the charts. Other cars are creeping up slowly--we suspect the new 2014 Mazda 3 may approach that number, without resorting to a hybrid drivetrain--but for now, the CT remains the king of the compact luxury hill.
The 2014 Lexus CT has a lengthy list of features, both standard and optional, that starts with keyless ignition, Bluetooth hands-free pairing for voice and audio streaming, iPod control, SiriusXM satellite radio, and the Lexus Safety Connect system. The options list includes--among many other choices--rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED headlamps (joined this year by LED fog lamps), and the Lexus Enform navigation and real-time information system. Finally, dealers offer a further list of items under the Lexus F-Sport label that can both improve performance and further upgrade the car's appearance.