Despite the updated styling, the mechanical aspects of the 2014 Lexus CT 200h haven't changed. The luxury hybrid hatchback still borrows its powertrain from the Toyota Prius, but wraps it in an entirely different kind of vehicle--and tunes it to be far more rewarding than in any Prius model. The CT's character blends sporty notes with fuel efficiency, and while that could be a frustrating mix--think Honda CR-Z--in fact it works better than you might expect.
The 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine is mated to Toyota's two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system, for a total power output of 134 horsepower. Under the rear deck, a 1.4-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride battery stores energy from the engine and regenerative braking, and returns it when needed to add to torque from the engine. Under light loads, and at lower speeds, the electric motor can propel the car alone up to about 25 mph. There's also an "EV" mode switch that keeps the car running electric-only until the battery pack is depleted.
Driven gently, the Lexus CT is neither energetic nor sporty. But if you can ignore the engine roar when delivering maximum power, and the slightly disapproving Eco gauge, the car gets considerably peppier. Switch into the Sport mode, which reprograms the hybrid performance, power delivery, acceleration, and other control systems for more aggressive power delivery, and it gets more fun yet. Even under just part throttle, the Sport mode gives full electric assist, and best of all, the blue-rimmed power gauge morphs into a red-rimmed tachometer. The handling and retuning together make the CT feel more fun than its 0-to-60-mph of 10 seconds would indicate.
The CT has some European chassis tuning underneath, so its roadholding is far superior to any Prius model. It turns into curves crisply, and will hustle along surprisingly quickly without compromising passenger comfort. The suspension is firm, the electric power steering offers some road feel (in Sport mode, anyhow), and yet there's little road harshness transmitted into the cabin.
The CT has a few drawbacks as a driver's car, including its Prius-style shift selector knob and a lack of paddle shifters to simulate fixed gears. And the engine can drone under steady loads--think long stretches of uphill freeway. And while there's a "B" mode that increases engine braking and battery charging for long downhill stretches, we suspect most drivers will never use it.