2015 Lexus CT 200h Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
May 4, 2015

The 2015 Lexus CT 200h is the industry's only small luxury hatchback that's also a hybrid, and it's considerably more fun than you might expect.

The 2015 Lexus CT 200h is both the most affordable and the smallest model in the lineup of Toyota's luxury brand. It's a five-door compact hatchback--no sedan is available--and it comes solely as a hybrid-electric vehicle. That puts it in a category of one: It's the only luxury hybrid hatchback sold in the U.S. But as a Lexus, the little CT is backstopped by a long list of standard and available features--and the cosseting of a much more personalized and attentive dealership experience.

As the entry-level Lexus, the CT takes on the mission of providing a car that likeable and fun to drive for buyers who are just starting to consider a Lexus for the first time. That pool covers a range of ages and statuses, from traditional luxury buyers who've decided they can downsize to Prius buyers seeking a little more luxe. In theory, it will also attract younger buyers than the bigger and more prestigious Lexus models, but starting around $33,000 and rising from there, it still may not be a car for the recent college graduate.

Now in its fifth model year, the 2015 CT has just a handful of upgrades. The styling was updated last year, adding the so-called spindle grille used by all new Lexus models. This year, the CT also gains an updated Lexus Enform infotainment system and the addition of Siri Eyes-Free Mode as well.

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Rumor has it that Lexus will expand the CT lineup to include a compact four-door sedan when the model is replaced in 2017 or 2018. With increasing competition in the small luxury segment--most notably the Mercedes-Benz CLA and the all-new Audi A3 sedan--it looks like Lexus was prescient in launching the CT way back as a 2011 model. Mercedes has now added the GLA crossover to the CLA sedan, and Audi has just launched its Q3 crossover as well, so it's not impossible that the Lexus CT could gain not only that four-door sedan but also a crossover smaller than the NX it has just launched for 2015.

Meanwhile, the new grille and front fascia it acquired last year give the CT a frontal appearance far closer to those of the newest models in the Lexus line. 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. The update also 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.

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 last year were 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.

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: 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 agile, 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--the new Mazda 3 approaches that number, without resorting to a hybrid drivetrain--but for now, the CT remains the king of the compact luxury hill.

The 2015 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.

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2015 Lexus CT 200h

Styling

The Lexus CT 200h is a bit conflicted: the racy hatchback shape's matched to an attractive, luxurious cabin.

The 2015 Lexus CT 200h wears the ubiquitous "spindle" grille found on the rest of the Lexus lineup, and the interior is handsome and straightforward.

Inside, the digital screens in the dashboard display have been updated, there's a new steering wheel, and several minor details have changed. Two examples: the scuff plates are now metal, not plastic, along with several new color treatments for trim and upholstery. Stylish two-tone interior trim combinations are more adventurous than in any other Lexus model, set off by ash burl, bamboo, or black wood trim, or silver metal trim.

Last year's exterior updates have been applied to the same low, slab-sided hatchback with thick roof pillars that's been on sale since the 2011 model year. Overall, the CT's shape blends Lexus's flowing L-finesse design language—including smoothly curved lines and gently arced back pillars—with a pert, almost aggressive hatchback shape.

The rear window has an unusual wraparound appearance, extending into the rear pillars, and a long spoiler extends from the roof over the short tailgate. The thin, tapered taillights give it a taut look, and altogether, the shape has worn well--even if it doesn't appear as sporty today as it did when it was launched.

Unusual color options-- sparkly Daybreak Yellow Mica and Matador Red Mica tones, or light, glossy Starfire Pearl and Tungsten Pearl shades--join the usual silver, charcoal, and black found on every luxury model.

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2015 Lexus CT 200h

Performance

The Lexus CT nets high real-world fuel economy and it's pleasant enough to drive, but it's no hot hatch.

The 2015 Lexus CT 200h continues forward with the same drivetrain we've seen since 2011. That powertrain is sourced from the Toyota Prius, but it's revised for the CT to deliver more rewarding driving dynamics–which might sound unlikely for a economical hybrid, but it seems work well here.

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. 

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 time of 10 seconds would indicate.

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2015 Lexus CT 200h

Comfort & Quality

Some luxury features are missing, and rear-seat and cargo space are impinged by the sharp roofline.

The 2015 Lexus CT 200h isn't as spacious inside as, say, the Toyota Prius, but it's also targeting a different demographic. The front passengers can relax comfortably with plenty of room. The front seats sit low, giving the driving position a sporty feel that offers plenty of headroom and legroom. The seats are thick, comfortable, and supportive--and comfortable even after several hours behind the wheel.

Rear-seat passengers might struggle–especially if they're tall. And, the rear-mounted battery pack compromises the cargo space, making it work best for weekend trips and grocery shopping.

The cockpit is well designed for stowing odds and ends, especially for a car of this age. The shallow tray that fits smartphones is right next to a power plug and a USB input, and other little cubbies, trays, and bins are plentiful. Rear-seat passengers get less, though, including a complete lack of cupholders--one hint that the CT wasn't designed primarily for North American buyers.

The CT is best used by two people with the 60/40 split rear seatback folded down--they flip forward in one easy motion--to give a long, flat cargo floor that's just low enough to carry small pieces of furniture or cartons.

The cabin materials are rich and soothing--mostly--but there are some dissonant details. The pendant-style parking brake carried over from lesser Toyotas conveys a Seventies feeling, and the hollow-feeling, cheap-looking plastics on the center console just aren't up to the luxury level of the rest of the interior.

The CT is quiet, with virtually no wind or road noise at speed. It feels even quieter than other luxury compacts, let down only by the remarkable amount of engine noise produced by hard acceleration. Lift off, and it settles back down to its usual hush.

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2015 Lexus CT 200h

Safety

The IIHS gives the CT 200h good crash-test scores, but the NHTSA hasn't checked in yet.

Thanks to a long list of active and passive safety features, the Lexus CT does well in the safety category. The CT offers a good view out the front, even for shorter drivers. To our surprise, rearward vision is good despite both thick roof pillars and the very shallow. almost slit-like rear window in the tailgate.

The Lexus CT has never been rated for crash safety by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), likely due to its low sales volume.

Ratings from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are the only ones we have to go on, and they're very good. The IIHS gives it a Top Safety Pick+ award for 2015, meaning it scores well on all its different crash tests, and has a degree of braking incorporated into its available forward-collision warning system.

The standard safety features includes stability control, anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist, and eight standard airbags (including knee bags for both front occupants). A pre-collision safety system is an option.

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2015 Lexus CT 200h

Features

As far as hatchbacks go, the Lexus CT is equipped lavishly--hence the high pricetag.

While the 2015 Lexus CT 200h might be the least expensive vehicle offered in the Lexus lineup, it offers a long enough list of options to keep traditional luxury shoppers satisfied. You'll also find a few of the latest and greatest tech features behind the wheel, too, making it more likely that younger buyers will consider a Lexus than ever before.

The base price of a Lexus CT is around $30,000, but a heavy hand on the options list can boost the total north of $40,000. Buyers who want even more options can browse the performance and appearance accessories offered by Lexus dealers under the F-Sport range.

The Lexus CT 200h F-Sport Special Edition model comes with special 17-inch alloys, a slightly lowered suspension with anti-sway bars, plus premium audio and navigation, and appearance items like a larger rear spoiler, aluminum sport pedals and NuLuxe leather-trimmed seats.

Standard features even on the base CT model include Bluetooth hands-free voice and audio streaming, SiriusXM satellite radio, fully integrated iPod control, keyless ignition, and the Lexus Safety Connect emergency alert system. Then the options list begins, including LED headlamps with washers, a power moonroof, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, Park Assist, and an in-mirror backup camera.

There are also packages that combine popular options into bundles: premium audio with a moonroof and/or the hard-drive based navigation system, for example. Navigation systems also include the Lexus Enform information system. A Seat Comfort package adds just the heated front seats and power adjustment for the front passenger seat.

As for Remote Touch, the Lexus-standard mouse-like controller on the console that moves a cursor on the center display screen, some users will adapt to it easily and others will curse it and wish for a touchscreen or a controller with some tactile feedback.

New for 2015, the CT gains Siri Eyes-Free Mode for the infotainment system.

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2015 Lexus CT 200h

Fuel Economy

We've observed gas mileage close to the CT 200h's 41-mpg EPA highway figures.

The 2015 Lexus CT 200h earns consistently good fuel economy–rated at 42 mpg combined–which is more than can be said for many of its competitors.

Real-world mileage is a tricky thing. Drive the Lexus CT hard all the time, and real-world mileage could plummet into the high 20s or low 30s. But we expect most people will get close to the EPA rating of 42 mpg city, 41 mpg highway. Our own road tests have delivered numbers from the high 30s into the mid-40s, depending on how the CT was used.

The most luxurious editions of the C-Max, or the Fusion Hybrid that uses the same powertrain, may offer competition to the CT 200h. They're larger and more capacious vehicles, but they lack the Lexus name--and the much more pleasant service and accommodation offered by the whole Lexus dealer experience.

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May 24, 2015
2015 Lexus CT 200h 5-Door Sedan Hybrid

Drive it in Sport and it's a lot of fun....

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With crisp handling and a low center of gravity. This car is firm but if you want extra firm and slightly closer to the ground try the F Sport version. It looks the best with a black roof and an extended rear... + More »
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April 28, 2015
For 2015 Lexus CT 200h

The cost to operate this car is very low.

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This car is very economical to operate. It does not accelerate very well and does not take hills very well, but that's more than made up for by its economy. It looks expensive and seems high tech.
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Styling 7
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