- Fun to drive, decent handling
- Hatchback practicality
- 40 mpg in the real world
- Lots of features, options
- Sporty, low driving position
- High load floor, low roof
- Not all of interior reads luxe
- Only fun to drive in Sport mode
- Hard acceleration gets noisy
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h remains the only small luxury hybrid hatchback, but its blend of fuel economy and sporty character cleverly expands the brand's lineup to lure in new buyers.
The compact five-door 2016 Lexus CT 200h hatchback comes only as a hybrid that, along with the plug-in hybrid Audi A3 e-tron, admittedly narrows its competition to only a small number of cars. Now in its sixth model year, the CT is coasting toward replacement by an all-new version next year or the year after, with an expanded lineup that may include a four-door sedan as well.
As the smallest, least expensive model in the brand's lineup, the CT 200h is meant to lure in new and younger buyers who are considering a Lexus for the first time. That pool spans a range of ages and statuses, from traditional luxury buyers who've decided they can downsize to Prius buyers seeking a little more luxe. But with a base price in the mid-$30,000s, albeit decently equipped for that money, it may still be out of reach for debt-burdened recent graduates.
For 2016, there are only minor feature updates, following a refresh of the front styling for 2014 that added the so-called spindle grille common to all new Lexus models. Otherwise, the 2016 CT 200h is the same slab-sided hatchback it's always been, with a low, somewhat aggressive shape that ends its long, flat roof with a spoiler that extends the line even further, broken only by a shark-fin aerial for the telematics system. Standard 17-inch alloy wheels and the right amount of chrome make it sparkle and set it apart from drab economy cars of the same size and body style. The sole appearance tweak for 2016 is a chrome surround for the grille.
The CT may be more of a two-person compact than a four-person hatchback. It's roomy in front, with generous head room, but seat room is acceptable but hardly expansive in the rear. Both lower and shorter than the Toyota Prius, the car gives the driver a low seating position with legs more extended than in more upright designs.
Luxury is conveyed by the design of a wide center console that drops down from a broad, horizontal instrument panel. It houses enough controls, switches, knobs, and displays to indicate that this is a luxury car with features galore. Childless couples who decide the CT offers a more enjoyable experience than the distinctive, numb driving experience of a Prius will appreciate the flat-folding rear seat back, but it's compromised by the high load floor, with the hybrid system's battery pack located underneath. There's only really enough height for grocery bags before the view rearward through the slit-like tailgate window starts to be impeded by whatever you put in the load bay.
The Lexus CT has had the same powertrain since launch, and it remains unchanged. A 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter inline-4 is paired with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system—effectively a Prius powertrain in a smaller, but much more refined, vehicle. A pair of motor-generators can power the car alone at low speeds, add torque to supplement the engine output, and act as generators to recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack under the rear load deck on engine overrun and during regenerative braking.
The car really shines on gas mileage, though, which is what Toyota's hybrids are all about. Its EPA combined rating of 42 mpg means that the CT has few direct competitors, although other cars are creeping up slowly—the new Mazda 3 approaches that number, without resorting to a hybrid drivetrain. We managed 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.
Behind the wheel, the little CT is meant to be much more sporty than a Prius. Its Sport driving mode not only remaps the electronic responses to acceleration and braking, it also converts the power gauge into a tachometer with red lighting around its edges—a neat and unexpected effect. But while the CT responds well and is adequately agile, its numb electric power steering—a chronic Toyota weak spot—means it's nowhere near competitive in driving feel with similar compact luxury cars from the likes of Audi or BMW.
For 2016, the Lexus CT has a lengthy list of features—many standard, many more optional—that now includes an optional moonroof, new this year. Last year, the CT gained an updated Lexus Enform infotainment system and the addition of Siri Eyes Free as well. All CTs come with keyless ignition, Bluetooth hands-free pairing for voice and audio streaming, iPod control, satellite radio, and the Lexus Safety Connect system.
Rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED headlamps and fog lamps, and the Lexus Enform navigation and real-time information system are just a few of the many options available. And Lexus dealers offer a further list of items under the F-Sport label that can further upgrade the car's appearance and improve roadholding and handling.
The Lexus CT is likable and fun to drive, and it's backstopped by a long list of standard and available features—along with the cosseting of a far more attentive and personalized dealership experience than those found at some of Toyota's higher-volume dealers.
With increasing competition in the small luxury segment—in particular the Mercedes-Benz CLA and the all-new Audi A3 sedan—it looks like Lexus was prescient in launching the CT in 2011. Now Mercedes has added a compact crossover, the GLA, to the four-door CLA sedan, and Audi has just launched its Q3 crossover as well. When the next CT arrives, we'd suggest it's not impossible that it would gain not only a four-door sedan to supplement the original hatchback, but also a crossover smaller than the NX it has launched last year.
2016 Lexus CT
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h houses an attractive, luxurious cabin in a sporty, aggressive shape, but it all works together.
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h, now in its sixth model year, looks pretty much the same as it always has. A couple of years ago, the front end was restyled to add the so-called "spindle grille" that defines the look of all new Lexus models. This year, it gets a chrome surround for that grille. Otherwise, it's a handsome and straightforward shape outside, with a functional and mostly luxurious interior.
The CT is a compact five-door hatchback with a low roof, slab sides, and thick pillars. Overall, its 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 appearance, wrapping around into the rear pillars, and a long spoiler extends the roof line well over the short tailgate. With thin, tapered taillights to give it a taut look, the shape has worn well—even if the CT doesn't appear quite 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—are available, along with the usual silver, charcoal, and black that are offered on every luxury model.
Inside, the dashboard is straightforward and most of the materials still feel luxurious. There are a few pieces of hard plastic here and there, but even at six years, the CT conveys a suitable air as the entry-level model in a lineup that stretches all the way up to the LS full-size ultra-luxury sedan. 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. Changes in recent years that have kept it current include digital screens in the dashboard display that have been updated and a new steering wheel. Upping the luxury quotient are a few small details; the scuff plates are now metal, not plastic, for instance.
2016 Lexus CT
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h delivers the unusual combo of high real-world fuel economy and some driving fun, but don't mistake it for a hot hatch.
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h hybrid has the same drivetrain it's used since its 2011 launch. While the hardware comes from the last-generation Toyota Prius, the engineers have revised it to offer more rewarding on-road driving—when requested, at least. It actually works pretty well, despite the somewhat unlikely combination of high-efficiency hybrid and sporty driving.
Its 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter inline-4 is paired with Toyota's two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system, for a total power output of 134 hp. 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 1.4-kwh nickel-metal-hydride battery pack under the rear deck is depleted. That battery stores energy from both regenerative braking and engine overrun, returning it to the drivetrain when needed as supplemental torque to cut the amount of gasoline burned.
Driven gently, the Lexus CT is neither energetic nor sporty. And under any type of driving, maximum power comes with a surprisingly loud engine roar. But if you can ignore a disapproving Eco gauge, the car gets considerably peppier when you switch into the Sport mode. It's all software, but it reprograms the hybrid performance, power delivery, acceleration, and other control systems for more aggressive power delivery. That's when the CT 200h gets fun. 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 tuning together make the CT feel more fun than its 0-to-60-mph time of 10 seconds would indicate.
The CT has some European chassis tuning underneath, so its roadholding is far superior to any Prius model. 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. It turns into curves crisply, and will hustle along surprisingly quickly without compromising passenger comfort.
The CT has a few drawbacks as a driver's car, notably a lack of paddle shifters to simulate fixed gears. And its engine drones at times under steady loads—think long stretches of uphill freeway. There's a "B" mode that increases engine braking and battery charging for long downhill stretches.
2016 Lexus CT
Comfort & Quality
The rear seat and cargo space of the 2016 Lexus CT 200h are somewhat compromised, but it's quiet and luxurious transport for two people.
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h has less room inside than the last-generation Toyota Prius from which it gets its powertrain, but it's aiming at different buyers. Rather than families, the CT may be better suited to couples—whether young and buying their first Lexus, or empty-nesters looking to downsize and add a bit of sport while still keeping their daily transportation on the luxury side.
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 1970s feeling, and a few cheap-looking plastics on the center console feel hollow, and just aren't up to the luxury level of the rest of the interior.
The CT's front seats are excellent: they're thick and supportive, and kept us comfortable even after several hours behind the wheel. Front passengers can relax comfortably with plenty of head room and leg room, though the front seats sit low, which gives the driving position a sporty feel. Rear-seat passengers may 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 CT may best be used by two people who mostly use it with the 60/40-split rear seat back folded down. Both halves 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 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.
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.
On the road, the CT is quiet, with virtually no wind or road noise at speed. It feels even quieter than other luxury compacts, although it's notably let down by the startling amount of engine roar that's produced by hard acceleration. Lift off, and the CT settles back down to its usual hush.
2016 Lexus CT
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h gets perfect scores from the IIHS, but the NHTSA hasn't rated it at all.
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h is entering its sixth year, but it gets top marks for safety from the one group that rated it. This year, the IIHS dubbed it a Top Safety Pick+, with the highest score of "Good" in every category, including the tough small overlap front crash test. That means it also has a degree of braking incorporated into its available forward-collision warning system.
The CT 200h has a long list of active and passive safety features, and standard safety features includes stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, and eight standard airbags (including knee bags for both front occupants). A frontal-collision warning safety system is an option. Behind the wheel, it 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 NHTSA, likely due to its low sales volume.
2016 Lexus CT
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h gets a price cut this year, with a sunroof no longer standard, but it still has high feature content—both standard and optional.
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h offers a long list of features—both standard and optional—that go a long way to belie its position as the least expensive and smallest car in the lineup. And it's always been heavy on the technology side, to attract the younger buyers who may consider it as an entry-level Lexus.
The base price was quietly cut for 2016, coming in now at $32,190 including a $940 destination charge. That was accomplished, in part, by making the formerly standard sunroof an $1,100 option. A heavy hand on the options checklist will still boost the price over $40,000, and at that level, there are a handful of slightly crude features in the interior that may be jarring for some buyers. Buyers can get even more options by browsing the performance and appearance accessories offered by Lexus dealers in the F-Sport range.
Standard features on every CT model include Bluetooth hands-free voice and audio streaming, 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.
Many of the options can be purchased as packages that bundle common items together. Hard-drive navigation system options include the Lexus Enform information system. A Seat Comfort package adds just the heated front seats and power adjustment for the front passenger seat. The premium audio with a moonroof is another. Siri Eyes Free was added to the infotainment system last year.
Finally, 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.
2016 Lexus CT
The 2016 Lexus CT 200h has a superb 42-mpg combined EPA rating, and we've gotten close to that in real-world use.
Even with the plug-in hybrid version of the Audi A3 hatchback on sale, the 2016 Lexus CT 200h is the undisputed combined-mileage champ in the compact luxury segment. The EPA rates it at 43 mpg city, 40 highway, 42 combined.
But while real-world fuel efficiency can be a tricky thing, and hybrids driven hard sometimes don't live up to their ratings, we found the CT to come in consistently around 40 mpg or better no matter what we did to it. Various road tests delivered numbers from the high 30s into the mid-40s, depending on how the CT was used.
The Ford C-Max Hybrid has twice seen its gas mileage downrated, from the original 47 mpg that was flatly unrealistic to today's more realistic 40 mpg. But Lexus will likely win hands-down on the dealer experience, and the CT—while smaller inside—offers more luxury features, both standard and optional.