Is there an echo in here? This is the third CT 200h that Lexus has provided in the last couple of years. Yes, there are small, incremental changes each time, but essentially it is the same vehicle underneath.
Pricing: 2014 Lexus CT 200h
Base price: $30,950
Options: $7,450 F-Sport package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $40,495
The CT isn’t just Lexus’ smallest offering – it’s a small car, period. This one is the F-Sport trim, which throws in a few hints of aggressive styling – especially the front grille area. Headlights are bright LEDs, underlined by spicy LED driving light strips that you can see a mile away.
Smooth lines flow over a Mazda3-like hatchback profile. It’s a pretty clean design, though the rear profile is its weak point – I’ve always seen it as a bit confused back there, with a whole bunch of stuff happening and not really gelling well. It’s a handsome little 5-door, though it’s unlikely to get many second looks these days – it’s been with us for a number of years now, relatively unchanged.
The F Sport package also adds nice new graphite coloured 17” wheels and some badging, as well as a rear spoiler. Also, my review car was “Redline Red” and it got a ton of attention on the road. People probably thought I was having a midlife crisis. But it is a lovely colour.
As you can expect in any Lexus, nice materials abound. They’ve pieced together a beautiful combination of soft-touch plastics and stitched leather-like surfaces, and of course the fit and finish is flawless. One low point – there’s a weird splash of carbon-fiber-looking trim on the dash – it just looks out of place.
As with the other CT 200hs I’ve reviewed, I absolutely loved the very comfortable, supportive leather seats. They’re power adjustable, heated, and just darn nice to look at – one of my favourite seats in the industry. With that said, when you get into the CT, you realize just how small of a car it is. The headroom is OK for me at 5’10”, but leg and knee room are pretty snug.
There’s that great F-Sport steering wheel that would be at home in any sports car. Behind it is an instrument bin, with a big, clear speedometer, and a variable gauge on the left. In eco or normal mode, there’s a typical hybrid charge/power gauge and a blue horizon over the gauges. In sport mode the gauge turns to a tach, with a “sporty” red horizon over the gauges. Yes, it’s a bit goofy, but it’s also fun. There’s also a driver information screen on the right.
The biggest change in the interior is the new floating screen on the dash. It’s not a touch screen – it can only be controlled by a rotary joystick knob – which I really liked. It’s much more intuitive than the normal Lexus mouse-like remote touch interface, which I find to be an irritant. The screen manages the media, some settings and the rear-view camera. In the past, I’ve been enamored with the CT’s audio system – this time around, I was not. Lexus makes a big deal about the “bamboo charcoal speakers” – I’m not certain if that’s something new, but I wasn’t nearly as taken with the sound coming out of them.
The centre console is very wide – thankfully it is nicely upholstered and padded for those (like me) that like to rest their knee against it while driving. The angled upper part of the centre console houses the Prius-style shifter, some hard buttons for media system and the drive mode controller. Unfortunately the flat part of the console loses its awesome flat drop-in phone bin, but gets a vertical slot that lets you stand up your smartphone – a decent compromise. There’s a pop-up lid with a 12V plug, as well as the auxiliary and two USB connections – if you’ve plugged anything in here, the cover will need to remain open and you won’t be able to hide the cables which is a bit nasty.
The CT has three seats (with seatbelts and headrests) which is a bit hilarious, because it’s really, really tight back there. Truthfully, it’s just seating for two. And by “two” I mean tiny people with no legs. Rear passengers will find much to complain about – head, leg and foot room are all very cramped. We managed to stuff our three kids in there – they fit, but they felt that their quarters were pretty tight.
The trunk is pretty small at 405 litres. Of course, a hybrid needs a chunky battery and in the CT 200h, it’s under the trunk floor. That makes the load floor higher than anticipated, and leaves you with a small cargo area. The rear seats split 60/40 and leave you with significantly more room when they’re folded down.
Under the Hood
No changes here. The CT is a hybrid – as a matter of fact, if the numbers look familiar, it might be because it uses the 1.8-Litre, 4-cylinder hybrid drivetrain from the Toyota Prius. It puts out 134 horsepower. Lexus is a bit coy with torque numbers now, but previously released that it had 152 lb.ft of torque. I would hazard a guess that that spec remains the same.
Fuel economy is this model’s calling card. The CT is rated at 4.5 L/100 km (52 mpg) in the city and 4.8 L/100 km (49 mpg) on the highway. I managed to average 5.4 L/100 km (44 mpg) during my review week. This was achieved in slow commuting with a couple of freeway drives and two sprints down the highway. I never tried to drive very efficiently either. Every time I’ve reviewed a CT 200h, it consistently gets the best fuel economy I’ve seen in a vehicle. The tank holds 45 litres.
Looking at the CT 200h’s exterior, you’d expect something sporty in the driving department. You get some of that, but certainly not in a straight line. The car is not fast. It’s a very smooth accelerator, but the slick and almost silent driving experience isn’t sporty. There’s enough power for everyday driving, especially commuting. If you put it into Sport mode, it adds some immediacy to the power delivery. Off the line, it’s fine, but if you need power to pass, you’ll be waiting a couple of moments until it arrives. Don’t expect this car to feel quick.
The F Sport package adds sportier suspension which results in a ride that is quite firm – it feels nervous and jittery on less-than-smooth city roads (read: all of Edmonton’s roads) but it smooths out somewhat on the highway. As firm as it is, it never got rough or harsh. The CT’s handling is very good – it’s quick, secure and the steering, while a bit numb, is still downright fun to throw into corners, although as you might expect, it understeers a lot.
The Eco drive mode makes things unbearably sluggish. You can also try driving in purely EV mode, but the second you step on it, it will turn on the gas engine, so you essentially only use EV when coasting around a parking lot.
There is some wind noise on the highway, but overall the car remains very quiet in terms of drivetrain and road noise even at 125 km/h – things only get a bit noisy from the engine bay when you accelerate or climb up hills as it really relies on the gas engine.
The brakes are mushy as in all hybrids, but Lexus did a pretty good job at making them not too grabby. They’re definitely not sporty though. Being a small car, it makes for easy low-speed maneuvering as well as parking and doing u-turns. Although you sit quite low, outward visibility is still quite good. Rear visibility is hampered by the rear headrests.
I think it’s a bit silly for Lexus to add all these go-fast bits of trim in the F-Sport package. The aluminum sport pedals, the aggression exuding from the front grille and rear spoiler – it’s all a bit goofy, considering it’s a Prius underneath.
I came to the same conclusion this time as before. The Lexus CT 200h is a weird paradoxical car. It looks sporty yet it doesn’t feel that way when you get on the gas. Thankfully it makes up for it in the handling department. The CT’s configuration is the ever-convenient hatchback – normally a very practical set-up. Yet the rear seat space and cargo room are much tighter than you’d expect.
The car is definitely not cheap, but it does offer the cachet of the Lexus badge, relative luxury and absolutely stunning fuel economy. But that brings up the argument that, short of the handling part, its Prius stablemates offer similar fuel economy for significantly less money, and they throw in far more utility in terms of rear-seat and cargo space.
But none of them are nearly as cool as the CT. I guess it all depends on what you want.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high. She loved the drive (once she figured out the gear selector), she loved the way the cabin felt snug around her, and she loved how it drove.
I give the F Sport CT-200h a 6.5 out of 10. I’m OK with the lack of sportiness in a straight line and I understand paying for the Lexus name and quality. But the lack of utility in terms of rear seat space and the trunk stick in my craw and I’m not that excited about the F-Sport suspension ride. I’d knock the F Sport package off the options sheet if I was looking at one of these and keep it as cheap as possible. It’s a great car out of the gate, and doesn’t need the F Sport add-ons that really do very little for the driving experience.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Lexus Canada.
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