The Lexus CT 200h is a five-door hatchback powered by a hybrid gas-electric powertrain taken from the Toyota Prius.
You do not plug this car in, you fill the tank with gas. It's propelled at times by both the electric motor and its four-cylinder engine, but at very low speeds it can run in electric-only mode for very short periods of time. The CT 200h gets great gas mileage, achieving an EPA-estimated 43 mpg City, 40 mpg Highway.
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h F Sport has slightly firmer shocks, but after that it's aesthetic: black leather, dark racy 17-inch alloy wheels, mesh grilles, big rear spoiler, aluminum pedals, perforated leather steering wheel, titanium-gray metal instrument panel trim, and F Sport badging.
The CT 200h is 4 inches shorter than the Prius, or the same overall length as the Audi A3 wagon. Its shape looks more European than Japanese, and its profile from all angles is very similar to that of the Audi. The coefficient of drag is a low 0.29, as much of the aero design was determined by wind tunnel testing
Borne of a hatchback, the CT 200h looks like no other Lexus, from the sides and rear. It makes boxy look stylish, with smooth and flowing lines, from the contours on the hood up to the long roofline and straight back to the spoiler with a cool little lip over the muscular liftgate. The details of the design, trim and wheels are flawless.
Inside, the cabin is cozy with a comfortable driver's seat. Everything is easy to reach. The steering wheel is slightly flat-bottomed, making climbing in and out a little easier, but our knees still rubbed, even with the adjustable steering wheel raised. Rear-seat legroom is tight. Cargo space is about the same as a compact sedan, small for a hatch. The view rearward is restricted, and we recommend the optional rearview camera that comes with the navigation system.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 43 mpg City, 40 mpg Highway. We weren't able to achieve that, however, never reaching 38 mpg.
With the Prius powertrain, the CT 200h makes 98 horsepower from the 1.8-liter Atkinson Cycle gas engine and 80 hp 60 (kW) from the generator, for a total of 134 hp, not much. Its 0-60 mph acceleration time of 9.8 seconds is the same lethargic pace as that of the Prius. It corners so well that a driver might be lured into treating the car in a sporty manner, but the small engine and electronically controlled continuously variable transmission cannot respond to that urge. The CT has four driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. Don't count on going anywhere in EV, the all-electric mode: We couldn't cross the street from the bank to the grocery store in EV mode.
We were surprised and delighted to discover the CT 200h handles so well, and the 2012 F Sport goes even better. In any model, the cornering is spirited and secure. This Lexus has impressive balance, with a low center of gravity and centralized moment of inertia. The chassis offers high torsional rigidity, using a double-wishbone rear suspension, and sophisticated performance dampers.
The ride quality is very good. We drove hard over a section of road with a lot of lumpy tar patches, and our Lexus took them in stride. The CT 200h is very maneuverable, able to make a U-turn in just 34.2 feet. The brakes are firm, too. It's very quiet inside the cabin at freeway speeds.
The Lexus CT 200h ($29,120) comes standard with automatic dual-zone climate control with dust and pollen filter, NuLuxe-trimmed seats, leather-trimmed steering wheel, 10-way power driver seat, four-way manual front passenger seat, fold-flat rear seats, SmartAccess key system with pushbutton start, steering wheel audio controls, manual tilt and telescope steering wheel, Bluetooth wireless connectivity for streaming audio and hands-free phone, power locks with anti-lockout feature, power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry, six-speaker AM/FM/CD system with MP3 and USB/iPod inputs, WMA capability, integrated XM Satellite Radio receiver with complementary 90-day subscription, 12-volt power outlet, automatic headlights, first aid kit, heated mirrors, illuminated glove box, 17-inch alloy wheels.
CT 200h Premium ($31,750) adds heated front seats and moonroof and offers more options. The optional Leather Package ($1,330) features perforated leather-trimmed seats, memory for driver seat, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming outside mirrors with memory. Options include auto-leveling LED headlights with washers ($1,215) and the Premium Audio Package ($1,125) with 6-disc CD and 10 speakers.
The Navigation Package ($2,445) includes HDD navigation system, rearview camera, enhanced Bluetooth, Lexus Enform with destination assistance, Lexus Insider, remote touch navigation controller, voice-command recognition, XM NavTraffic and Weather and Sports and Stocks, and deletes the standard compass.
The F Sport package ($1,000) features special suspension tuning, black NuLuxe upholstery, dark graphite 17-inch alloy wheels, mesh grilles, big rear spoiler, aluminum pedals, perforated leather steering wheel, titanium-gray metal instrument panel trim, and special badging. F Sport is also available with leather ($2,330).
Safety features include frontal airbags, side and knee airbags in front, full-length curtain airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, traction control, whiplash injury lessening seats, Safety Connect with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, emergency assist button and enhanced roadside assistance. Optional safety features include the rearview camera and the Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Cruise Control.