2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport Review
by Randy Stern
When you think “hybrid,” one does not necessarily think “fun.”
That notion changed in 2011 with the introduction of the Lexus CT 200h. Smaller than the Toyota Prius, the CT is a compact hatchback with international flair, yet with the Prius’ Hybrid Synergy Drive – Lexus Hybrid Drive, in this case. The result is a hybrid with proper driving
dynamics to engage enthusiasts, while emitting fewer emissions and yielding high fuel consumption figures.
Now wearing the Lexus signature “spindle grille” design, we wanted to know whether this CT still has this formula of balancing sustainability with enthusiasm.
What makes the CT unique is in the details. The side mirrors remind you of the $375,000 LFA by the way it’s shaped for airflow management. There are plenty of curves and angles found around the skin, especially the shape of the C pillar and the wraparound glass enveloping the hatch.
Lexus was careful incorporating the “spindle grille” onto an already attractive and polarizing premium compact hatchback. This model is the F Sport with an even bolder texture seen on other Lexus models. Finishing off the F Sport look are a set of badges, aggressive eighteen-inch alloy wheels with Michelin tires.
Step inside the cabin, and you are treated to a mix of luxury, sport and technology. There is simply a lot going on in front of the driver that one would appreciate the soft, supportive leather seats. In the F Sport, there is a lot of bolstering to keep you locked in and dialed up. Room can be achieved up front for anyone with a pretty wide front door. Rear room can be a challenge for tall and thick passengers where legroom is the biggest complaint above anything else. The smallish rear doors do not help matters at all.
Cargo space is achieved through an expandable and useful space. The rear seats fold absolutely flat which will help with larger items, given they are not taller than the headliner. Even with the rear seats up, there’s plenty of space for a week’s road trip for two people.
The instrument panel is a great place to get the job done. For starters, there is an interchangeable left dial. When you turn the Drive Mode Select dial to Eco, the left dial is a monitor ranging from Power (i.e. the gas engine in use) to Charge (regenerating the batteries), lit up in blue. Flip the Drive Mode Select to Sport and that power monitor becomes a tachometer with everything lit in red. The gear lever is different – a flip handle that you select Reverse or Drive, with a push button Park position.
The screen on top of the center of the instrument panel is fixed. A navigation screen comes up, but it joined by a reversing camera, menus for audio, Bluetooth, linked applications and other Lexus Enform functions. Controlling the screen is the Remote Touch controller on the console allowing you to switch between screens just like your desktop computer. There are also buttons to click between the navigation screen and the main menu.
Under the hood, is a 1.8liter four-cylinder internal combustion engine connected to an electric motor and a continuously variable transmission. Total output of this combination is 134HP. It is very quiet when you need it, but push the accelerator and you could hear the gas engine – barely. It has a decent amount of power with 3,100 pounds of sporty hybrid compact hatchback to pull.
The drivetrain truly comes into play when you work the Drive Mode Select knob. In Eco mode, the power relies on the electric motor with the petrol engine kicking in when it is needed. If you flip it over to Sport mode, the power is weighted towards the petrol engine with little assistance from the electric motor. One push of the knob neutralizes the system in Normal mode. It provided a more flexible power band between the two motors.
If you just want to drive in the city – and at slow speeds – the EV mode automatically comes on, using only the electric motor is drive the CT F Sport. EV mode is great in the city where you don’t need to race through the neighborhood for a quart of milk from the corner store.
The big surprise with the CT is it road manners. Being a small hatchback with a low center of gravity, the CT managed corners very competently. There was no resistance from the eighteen-inch Michelin tires or the car itself when pushed through a cloverleaf or a winding road. Expect a firm ride due to its low ride height and F Sport suspension set-up – especially when it is in Sport mode. The steering helps tremendously. For an electronic system, the steering response was actually was sharp. It had a good turning radius that will get you out of trouble better than most hybrids in the market. Stopping power is not a strong point in the CT. It does stop OK, but pedal feel is a bit touchy. This is partly due to the regenerative system used to recharge the battery.
Where the CT shines is in fuel economy. It averaged 41.0MPG. However, it has a small 11.9-gallon tank, which translates into a range under 400 miles.
The drawback on hybrids has been the premium prices being charged for admission. The CT starts at $32,960. Add the F Sport packages and a navigation system, and the CT comes in with a sticker price of $39,030.
Why This Ride?
– If you forget that the engine, hybrid system and batteries are from the Toyota Prius, then you might love this Lexus even more. Then again, the driveline and hybrid system are fine for this hatchback – even in F Sport trim.
– You want to stand out in a crowd. A “basic” CT 200h does that. The F Sport notches it up a level. Those wheels, that grille and the interior details are enough to justify ticking the F Sport package.
– If you just want a sustainable ride with driving dynamics to boot – the Lexus CT 200h is all you need, really.