The Lexus CT 200h is in many ways just a tarted-up Prius. It uses the same engine, transmission, batteries and electric motor that all make up the Toyota Synergy Drive. The Lexus CT 200h even has a variation on the same strange shifter that the Prius uses. But where the Prius is all about function over form, the CT 200h adds a dash of Lexus luxury, a nicer exterior and an improved suspension setup for sportier handling.

I loved the 2014 Prius V I tested a few months back, but will better styling and a much tauter suspension finally be the push I need to really recommend a Toyota company hybrid? With its aggressive styling and stiffer chassis, the Lexus CT 200h almost seems like it could be a luxury hot hatch. For the new 2015 model, Lexus also added some new extras like the F Sport wheels to lower trim models to make it look even better.

After I had so much fun flogging the Prius V, I couldn’t wait to jump into the little five-door. Sadly, things weren’t as rosy as they appeared to be on paper.

Continue reading to find out more about the 2015 Lexus CT 200h

  • 2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    CVT
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    134
  • MPG(Cty):
    43
  • MPG(Hwy):
    40
  • Torque @ RPM:
    153
  • Displacement:
    1.6 L
  • 0-60 time:
    10.0 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    113 mph
  • Price:
    32050
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 615190
2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 615172
2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 615169
The greenhouse features a laser straight-cut across the bottom that folds into an upward kink at the rear window, which flows into an arching curve that travels all the back to the A-pillar.

I have yet to meet a single person who doesn’t love the way the CT 200h looks. The nose wears the company’s spindle grille incredibly well, and the split with the dark middle-section silver lower lip looks great. The fog light housings have been cut into what look like massive air vents, further increasing the menacing appearance. The headlights are of modern Lexus design, with projector beams and LED accents that run across the bottom. The LEDs are not as intriguing as those found on something like the GS, but they are still attractive.

The side profile of most hybrids is pretty boring, but Lexus has done a fine job keeping things interesting with the CT. Thanks to a rounded front bumper, a lot of the fun details like the fog light cuts are visible from the side. The greenhouse features a laser straight cut across the bottom that folds into a upward kink at the rear window, which flows into an arching curve that travels all the back to the A-pillar. It gives the profile a sense of drama and speed. To keep that theme going, there is a similar sculpting line at the bottom of the car that arches up toward the rear wheels, and a roof spoiler provides visual length that makes the car look lower than it is.

The rear mimics many of the same details found in the front, like faux vents cut into the bumpers that house the rear reflectors, and the collection of aggressive and sharp details. Under the bumper there is a section styled like a diffuser, the taillights are elongated and angled to widen the look of the car, and blacked pillars make the rear glass appear to wrap around the car. Aside from the LFA, on a visual basis this is probably my favorite Lexus of the last decade. With the 17-inch, split-spoke alloys and the Eminent White paint, this thing just looks like a million dollars.

Interior

2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven Interior
- image 615188
2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven Interior
- image 615201
2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven High Resolution Interior
- image 615209
The seats, steering wheel, center armrest, door panels, center console edges and the instrument cluster cover are all wrapped, but sadly only the steering wheel is true hide.

The interior of the CT 200h is very traditional Lexus, and a massive step up from what is found in the Prius. The cabin is tighter and more intimate, with a larger center stack that cocoons the driver and front passenger into their own separate areas. The familiar center console sports the Lexus mouse for controlling the infotainment system, and directly above that is the rotary dial for choosing between Eco, Normal or Sport driving modes. The EV Mode and traction control disable buttons flank that.

As expected, most surfaces in the car are covered in soft material. The seats, steering wheels, center armrest, door panels, center console edges and the instrument cluster cover are all wrapped, but sadly only the steering wheel is true leather. The rest of the interior is covered in what Lexus calls NuLuxe. On the seats and door panels, Lexus has added a unique wave texture to the material that almost looks like it could be flowing wood grain.

From an ergonomics standpoint, everything is well thought-out. The seats are comfortable, the high-mounted center screen is easy to see without taking your eyes too far of the road, and the various cubbies and storage holes are easy to access without reaching too far.

The dash of the CT 200h is simple but functional, and it comes with a few of the same interesting features we liked from the GS hybrid. Above the large, center-mounted speedometer, the gauge cluster will glow blue when you are driving efficiently, but put the car in Sport mode and it glows a deep red. The left gauge normally displays an efficiency meter to help you judge how well you are driving, but Sport mode takes over here and changes the gauge over to a tachometer. The right side just holds the trip computer and the fuel gauge.

Compared with the Prius on which it is based, the CT 200h is much more luxurious, but it isn’t as spacious. The lower roofline and more intrusive interior boost refinement, but reduce space. Rear cargo space is also compromised by the exterior shape.

Drivetrain

2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven Drivetrain
- image 615196
2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven Drivetrain
- image 615197
2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven Drivetrain
- image 615195
A CVT handles getting that power from the engine to the front wheels.

Under the squat hood of the CT 200h you will find the familiar Toyota Synergy Drive system that has been rebranded to Lexus Hybrid Drive. That means you get two motor/generator units, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a bank of nickel metal hydride batteries. The 1.8-liter engine by itself is good for 98 horsepower and 105 pounds of twist, but when you add in the extra power of the electric motors you get a combined system power of 134 horsepower and 153 pound-feet of torque. A CVT handles getting that power from the engine to the front wheels. The CT 200h only has 3,100 pounds to haul around, but 60 mph arrives in a leisurely 10 seconds, and the quoted top speed is only 113 mph.

The big bonus of all those batteries and that tiny engine is great fuel economy. The EPA rating for the CT 200h is 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 42 mpg combined. I spent most of my time under the 39 mpg mark; a disappointment considering how good my fuel economy was with the Prius V.

Pricing

2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven Exterior
- image 615177

The CT 200h starts at $32,050. For that price you get the great looks, Lexus Entune-equipped infotainment and more. To get a car like the one I tested you need to add on the $3,490 Navigation system package with backup camera and premium audio upgrade. On top of that, I had the Premium Package for Navigation add-on that added auto-dimming mrrors, rain sensing wipers, heated seats and a few extra goodies; all for the price of $900. A $500 fee for parking sensors and the $925 destination charge brings the total sticker price of this particular Lexus CT 200h to $37,865. Not a lot of money for a well-equipped Lexus, but not very cheap for a car that is essentially a Prius underneath.

Driving Impressions


From the moment you slot into the bolstered front bucket and grab that thick leather steering wheel, it is obvious that this is much more than a Prius dressed in a fancy suit. Before you even begin moving, the car feels purposeful. Take off down your favorite back road and the steering wheel comes to life with great weighting. It responds quickly to commands, making the nose feel nimble and lively. With the weight of the battery pack sitting under the rear seats, the car has great balance, allowing you to dive into corners with little worry of understeer. Even the brakes feel great, with a solid pedal and great stopping force. Fade was minor and only manifested after a lot of hard stops. This thing feels like a hot-hatch.

But then you try to accelerate out of that corner you attacked at speed, and nothing really happens. With a CVT that is slow to respond, and a mere 134 horsepower, the CT 200h can’t get out of its own way. It really ruins the entire driving experience. This is a car that begs to be driven fast, with the looks and the chassis to back that up, but the drivetrain lets it down. If Toyota threw a small turbocharged engine into the nose of this thing, they could have a legitimate luxury competitor to machines like the GTI.

If you put on your grown-up pants and treat it as a sensible machine, it turns into any normal Lexus. The cabin is quiet and the seats are comfortable, allowing hundreds of miles at a time to be devoured by the gaping grille up front. The Lexus Entune system is still not my favorite to use, but it is functional. The stereo sounds pretty good, to boot. There is nothing that prevents this from being a great everyday commuter. The rear seats are plenty spacious, the trunk is smaller than a Prius, but there is still enough room for the grocery run.

I just want it to be a little faster.

Compeition

Toyota Prius V

2014 Toyota Prius V - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 559156

If all you really want is a spacious and comfortable hybrid, there is nothing on the market right now that can touch the Prius. With four models to choose from, and EPA fuel ratings up to 53 mpg, there is a lot to love about the world’s best-selling hybrid. Of all the Prius models on sale today, the Prius V takes my crown as best model for sale. It is the biggest and most practical Prius you can order, and with the right options it is also one of the most luxurious. It uses the same drivetrain as that found in the CT 200h with a nearly identical fuel economy rating of 44 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.

If you order the top trim you get fake leather, navigation, Enutne app support, a fancy smart key and more, just like the Lexus. The only thing you seem to sacrifice with the Prius is the looks and handling. The CT 200h is dramatically better looking than the Prius V, and with that stiffer chassis and suspension, it is immensely more satisfying to drive on a twisty road. Both cars have similar straigh- line performance, but the Prius V costs many thousands less.

It’s a tough sale.

Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI High Resolution Exterior
- image 561657

When it comes to fun machines with incredible fuel economy, I have yet to find anything that can match the diesel-powered Golf TDI. The car is all-new for 2015, with a sharper design, more interior space, increased horsepower and better fuel economy. Being German, it is built as well as any Lexus, and it is available with all the luxury goodies available in the CT 200h, like the faux leather seats, navigation and a sunroof. The TDI trumps Lexus in both power and torque, with 150 ponies and 236 pound-feet of twist.

Where the Lexus wins is in style and urban driving. The Golf is handsome, but it looks boring and generic next to the CT 200h. And while the Golf TDI may boast 45 mpg on the highway, in the city that number falls dramatically to 31 mpg. If you spend more time running around urban areas, the CT 200h will easily be the more efficient car to run.

The Golf TDI may not carry the same brand cache as something with a Lexus badge, but from a standpoint of fun, practicality and equipment, the Volkswagen is a great alternative for a lower price.

Conclusion

2015 Lexus CT 200h - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 615156

In theory, the Lexus CT 200h is an incredible idea. Take a well-established vehicle, and garnish it with outstanding visual presence and more entertaining handling. Sprinkle in a dash of luxury and decadence to create something unique and special. What resulted is a car that perfectly matches my personal tastes in almost every way. It is fun, aggressive, wants to be driven hard and it has all the hardware to take the abuse. But then thanks to an underperforming drivetrain, the whole experience comes crashing down around you. I want to love this car. In many ways I do love this car, but every time I start enjoying myself I plant my right foot to be greeted with nothing more than engine drone and disappointment.

If Lexus ever dropped a peppy turbo motor into this car, it would be sublime.

  • Leave it
    • CVT is slow to respond on full throttle, even in Sport mode
    • Engine is lacking in power to keep up with chassis
    • Not sure it’s worth the price hike over a Prius V
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: