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Lexus CT 200h


The Lexus CT 200h is an unexpected entry for Toyota's often-conservative luxury brand. As the brand's only hatchback, it proved to be a surprisingly enjoyable car when it was launched in 2011, and it really occupies its own niche in the market: Even today, there remain no other compact luxury hybrid hatchbacks offered by any maker. The closest competitor is probably either the high end of the...

The Lexus CT 200h is an unexpected entry for Toyota's often-conservative luxury brand. As the brand's only hatchback, it proved to be a surprisingly enjoyable car when it was launched in 2011, and it really occupies its own niche in the market: Even today, there remain no other compact luxury hybrid hatchbacks offered by any maker. The closest competitor is probably either the high end of the Toyota Prius hybrid line or the sole German compact luxury hatchback, the Audi A3, which doesn't offer a hybrid in its current generation but does have a high-mileage TDI turbodiesel option.


The CT arrived while the slow-selling and unloved HS 250h sedan, the first dedicated hybrid from Lexus, was still on the market. And its competitive set certainly isn't the same stodgier set; the Ford C-Max Hybrid is a closer rival, perhaps the sporty Volkswagen Golf TDI, or the VW Jetta Hybrid or the Acura ILX Hybrid if you extend the list back to sedans.

But the unexpected facet of the CT hatchback is that is also one of the most fun Lexus models when you get behind the wheel and actually drive it. The hybrid hatchback's goal is to attract younger and greener new buyers into Lexus showrooms, from both Generation X and Generation Y. And for 2013, the package remains essentially unchanged, with just a few updates to the infotainment system and some new paint colors to set it apart from earlier models.

The Lexus CT is powered by the same 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and twin motor-generators that are used in the Toyota Prius, which is larger inside and less expensive, but doesn't offer the luxury accoutrements or the luxury branding of the CT. And the CT's lines are unique. It sits squarely on the street, with slab sides and thick roof pillars, giving it an interesting, slightly sporty stance. In the end, though, its lines say it's a standard, somewhat squat five-door hatchback--meaning it not only goes unnoticed on the street, but is hardly recognizable as a Lexus.

The engine and hybrid system together combine to produce peak power of 134 horsepower, with the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack that delivers electricity to the motor located behind the rear seat and under the load deck. With the CT's already-squat roofline, though, that makes the load bay remarkably shallow--there's less than a foot of height below the rollout securty cover--and doesn't offer a lot of volume for cargo.

While it still doesn't come across as effortlessly luxurious as do larger Lexus sedans, standard features include keyless ignition, full iPod integration, Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calling, and satellite radio. And the CT 200h has a long list of luxury options as well, with LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and an extensive line of dealer-installed F-Sport performance and appearance accessories.

As compact hybrids go, the roadholding of the CT 200h is good. Inside, the cabin is wide and surprisingly roomy, though all passengers sit low--especially on the short seat cushion in the rear--and the view out the slit-like rear window is minimal. Drivers can select from three drive modes--Normal, Eco, and Sport--with Eco being borderline painful and Sport by far the most fun. In Sport mode, the car's steering feel and throttle mapping change to a more performance orientation, giving more electric assist under acceleration. The blue power gauge in the instrument panel also morphs into a red-hued tachometer, a neat "surprise and delight" feature.

The CT 200h has changed very little since its launch. The base price of a Lexus CT is around $30,000, but a heavy hand on the lengthy options list--especially in the electronics and safety area--can take buyers as high as $40,000.

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