Lexus CT 200h — Luxury hybrid hatchback

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

After six years the Lexus CT 200h purpose-built hybrid has less than 90,000 sales to its credit. But the niche vehicle soldiers on for a seventh year with a 2017 version offering luxury buyers a good looking compact hatchback rated at 42 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. Buyers find that the CT 200h's combination of attractive styling that has worn well over the years and upscale amenities is appealing, while its hatchback body style can accommodate a wide variety of cargo.

Lexus has elected to stay the course with the CT 200h even as its mainstream cousin Toyota Prius — completely redesigned for the 2016 model year — is the modern interpretation of a hybrid vehicle. And for 2017 gets a bigger and more upscale version called the Prius Prime, which when outfitted with the all the available safety and infotainment technologies runs below the price of a well-equipped CT 200h.

But if you are attracted to the Lexus nameplate, the CT 200h offers — in addition to the excellent gas mileage — sharp exterior styling with the Lexus spindle grille prominently displayed up front, an interior that includes soft leather seats and impressive fit and finish, and an array of safety, infotainment and technology depending on your choice of options. There is adequate room for four adults making it possible to take your friends out to dinner without cramping their legs or having them sit slumped over to avoid hitting their heads on the ceiling all the while bragging about fuel economy and saving the planet.

What hasn't changed over the years is the powertrain that puts the CT 200h into the category of one of the slowest cars on the highway. It comes with the last-generation 134-horsepower Prius drivetrain, which includes a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, two electric-motor generators and a continuously variable transmission. The drivetrain comes with three mode selections — normal, eco and sport.

Here are the unimpressive numbers — 0 to 60 in 10.6 seconds and 18 seconds in the quarter-mile @ 78 mph. This puts the CT 200h into the bottom 10 percent in performance regardless of price, segment or mileage for new vehicles sold in the U.S. this year.

On the plus side, the little Lexus also comes with a nicely tuned suspension pointing toward some measure of sporty driving. If you push the compact CT 200h on your favorite winding road you might notice that it’s firmer and more planted than many cars its size. But there isn’t enough horsepower or torque to really take advantage of the engineers’ suspension tuning efforts.

While we can see a small measure of return on more rewarding handling and a stiffer, more sports-car like suspension, the real attribute of the hybrid Lexus is the 43 mpg city and 40 highway that it is advertised to return. And by reading consumer reviews, we've discovered that many owners exceed the published mileage. Additionally the hybrid propulsion system carries an 8-year/100,000 mile warranty.

Inside, the large navigation screen, which rises from the top of the instrument panel, is very readable although we were a bit dismayed at the procedures needed to access such information as radio presets as it required a mouse-type controller to point a computer screen arrow at the necessary icon and then repeat the procedure to get the pre-set station. We admit this system is intuitive and does not require “book learning” to figure out, but it requires the driver to take his/her eyes off the road to operate a computer screen for a few seconds.

On the safety front, the little Lexus has all the requisite equipment required by the government including a full array of airbags, and traction and stability control. Also included as standard is Lexus' Safety Connect telematics system, which includes automatic collision notification, stolen-vehicle location and emergency assistance. What isn't standard is a rearview camera, which is mandated for all vehicles by mid 2018. And totally missing from the option packages is blind spot warning with cross traffic alert.

The CT 200h comes in just one trim level with most options bundled in packages. The hybrid starts at $32,225 with such standard equipment as 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, leatherette upholstery, eight-way power driver's seat, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio.

Our test car came with the Navigation package at $3,480; the Luxury package at $2,245, which includes real leather seating, heated front seats and four-way power passenger seat; and Intuitive Park Assist for $1,100 bringing the bottom line to $39,450.

Base price: $32,225; as driven, $39,450
Engine: 1.8-liter 4 cylinder, 2 electric motors
Horsepower: 134 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 142 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: continuously variable
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Length: 170.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,130 pounds
Turning circle: 34.2 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 11.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 43 city, 40 highway, 42 combined
0-60: 10 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet Volt

The Good
• Excellent fuel economy
• Good handling for a hybrid
• Top-notch fit and finish

The Bad
• Hard to access basic functions while driving

The Ugly
• One of slowest 2017 cars on the road