When the Lexus CT 200h made a splashy debut at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show its aggressive, sexy looks combined with luxury accoutrements in a city-sized compact four-door hatch form factor seemed like the perfect antidote to the doddering Prius. Now that it’s been on sale for more than a year the CT is still one of the highest MPG luxury vehicles you can buy, but with stiffer competition staring up its tailpipe questions of its value to price ratio have begun to crop up.
Although the 2012 CT 200h is another solid, dependable offering from Lexus, it’s hard to justify the cost of admission when so many other excellent, well-appointed, high mileage vehicles can be had for roughly the same cost these days. And with some decently equipped comparable vehicles that can be had for much, much less—including Toyota’s own Prius C—it’s hard to know where the CT 200h fits in.
Even so, the CT does offer some significant performance advantages over the perennially best-selling Prius and its style may have broader appeal to those seeking a touch of luxury.
With an EPA-rated 43 city and 40 highway MPG, the CT 200h doesn’t have as much of an Eco Factor as its close cousin, the 50 MPG Prius, but it’s certainly no slouch. During a week of testing the car under a relatively equal mix of “Eco,” “Normal” and “Sport” modes we were able to squeeze about 38 MPG out of it on average. Although this is a bit less than the rated mileage, keep in mind the “Sport” mode, which makes the car more drivable, cuts down on fuel economy by adjusting throttle response, battery voltage output, power steering and traction control.
If you kept it in “Eco” mode you’d be more likely to actually attain an average 42 MPG, but the poor acceleration and squishy handling of that mode make it hard to recommend driving it around in “Eco” all the time.
Other Eco Factors to consider include the fact that compact cars have significantly lower embodied energy (the amount of energy in the materials, manufacturing and transportation the car required before it was sold) than larger cars like SUVs—or even the Prius.
Fun and Function
As a small car with decent suspension, our test CT 200h Premium—fully loaded with the F-Sport Package (MSRP $39,554)—felt moderately sporty, however it was still a far cry from being able to be called a performance car. Even though it was tuned for sportiness, the continuously variable transmission (CVT, borrowed from the Prius) still felt mushy and unresponsive no matter which driving mode the car was in. Lexus tried diligently to give the car a luxury level of interior quietness, but being that it’s based on the Scion tC platform it seems much of that effort was in vain. Road noise was quite noticeable at all speeds—almost inexcusable at this price level.
The “Lexus Enform” infotainment system option (included on our test car) is a good effort at first generation connected mobility, but it falls flat when compared to the next-generation of Enform included on all newer Lexus models (2013+). Certainly getting a smartphone to connect and pair with the system in the 2012 CT 200h was easy and playing internet apps things like Pandora from your device via Bluetooth or a hardwire connection worked reasonably well (only a few frustrating moments). But the Internet-connected apps of the new Enform system (Bing, Yelp, Pandora, OpenTable, and MovieTickets.com) are very much needed to bring the CT up to snuff.
Unfortunately even the new Enform system suffers from a clunky implementation—especially given that Lexus is still insisting on including a mouse-like interface, which not only takes up valuable real estate on the center console and can be very distracting at times, but also starts to pale in comparison to the vastly superior touchscreen systems that are cropping up among other manufacturers such as GM and Ford.
The hatch format is functional, but somehow the CT still feels small on the inside. The center console is large and seems to have too much wasted space (redundant buttons, unnecessary empty space, the mouse-like joystick); as a result knee room is limited. Also, the back seats are so cramped that only children will feel comfortable in them.
Pros and Cons
Cost: The CT 200h starts around $30,000, but after adding luxury features that make it better than a Prius—sunroof, heated front seats, upgraded “Lexus Enform” infotainment system, navigation, premium audio, upgraded suspension, and leather—it’ll set you back just shy of $40,000. There’s no question this car is expensive for what you get, especially when $44,500 ($37,000 after the $7,500 federal tax credit for plug-in cars) will get you a fully loaded Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid with virtually the same level of luxury, more rear passenger room and 30-40 miles of all-electric range between charges from the wall outlet.
Looks: Although the CT is arguably the best looking small hybrid available, other good looking small hybrids with decent accoutrements now exist—including the Prius C, which can be bought for under $19,000 and when fully loaded tops out at around $25,000.
Fuel Economy: Forty MPG is good, but other, better-equipped cars come close to that these days (Infiniti M35h), and other similarly- or slightly lesser-equipped cars (2012 Prius, 2012 Prius C, 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid) surpass it.
Everything Else: The upgraded audio system may not be worth the cost, given that it sounded tinny and had noticeable distortion at moderate volumes. Interior comfort is a mixed bag given the limited knee room. Handling is respectable for a car this size, but at $40,000 we expect much better; even the Chevy Volt is a better handling car.