Combining a hybrid drivetrain, luxury, sportiness and affordability, the 2017 Lexus CT 200h compact hatchback doesn't excel in any of these attributes, but it continues to appeal in a market free of direct competitors.
Versus the competiton:
As efficient cars go, the CT 200h reminds us how effectively a conventional hybrid can deliver the goods without any of the potential drawbacks associated with plug-ins and alternative-fuel vehicles, but its mileage doesn't match that of newer, more affordable hybrids.
All any hybrid needs in order to succeed is results. With EPA-estimated fuel economy of 43/40/42 mpg city/highway/combined, the Lexus CT 200h succeeds if you’re comparing it with non-hybrids. Newer-generation hybrids like the Toyota Prius, Hyundai Ioniq and others have leapfrogged the CT’s efficiency, providing more than 50 mpg — but none come from luxury brands. The next model in Lexus’ hybrid line is the ES 300h mid-size sedan (rated 40/39/40 mpg), the starting price of which is $10,570 higher than the CT’s $32,225 base price (all prices cited include destination charges).
We tested a CT 200h with the extensive F Sport Package, which alters the car both mechanically and cosmetically, inside and outside.
A key strength of the CT is that there’s nothing else like it, but that also complicates competitive comparisons, which we always provide in Cars.com reviews. Because the CT 200h’s hybrid nature and results are its strongest characteristics, it’s safe to assume potential buyers are drawn primarily by the car’s environmental and/or potential money-saving advantages. For this reason, I’ll compare it below against three other means to the efficiency end — a plug-in hybrid, a diesel and a battery-electric, all in the same pricing ballpark.
Exterior & Styling
The Lexus CT 200h has the styling of a sporty little wagon/hatchback. Along with mechanical changes, the optional F Sport Package brings distinct 17-inch wheels, a black roof, six paint choices (including two exclusive colors), metallic front scuff plates, a unique rear spoiler, and a mesh-pattern grille and foglight inserts.
How It Drives
Without question, the CT has some sporty attributes, such as its handling. Its small size and ground-hugging profile give it a nimble feel. (As I’ve noted in other Lexus models equipped with an F Sport Package, I don’t think the firmer suspension makes enough difference in the car’s handling to justify the harder ride.) The hybrid nature giveth, but it also taketh away: Having the high-voltage battery pack mounted near the back helps balance out the lopsided weight distribution common to front-wheel-drive cars, resulting in a more balanced feel as the rear wheels share more responsibility for gripping the road when cornering. Unfortunately, the benefits pretty much end there.
By Lexus’ own estimation, the CT takes 9.8 seconds to reach 60 mph. For comparison, the 2017 Jaguar XE compact sedan equipped with an efficient diesel engine hits 60 in 7.4 seconds, and the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV all-electric hatchback does it in less than 7 seconds, according to their manufacturers. Perhaps more important, the diesel and electric motors are much more responsive off the line and suffer none of the rubber-band effect found in the CT 200h: delayed accelerator response accompanied by droning engine sounds.
Historically, the most efficient hybrids have forgone conventional step-gear transmissions, like that in the Jaguar, in favor of continuously variable approaches like the CT 200h’s. Make no mistake: The CT’s transmission (we’ll call it a transmission, even though it differs from other types) plays a large part in the car’s efficiency because it incorporates little more than two motor-generators, some gears and a minimal amount of oil. There are no clutches and none of the friction associated with regular transmissions or the belt-and-pulley types of CVTs employed by a growing number of gas-only cars. It’s hard, though, to think of any car with this type of acceleration as sporty, especially when compared with diesel and all-electric competitors.
Unfortunately, the Lexus CT 200h’s braking performance also shares the hallmarks of hybrid regenerative braking — the process by which the electric drive motors act as generators to slow the car while recharging the battery. The action isn’t very linear as the car attempts to blend regeneration with conventional braking. The Jaguar’s conventional brakes have excellent feel, and the Bolt EV, though it also employs regeneration, has better pedal feel and linearity than the CT (though it isn’t to the level of good conventional brakes, either). Both these alternatives are sportier overall than the CT in every way, including handling.
For what it’s worth, hybrid buyers have accepted these characteristics in more than a million Priuses and similar vehicles, but I was compelled to address how well the CT delivers on its sporty look.
So what does the Lexus provide for your sacrifice? An EPA-estimated 43/40/42 mpg city/highway/combined on regular gasoline. The fuel economy of the diesel Jaguar XE 20d is rated 32/42/36 mpg, giving it an edge in highway driving. The CT’s combined rating isn’t far behind its city number, the latter of which is far superior to the Jag’s. An EV’s efficiency can’t be compared directly, though EPA tries with an mpg-equivalent formula we generally don’t embrace, but it gives a general idea of a car’s cost of operation. In the Bolt EV’s case, that’s 128/110/119 mpg-e. More relevant is the Bolt EV’s estimated 238 miles of range — remarkable for the technology and price, but not comparable to the CT’s 500 miles and the XE’s 533-mile range. And you can’t ignore two aspects of owning a battery-electric: For one, recharging an EV on long trips is a relatively timely process; it’s doable, but it’s hardly an afterthought, like filling a fuel tank. Second, owning one requires a certain living situation and additional equipment (240-volt charging) to support it along with the associated costs.
Another option is a plug-in hybrid, like the 2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron hatchback — the closest CT competitor in size and styling. We haven’t driven this car, but the details don’t impress. It goes an estimated 16 miles on a charge, then reverts to hybrid operation, where it gets 33/36/34 mpg on premium gas. Though it doesn’t require 240-volt charging to be viable, EV ranges below 20 miles represent a very specific use for a specific buyer. The Audi’s total range with full battery and tank is an estimated 380 miles. We continue to question the value of most plug-in hybrids, including this one.
Though the Lexus CT 200h comes from a luxury brand, it’s certainly not the most luxurious model. I’d describe the quality level as closer to that of subcompact (entry-level) luxury sedans than to compacts. The center console is a bit plasticky, and though the gauges are clean and bright, a supplemental display in the gauge cluster is blocky and monochrome — not up to today’s standards.
Though leather seats are available in two option packages, imitation leather is standard. The NuLuxe imitation-leather upholstery represents a lower dollar value, but it might have its appeal. Vegetarians and vegans are often more interested in green cars than are average shoppers, and they sometimes prefer to minimize animal-based materials in their cars.
Front seat heaters and a power-adjustable passenger seat are optional. A memory driver’s seat comes only with leather, and cooled seats aren’t offered.
The front is reasonably roomy, with more generous legroom than the competing models mentioned, but the backseat is snug. Legroom is very tight at 32.9 inches, versus 35.4 and 36.5 inches for the A3 e-tron and Bolt EV, respectively. Headroom in back is also in short supply at 37.0 inches. That’s 0.5 inch less than the A3 and 0.9 inch less than the Bolt EV. When it comes to seating dimensions, fractions of an inch are significant. If front headroom is borderline for you, go without the optional moonroof, which robs a half-inch from the front seats.
Along with the exterior and mechanical changes, the F Sport Package adds an F-Sport-branded perforated-leather steering wheel, a leather-trimmed shift knob, metallic trim, aluminum sport pedals, a black headliner (ceiling fabric) and sport seats with a choice of NuLuxe imitation leather or black genuine leather.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Unlike some vehicles, the Lexus CT 200h isn’t stingy with real mechanical buttons, and there are no touch-sensitive panels to be seen. The rotary knobs for the stereo are a bit small and could be easier to grasp, even when not wearing gloves, but at least they’re present. The rotary/push knob on the center console would make a great eyes-free gear selector, but instead it merely selects driving modes. The gear selector instead is a springy joystick that will probably annoy you, but you’ll get used to it.
History suggests another interface will annoy you, as well, and there will be no relief: the optional Remote Touch controller. Where some automakers forgo a touchscreen and employ a combination rotary knob/push-button — sometimes with joystick properties, as well — Lexus made a move years ago to a mouselike pointing device on the center console that moves a selection point around the on-screen menus. I was more accepting of it than some initially, but changes over time have also made it less to my liking. It’s an awkward system; the best thing I can say is that it’s better than more recent versions in some Lexus models that have a touchpad instead of a mouse. That one seems to be well-hated.
Though it’s not standard, Remote Touch comes in the Display Audio Package, which also includes a premium audio system, a second USB jack, a backup camera, Siri Eyes Free Mode and more. It’s also a prerequisite for some other options, so you can expect dealers to stock cars with Remote Touch. You might be stuck with it.
Onboard navigation calls for the optional Navigation Package, which requires as a prerequisite the Premium Package or Luxury Package — the features of which are unrelated. The interdependence of option packages is a notable downside of the CT 200h, as is the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone interfaces, which would be another way to provide in-dash mapping. On the upside, the navigation system in our CT boasted the best execution I’ve seen of street-view images for decision points: When routing, an upcoming-turn graphic that popped up onscreen showed a tower that looked exactly like what I saw in real life when approaching an off-ramp.
It may go against the fuel-saving creed of the hybrid buyer, but anyone who wants remote-start capability can opt for Lexus Enform Remote, which allows owners to start or stop the car, lock or unlock it and enjoy some additional features, all through a smartphone app. Once again, it also requires two other options: Enform Safety Connect and an Enform Remote subscription (after one year free).
Cargo & Storage
With cargo volume of 14.3 cubic feet behind the backseat, the Lexus CT 200h edges out the A3 e-tron’s 13.6 cubic feet but trails the Bolt EV’s 16.9 cubic feet. Because hatches and trunks are measured differently, the Jaguar XE sedan’s trunk can’t be compared directly, but the CT’s hatchback and folding backseat make the most of what’s available.
In-cabin storage is modest, with a decent-sized glove compartment but a small bin under the center armrest. Betraying the car’s age is a phone slot on the center console that’s large enough only for the type of phones you seldom see anymore.
For an older model, the CT’s crash-test results are very good. It’s top-rated in all the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s crashworthiness categories in the Small Cars class. It also rates advanced (out of a possible not available, basic, advanced and superior) for crash avoidance and mitigation when equipped with the optional Pre-Collision System. The system provides forward collision warning and both low- and high-speed automatic emergency braking. Unfortunately, the Pre-Collision System requires three other packages: Premium Audio, Navigation and Luxury.
A backup camera isn’t standard, but one is available as a stand-alone option as well as in packages.
With the Pre-Collision System comes adaptive cruise control, which works well but doesn’t operate down to a stop.
Optional Lexus Enform Safety Connect adds automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, emergency assist button and Enhanced Roadside Assistance (a complimentary one-year trial subscription is included).
Value in Its Class
As I write this, the affordable Hyundai Ioniq was just certified with gas mileage higher than that of the Prius: 58 mpg combined. In this climate, it’s getting harder to accept ratings around 40 mpg, which once wowed us — especially if you pit the CT’s interior quality against more efficient hybrids’ higher trim levels, which compare in many respects despite not bearing luxury badges. The highest trim level of the larger Prius lists for $30,900, which is less than the Lexus CT200h’s $32,225. Full pricing wasn’t available as of publication, but the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq starts at $30,335.
Our other comparison cars aren’t too far from the CT: The A3 e-tron is eligible for a federal tax credit of $4,502, which brings its starting price down to $35,348. The diesel engine puts the Jaguar XE at $37,395 — for a larger, more modern luxury car. Perhaps the most shocking is the Chevy Bolt EV’s $29,995 price after a $7,500 tax credit (should this incentive survive a Republican presidency). The Bolt EV has its limitations as a pure electric vehicle and requires some investment into a charging apparatus, but history has shown EVs to be very reliable and cheap to operate.
Knowing that Lexus’ parent company is responsible for the 50-plus-mpg Prius, chances are good a more efficient CT is on its way, possibly as soon as the 2018 model year.