EXPERT REVIEW

Mother Proof's view

Photo of Kristin Varela
Former Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars. Email Kristin Varela


I have a strong affinity for both the aesthetics and functionality of most hatchbacks. I was waiting with bated breath to drive the all-new 2011 Lexus CT 200h because I assumed it’d be a lux version of a hatchback hybrid. It didn’t live up to my expectations.

The CT 200h got two out of three right: It is a hybrid, and it has a functional little hatch, but it disappoints in the lux department, with a fit and finish that feels like a cheaper Toyota Prius masquerading as an entry-level Lexus.

Driving the five-seater is a zippy blast. It has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with an electronically controlled continuously variable automatic transmission. It looks cute and fast, and it can live up to that expectation when in Sport mode, but the tradeoff is its fuel economy. It gets 43/40 mpg city/highway, which isn’t nearly as impressive as the Prius’ 51/48 mpg.

When in normal or Eco mode, the CT 200h feels like any other hybrid, lagging a little in the initial acceleration but driving quite nicely once up to speed. The EV mode, which allows you to drive in electric mode only, was nearly useless. You have to have enough juice in the battery, drive at a snail’s pace and barely touch the accelerator to keep in in EV mode. I didn’t have the patience for it.

The CT seemed a little rough in the suspension department, feeling more like a $20,000 Mazda than a $30,000-plus Lexus on rough pavement.

The base level CT 200h starts at $29,120. My test car, the higher Premium trim, starts at $30,900. The final price tag on my test car was $35,819.

EXTERIOR
What I love so much about hatchbacks is they often have that perfect blend of cute looks and sporty appeal. The CT 200h is no exception. The low, seemingly ready-to-pounce ground clearance, center-mounted antenna and rear spoiler add to the sporty look on the CT. Its looks and standard front-wheel drive were just begging for a twisty mountain road and an advertising agency’s film crew to document its trek with artsy craftsmanship.

There aren’t many CT 200hs on the road yet. As a matter of fact, other than my test car I’ve never seen one out and about near Denver. My test car did seem to turn quite a few heads. I’m not sure if it was the car itself or the love-it-or-hate-it Daybreak Yellow Mica paint on my test car. Descriptions of the color by my family members ranged from “baby poop” and “llama phlegm” to “’70s shag carpet.” It’s just hard to see the beauty in any of that. Rest assured, the CT 200h does come in a slew of other more — ahem — appealing colors.

My favorite feature is the uber-functional cargo area created by the hatchback design. It’s just the right amount of space for light family use: an adults-only weekend trip, a full week’s worth of grocery shopping or the annual Varela Family Great Closet Cleanout and Donation Run (pictured below).

The Lexus CT 200h has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that’s paired with an electric motor/generator to make a combined 134 horsepower. The CT 200h gets an EPA-estimated 43/40 mpg city/highway and uses regular unleaded gas.

SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

INTERIOR
The CT’s interior was quite functional for a small family. My two daughters fit well in the backseat with enough legroom for the parents in the front row to move our seats back a little.

As the designated family chauffeur, I appreciated the thoughtfully designed space up front. In addition to the two cupholders in the center console, I loved the shallow storage tray that held any combination of parking garage tickets, a Starbucks gift card, lip balm and lip gloss, plus a separate spot for loose change and a great vertical pocket for a smartphone or cellphone. The front doors also sport in-door storage bins with bottle holders.

The CT 200h has a few “luxurious” features. My test car had the optional $1,330 Leather Package that includes black leather seats with fashion-forward white contrast stitching. It also had heated front seats and a keyless entry and start system.

However, I was disappointed that Lexus seemed to cheap-out in other areas of this hybrid. I expected to find ventilated seats, a power liftgate, power front seats, an acoustic windshield to keep noise to a minimum and door-handle panels that don’t fall off.

What? Door-handle panels that don’t fall off? Yep, the passenger-side door’s grab handle popped off on several occasions when my husband grabbed it to pull the door closed. I was getting ready to chalk it up to this being an overused, abused and possibly pre-production test car until I heard this same problem from a colleague in a different city.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

SAFETY
The 2011 CT 200h has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety nod, a car must get the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact, roof-strength and rear crash tests as well as have electronic stability control. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn’t yet tested the CT 200h.

This hybrid has some of the best Latch connectors I’ve seen recently. Small zippered openings reveal easy access to the two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats. My daughters’ Britax high-back booster seats with side-impact head protection fit just fine in the CT. They were able to easily reach and buckle their own seat belts. The seat belt buckles are on stable bases, making buckling easier for young kids with limited dexterity. To find out how the CT 200h did in MotherProof.com’s Car Seat Check, click here.

Besides an electronic stability system, the CT 200h has standard front-wheel drive, antilock brakes, traction control and eight airbags, including driver and front passenger knee airbags and side curtains for both rows. The CT also features Lexus Safety Connect with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, an emergency assist button and one year of enhanced roadside assistance. Peace of mind is priceless when you’re using your car as a family hauler.

Get more safety information about the 2011 Lexus CT 200h here.

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