Luxurious, comfortable cabin
Impressive fuel economy
Easy to drive
Passenger and cargo space
The CT200h holds up the Lexus name in luxury and refinement, but other options in the segment offer more fun.
The CT200h is the smallest Lexus. There are two types of people that consider buying an expensive small car: Lexus wants them to be affluent thirty-somethings who value the badge, and the quality it implies. However, the CT is also a rather natural fit for downsizing retirees, who no longer need a large sedan like the GS.
But, Lexus protests—the whole point of the CT200h is to distil the luxury experience into a cheaper, smaller, and ultimately more fun package, to bring those younger buyers into Lexus dealerships more quickly, build their loyalty, and keep them in the brand forever.
We found that while the CT200h succeeds in retaining impressive levels of quality and luxury in a more inexpensive model, it still lacks an adequate serve of the most crucial ingredient: fun. This problem might be addressed later this year when Lexus slots their first turbocharged engine into the CT—but until such an overhaul happens, the CT’s conservative driving dynamics make it a hard sell over the spirited German competition from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi.
ChasingCars.com.au borrowed this vehicle for our Lexus CT200h review:
- 2014 Lexus CT200h Sports Luxury (top trim), with the 1.8-litre aspirated four-cylinder and Atkinson-cycle electric motor and continuously-variable automatic, in Mercury Grey with black leather, priced at $54,990 before on-road costs.
The CT is available with a single engine: if the 100kW, 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid sounds familiar: this motor is lifted from the Toyota Prius, while the chassis is sourced from the Corolla. It would be simplistic to call the CT a particularly nice Toyota, but the smallest Lexus has driving dynamics that do feel uncannily like those two lesser cars mixed together.
There is an adaptive drive mode system in the CT with a sport mode, which unleashes the full potential of the electric engine for additional boost. Still, working together, the two engines make just 142Nm of pulling torque, so sprints off the line or when overtaking are hard work—and noisy work, it seems, with the ‘one-speed’ conventionally-variable automatic transmission booming when pushed hard.
When driving around town, though, the CT tries its best to lock in electricity-only mode, which is a silent, refined affair, allowing you to appreciate the supremely comfortable interior. Until the next time you need speed—quickly—it’s quite easy to forget the CT’s straight-line shortcomings. It’s never truly involving around corners, though, with a lack of engaging feel to the steering and a surprisingly relaxed ratio that means a lot of wheel-turning: and, our tester would occasionally become truly heavy at low speeds, particularly when changing from drive to reverse.
Wind noise is well-suppressed, making the CT an easy vehicle to cruise in, although it is less comfortable over ruts and potholes than anything else in the Lexus range—but money did have to be saved somewhere.
Where the CT fails to excite drivers in the performance department, it truly impresses in the ‘sitting’ department. The cabin has been designed thoughtfully: the sloping centre stack is not only attractive, but it is also easy to learn, simple, and free from the usual distracting array of buttons.
The car’s navigation and audio screen is mounted high on the dash, making it one of the safer options to control on the move: but that control is done through a sensitive, rollerball-like controller between the seats called Remote Touch. It is overly fussy—the rotary dials of the Germans are simpler to use—and the Lexus doesn’t allow anybody to input new navigation destinations while on the move, which is frustrating.
The leather seats don’t feel as supple as those on full-size Lexuses, but they are exceedingly comfortable—perhaps the most comfortable in the class. After driving for eight hours straight we felt refreshed and ready for more: a feeling bolstered by the soft-touch materials, including where your knees knock against the dash—and the brilliant Mark Levinson sound system (standard in the Sports Luxury).
The CT’s driving position isn’t bad, either, with the seats lowering to a relatively sporting position, and the steering wheel having plenty of reach and rake adjustment, too—most drivers will get comfortable. Passengers in the rear will be wanting for space, though. With moderately tall people in the front, legroom is very tight indeed—and headroom is only just enough for six-footers.
The CT’s interior is dotted with moderately-sized cubby holes to fill with everyday clutter, although the cabin itself feels on the tighter, more compact size, as opposed to the spacious feeling of a Volkswagen Golf. When you take into account the tight back seat, you get the feeling that space—which looks generous from the outside—is actually a little bit limited.
The boot is a little shallow, as its capacity is constrained by the electric motor, which lives underneath the cargo floor. With the back seats up, there are still 375 litres of space, though, which is class-competitive, and the boot opening is fairly wide and usable. To carry longer items, the seats drop easily, opening up about 985 litres of space: you might fit a small bike, or a few smaller flat-pack furniture packages, but not much more than that.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Lexus doesn’t offer a capped-price servicing programme: instead, it offers buyers high levels of customer service when maintaining the CT, by dropping off a loan car to your door. The service interval is annual, so at least big maintenance bills won’t be a frequent surprise. All CTs are produced at Toyota’s Miyata plant in Fukuoka. Actual quality is very high: Lexuses are built well, and the hybrid motor is tried-and-tested from the Prius so trouble is very unlikely. However, perceived quality is really not as good as the Mercedes: the rear doors in particular feel and sound tinny.
The other side of running costs is fuel economy, and this is an area in which the CT200h shines: the hybrid system means that the car is actually more efficient in traffic than on the open road. Combined, it can theoretically return numbers in the early 4L / 100km range, but a mixed figure of 6L / 100km would be more realistic and very achievable.
All models receive plenty of basic safety equipment, such as eight airbags. The top two models receive a reversing camera, and the Sports Luxury flagship gains radar cruise control and a subtle pre-collision warning system. The car earned a five-star crash rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program.
VALUE FOR MONEY
While the CT is limited to the single engine, there are three trim levels: the least expensive is the Luxury, which is about $46,000 on the road, or $5,000 more than the base models from Mercedes and BMW that are more fun, but more basic. The mid-range F Sport is marketed as a hot hatch with a ‘distinctive sporting persona’, and at $55,000 on road, it needs to be good: admittedly, even though the F Sport body kit can’t make it any faster, it’s the pick of the range, with a mix of attractive appointments and decent kit. The $64,000 Sports Luxury is seriously expensive, and it doesn’t look as good as the F Sport.
Option packs are called enhancements, and essentially, anything can be optioned to any model. The basic Luxury misses leather, for example, but it can be added for $3,000; the F Sport misses a sunroof, but for $2,500, it’s yours.
If we were buying a CT, Chasing Cars would go for an F Sport, plus ‘Enhancement Pack 2’, bringing the price to a slightly eye-watering $62,000. But then again, we’d probably have a Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport instead.
Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport ($50,400 list | $56,188 on road): better value than the Lexus, and so much more rewarding to drive. The Mercedes is powered by a two-litre turbo petrol engine that remains fairly efficient, while the tighter handling makes the smallest Mercedes entertaining on a country road.
BMW 125i ($48,000 list | $54,353 on road): the jury’s still out on whether the baby BMW is handsome or…not, but the important thing to note is the 1-Series is the handling superstar of the premium hatch class. The rear-wheel-drive architecture is unbeatable for cornering, and the turbo engine isn’t bad, either.
Audi A3 Ambition ($45,500 list | $51,601 on road): like the others, all the good stuff is optional, but the Audi’s beautiful interior is arguably the best in class. Plus, the understated exterior design means the A3 looks more expensive than it really is—although at $50,000, it’s hardly cheap.
|Power||100kW @ 5200rpm|
|Torque||142Nm @ 2800–4000rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||69kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||4.1L / 100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Front wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||375L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||985L|