Driven: 2016 Lexus CT200h Hybrid

We recently got our first drive in the 2016 Lexus CT200h hybrid, the least expensive and most fuel-efficient Lexus offered. It’s been with us for some time, but has continued to be updated and fortified with new features.

To start with, the Lexus CT200h is compact as you’d expect. While it shares is hybrid powertrain with the iconic Toyota Prius, it’s chassis platform architecture comes by way of the Corolla. It does have its own unique sheet-metal and styling however, which it shares with nothing.

Up front it received a mid-cycle update since the car was introduced in 2011. It now well matches the rest of the Lexus showroom with its spindle grille and LED daytime running lamps. But unlike the Corolla, LED headlamps are optional here.

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Ours had the F Sport Luxury Package which brought sportier visuals on its exterior like unique 17-inch wheels, mesh grille, fender badges and a black painted roof. The roof looks nice this way, giving the appearance of a panoramic glass roof which isn’t available here.

At the rear, its five-door hatch configuration has a nice finish to it, yet even with the sporty theme of this Lexus, there are no exhaust tips to make that point.

The cabin of the F Sport is a step up from the standard CT200h, blacked out top and bottom. There are rich leather sport seats and metal tone trims here and there, including aluminum pedals. You also get the F Sport leather steering wheel which has a nice feel in your hand.

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Both front seats are heated and power adjustable. They offer up excellent comfort and support, with the driver getting memory settings. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, but it is a manual adjustment so is not included in the memory saves.

Rear seat passengers get adequate comfort and space, but this is a tight place to be. It’s outfitted for up to three passengers but that might be snug for most Americans. They do fold down in a 60/40 split as you’d expect. And when folded the rear cargo floor is reasonably flat given the space needed for its hybrid battery.

Infotainment here includes the optioned Premium Audio and Navigation system which has a dash mounted screen operated by a console mounted puck. This remains one of the most intuitive controls on the market in my opinion, and this was one of the first Lexus models to have it.

The audio system however is not the Mark Levinson system found in many Lexus models. The sound quality reflects this as it’s not the same at all, but the price of this upgrade still does at nearly $3500. We want the Mark Levinson option please.

Driving the Lexus CT200h is the same engine and hybrid drive system found in the third-generation Toyota Prius. It’s comprised of a 1.8 liter Atkinson Cycle engine and a two-motor electric drive continuously variable transmission.

16-Lexus-CT200h-15At 134 horsepower, it pulls a slightly heavier car than the Toyota Prius from which it comes, but is tuned a bit more for performance. This gives it an EPA rated 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 42 mpg combined.

Even with the sport mode you can switch over to on the center console that allows all hands on deck from the powertrain, it’s still only 134 noisy and rough horsepower. This translates to a slow feeling and sometimes punishing experience if you try to drive spiritedly.

Though I could want for more power in a car which is marketed to me as a sporting alternative to a Prius, it still achieves excellent fuel economy. In my week with it I averaged 44 mpg combined city and highway which is more than promised.

The chassis of the CT200h starts with the more modest Toyota Corolla but has a more upscale double-wishbone rear suspension which conveys a better ride and sharper responses when driving spiritedly around curves and bumpy roads.

16-Lexus-CT200h-5It has a sport tuned suspension on the base CT200h, and on the F Sport is tuned even more aggressively. It does indeed drive well with a solid ride and feel which offers up some sense of road holding, a quiet ride, and a decent amount of feedback from steering.

That ride and feel is the one standout here in the driving experience which makes this car feel its price, and not related to lower grade economy cars. It’s showing its age around the edges however with areas of refinement over rough surfaces.

And feel is always important in a car, especially a luxury brand we pay more for. Impressive was fit and finish overall both visually and by touch. The doors aren’t as solid in their shut as some Germans, but it still feels like more than a Toyota Corolla in stature.

Safety too is top of the class for the CT200h. The IIHS gives it their highest honor of Top Safety Pick + with its good ratings on all their tests including the brutal new small-lap crash. And, it offers an Advanced level of crash prevention systems.

All-in, when we consider its as tested price of $41,860 it’s hard to call this car a value where at its entry point of around $31,000 it may well be. This is because at near $42,000 there are a myriad of other choices in the market, larger and with similar fuel economy, and similar features.

Overall though, if you like the Prius for its economy, green car image, or its reliability record, this is a car that might be worth a few extra bones to gain additional luxury and sporting flavor.