So, isn’t this just a Prius? It’s made by Lexus’ parent company Toyota. It’s a hybrid. And, it’s a hatchback like the upcoming Prius V. When pressed, Lexus engineers will admit it shares the same platform, albeit modified for this application.
But, this isn’t a Prius and that’s the point. It doesn’t matter what’s under the sheetmetal, it matters what badge is on the nose. This is a Prius for people who don’t want to own a Prius. Toyota has done such a good job of marketing their flagship hybrid as the car of choice for extroverted eco-conscious people, that they’ve had to go and create a separate car for people who are put off by its goodie-two-shoes image. Sounds good in theory. This car could’ve been the badass of the hybrid world – fast, wild, cool. The anti-Prius. But how did it turn out in practice?
First let’s deal with the “fast” bit. This car ain’t got it. Lexus calls the CT 200h a “Sportback” (i.e.: hatchback) and yes, baby got back, but somewhere they forgot the sport. The gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain only makes a combined 134 horsepower. Under the hood, there’s a small 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor and battery pack. The upside of all that is of course fuel economy, which is predictably awesome: Lexus claims 4.5 L/100 km in the city and 4.8 L/100 km on the highway.
There’s a great big knob on the dash that lets you flick between drive modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. EV allows you to travel on battery power only for a short while. Eco mode adjusts air-conditioning and throttle response for maximum fuel miserliness. Normal makes the throttle a bit more responsive. And Sport gives you access to the full 650-volts from the electric motor, sharpens the throttle further and adjusts the electric power steering for a more feedback. Crucially though, Sport mode also turns the dash from a blue glow to red, and everybody knows red is the fastest colour. In our short time with the car, there were noticeable – if slight – differences between the modes, but honestly playing with the knob provided the most fun. The driving experience never becomes engaging or tactile enough to qualify as sporty - and on top of that there’s the sluggish motor holding everything back. We can only guess this “performance” angle was something dreamed up by the marketing department and note a goal of the frugal-minded engineers.
Ahh, but the looks. From the outside, it’s one of the best designs we’ve seen from Lexus or Toyota in some time. In fact, to our eyes, it looks like one of the slickest hatchbacks on the market. Less boy-racer than the Subaru Impreza WRX, and much fresher than the Matrix et al.
If you’ve got a bad back, skip this car, but we think the low seating position feels great. You sit in the car rather than on it. The seats are surprisingly one of the highlights of the car as well: very comfortable and nicely bolstered for hard cornering, but not so extreme that they would become a pain.
The interior feels like a quality piece of work, but special attention was made to make it eco-friendly as well. In part, that means you can have NuLuxe seats: goofy name, but it actually feels quite nice. It’s lighter, and reduces C02 output during the manufacturing process by about 65 percent compared to real leather. Even the speaker cones are made of a high-tech bamboo fibre.
The CT 200h starts at $30,950 and can climb all the way up to just about $40,000. A top-of-the-line Toyota Prius comes in at $38,000 with a couple extra options ticked. The two cars totally overlap in terms of features and price, but Lexus/Toyota is betting that the CT 200h will attract a different kind of buyer. We’re not so sure, but more choice is always a good thing.
All models have the 1.8-litre hybrid drivetrain mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT.)
The touring package comes in at $32,900 and adds 17-inch alloys and a moonroof. Above that is the premium pack, which includes an upgraded 10-speaker audio system, leather, driver seat memory, garage door opener and rain sensing wipers for $35,350. The top line technology package though is the only one that offers a navigation system as well as backup camera and LED lights. It’s $39,350.
It may not be the anti-Prius we were hoping for, but it’s still a fine car: nice interior, practical storage space, small enough for city driving, great economy. Plus it’s one of the sleeker looking five-door hatches on the road at the moment. But, it’s let down by the engine and the average driving experience. So, if you’re willing to put up with the Prius’s image problem, it’s the smarter buy.