2014 Lexus CT 200h: Great economy, utility, refinement

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If an average hybrid gas/electric auto seems worthwhile, you might want to try an upper-class one. The 2014 Lexus CT 200h gas/electric hybrid is the lowest list-priced Lexus. But it’s still a Lexus so don’t expect a cut-rate model.

This refined compact front-drive hatchback sedan has typical Lexus amenities and delivers a noteworthy, estimated 43 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on highways.

The CT 200h uses the same proven hybrid powertrain as the Toyota Prius. Unlike the Prius, it’s rather exclusive because it’s not sold in large numbers. Many Americans still keep their distance from hatchbacks and hybrids.

The CT 200h’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine and 650-volt motor/generator provide a combined 134-horsepower output. Acceleration is brisk off the line and 65-75 m.p.h. passing on highways is decent. The fact that the CT 200h only weighs about 3,200 pounds helps acceleration and economy.

Power is sent to an electronically controlled continuously variable automatic transmission. The transmission is smooth and responsive, but has a rather unconventional shifter that can be a bit difficult to work quickly and precisely. Also, a driver must push a separate console-located “Park” control to enter park mode.

The 2014 Lexus 200h has been revised.
The 2014 Lexus CT 200h has been revised.

The brake pedal has a progressive action. It controls the all-disc anti-lock brakes that have electronic brake-force distribution for surer stops. However, drivers should make sure the brake pedal is pushed as far as it should be during a full stop. Otherwise, the car will occasionally creep forward a bit. It all has to do with the car’s hybrid nature.

This isn’t a compact sports sedan, but the electronic power rack-and-pinion steering via an updated steering wheel is pleasant. Handling is good, helped by vehicle stability and traction controls, along with Smart Stop technology.

The ride is on the firm side, and bad pavement makes it choppy. A driver can twist a console dial and get “Sport” mode, which tightens the steering and suspension for a sportier driving experience. Also, when “sport” is dialed in, a dashboard gauge instantly turns into a tachometer from a gauge that largely tells when the hybrid system is being charged during, say, braking.

Lightly pushing the dial returns the car to a “normal” driving mode and “Eco” and “EV” modes also can be selected.

The 2014 Lexus 200h is the luxury brand's least expensive car.
The 2014 Lexus CT 200h is the luxury brand’s least expensive car.

Large door handles help provide quick entry to the upscale interior, which has a pushbutton start, easily read backlit gauges, small but easily read secondary controls and a power tilt/slide moonroof with sliding sunshade. There’s also “NuLuxe” trim, supportive front seats and a fairly roomy back seat suitable for two tall adults.

An improved speaker design for both the standard 6-speaker and premium 10-speaker audio systems enhance the overall listening experience. DA and navigation get Bluetooth 3.0 and dual USB.

The leather-trimmed wheel has audio and cruise controls, and the steering column has a tilt/telescopic feature. However, a console bar partly obstructs a driver from reaching the dual front cupholders. That’s a problem with smaller cars—there often just isn’t enough space to conveniently place all items. Sliding sun visors are now standard.

Rear visibility from the 10-way power driver’s seat is poor because of thick rear roof pillars, but outside rearview mirrors are nicely sized to help out here.

The cargo floor is low and wide for swift loading, and rear seatbacks can easily be flipped forward to provide station-wagon-style cargo roominess. In many ways, the CT 200h is an ideal urban car.

The price of many things keeps rising, but this Lexus carries the same $32,050 list price as the 2013 model despite having a slightly revised exterior and interior and new standard and updated features.

A fresh, sporty look is provided by an updated front fascia that includes a full Lexus spndle grille, new front bumper, new five-spoke 17-inch wheel design, new rear bumper design, slightly larger and nicely integrated rear spoiler, aero-stabilizing fins, “shark fin” antenna and “highly scratch-ressitant self-restoring” paint.

I tested a CT 200h in F Sport form, which make the car look and drive sportier. The $900 F Sport option features aluminum sport pedals, leather-trimmed wheel, “Metal Tone” instrument panel trim and sport-tuned suspension. It also has new alloy wheels with a two-tone graphite and machine finish, a front bumper with an F Sport mesh grille, a new black contrast roof, new rear spoiler with two large air ducts and mesh fog lamp inserts.

There’s distinctive “F Sport” badging on the front fenders, and also on the steering wheel hub. These accompany the CT 200h’s “Hybrid” badging.

My test car’s other options included a $3,490 navigation system with a fixed and thinner Display Audio (DA)/Navigation screen that adopts the next-generation multimedia system featuring complimentary HD Radio real-time traffic and weather. There’s also a $500 intuitive front and rear park assist system, which I recommend.

Safety features include passenger knee air bags and full-length curtain side air bags.

The heavy hood is held open with a prop rod instead of hydraulic struts—not that many CT 200h owners are likely to spend much—if any—time under the hood.

Is the nicely designed CT 200h for you? At least visit a Lexus dealer and give it a try, keeping an eye on gasoline prices.

Pros: Revised. Effective gas/electric hybrid system. Fuel-thrifty. Practical. Decent Performance. Nifty sport mode.

Cons: Unconventional transmission shifter. Poor rear visibility. Firm ride. Pricey options.

Bottom Line: Handy passenger/cargo layout and prestigious Lexus badge and luxury amenities.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjeclicka.com.

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