With its distinctively sporty styling, the Lexus CT 200h is a break from the other traditionally styled Lexus vehicles. With an engine based on the Toyota Prius, the CT 200h is a hybrid vehicle capable of up to 43 city/40 highway mpg. But can you compare a hip new car to its now stodgier cousin?

The last time I drove a Prius was a few years ago when the updated body style was introduced. Back then, hybrids were rare and the Prius was much more interesting than the Honda Civic hybrid. It has the sleek lines of a futuristic car. Then Lexus came out with the CT 200h this summer and the rules changed. Now hybrids can be cool, fun to drive, and you still get boffo mileage.

Versions of the CT 200h

There are two versions of the CT 200h: the CT200h starting at $29,120 and the CT200h Premium starting at $30,900. The premium version buys you a moonroof and heated front seats. There are audio and navigation packages you can purchase, but it’s nice to have an entry-level Lexus that doesn’t break the bank!

The model I drove was a CT200h Premium in the Daybreak Yellow Mica color. It was a bright yellow with a green undertone and I loved it immediately when I saw it. It was a distinctive color rarely seen on other vehicles and stood out on the road, which I’m sure helps with visibility of the low-sitting car in a world of SUVs and jacked up trucks.

The engine will give you a pretty paltry 134 hp running regular unleaded gasoline.  Make no mistake, you will be the tortoise at the stoplight, but you’ll have the Lexus luxury to make up for it. There are four driving modes controlled by a knob on the dash: Normal, Eco, and Sport. The EV mode is controlled by a button. For those times when you’re not in a hurry, stopping and starting frequently, and want to be a hypermiler, the Eco mode is the mode for you. When you need to pass someone or want to race a Prius, head for the Sport mode. It switches the engine over from the battery to the gas for some extra oomph. EV mode is when the vehicle is strictly on battery power and you want to sneak up on someone (or when you’re getting home after your spouse-set curfew ;) ).

 

Comparisons of small hybrid cars

Mileage Overall Horsepower
Lexus CT200h 43 city/40 highway 134 hp
Toyota Prius 51 city/50 highway 134 hp
Honda Civic Hybrid 44 city/44 highway 110 hp
Nissan Altima Hybrid 23 city/32 highway 198 hp

 

Safety Features

Lexus includes many of the same safety features I learned about during my Lexus Family Safety Camp last year.

  • VSC: Vehicle Stability Control, which senses when the tires start to slip and will automatically apply the brakes and reduce the engine throttle
  • Airbags: Airbags, airbags, airbags! I love that Lexus has all the standard airbags, plus knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.
  • Seat belt pretensioners: The seat belt pretensioners are for the front seats only.
  • Backup camera: The backup camera is an option. Please stop me now, I might faint. Yes, the CT 200h is a small car, but you can still run over things behind you that you can’t see. Thumbs down for not including this valuable safety feature as a standard item. The car I drove was not equipped with a backup camera.
  • Whiplash Injury Lessening (WIL) front seatbacks: In a rear-end crash, the seatbacks will push backward, decreasing the severity of whiplash to the front seat occupants.
  • Smart Stop: Remember last year when Toyota/Lexus was raked over the coals for out-of-control acceleration? When the brake pedal is applied firmly, the engine power is reduced, even when the accelerator pedal is pressed down.
  • Rain-Sensing Wipers: We got caught in a massive monsoon downpour on driving home after picking up the CT 200h and was I ever glad to have the rain-sensing wipers. They move faster when the rain is harder, slower when it’s just a sprinkle.
  • Available Pre-Collision System: Sensors in the front bumper detect obstacles and will audibly alert the driver to the danger. If a collision is imminent, it will automatically retract the front seatbelts, gives the braking a boost, and may even apply the brakes for you.

NHTSA has not yet rated the Lexus CT200h.

G for frontal offset, side impact, and roof strength

Rear crash protection/head restraint: G for overall rating, dynamic rating, and seat/head restraint geometry

The Good ratings for all of the Institute’s crash tests gave the Lexus CT 200h a Top Safety Pick 2011 designation.

 

Niceties

  • Comfortable seating: The driver’s seat is adjusted electrically, though the passenger’s seat is manual. It was easy to get a custom, comfortable fit.
  • Keyless entry with push-button start: Simply have the key in your pocket and pull on the driver’s door handle to unlock the car.  Push the start button and the car starts. I simply love the keyless entry—it’s so easy to use and is helpful when your hands are already full. No fumbling for the key fob, then figuring out which button unlocks the car.
  • Heated seats: The optional heated front seats are controlled with a dial—you can adjust just how warm your seat will be. Ahhhhhhh. But no ventilated option yet for those warm summer days.
  • Cell phone holder: The cell phone holder sits in a small cubby on the center console and will hold a cell phone or GPS device. It held my iPhone very nicely and I could easily see the display at stoplights.

 

Driving Experience

It took me a couple of days to get the proper driving form for a hybrid. I chose my current vehicle, an Acura MDX, for its performance, among other things, so stepping on the gas and having so little happen was frustrating at first. Certainly a lesson in how to drive like a granny! You can drive a hybrid like a normal gasoline-powered vehicle, but that’s not why you bought a hybrid. It becomes a game of how to coax out those extra mpgs; you set yourself against the electronic display and game on!

Driving the CT200h felt much more exciting than expected (keeping in mind that I was still driving at the speed of grandpa). The steering is taut and braking was impressive. I took the car through several roundabouts at speeds higher than suggested and it performed admirably (don’t worry–there were no other vehicles around). The turning circle was very tight, as you’d expect on a small car, and parking was a breeze.

I had my 6’5” dh sit in the driver’s seat and at first, his head was sticking out the moonroof! But thanks to that adjustable seat, he was able to find a comfortable seating position that accommodated not only his head, but allowed his long legs to stretch out. In moving the front seats back to adapt to his person, the rear seats lost precious legroom. No doubt about it, it was tight in the backseat. The cargo area is small too. For groceries, it’s just fine. But don’t plan on hauling something home from Home Depot back there.

 

Back Seat Comfort

As I mentioned earlier, legroom in the backseat is a precious commodity. My kids didn’t complain and in fact, really liked this car. There’s no direct, face-level air vents in the backseat, but there are vents under the front seats to provide backseat air. Both of my kids immediately registered complaints about the lack of air control in the back, but they realized that the cubic passenger space is small enough that the car cooled down very quickly.

 

Child Passenger Safety Techs Do Their Best Work in the Back Seat

LATCH is available in 2 outboard positions and Lexus does not allow borrowing of the inside anchors for LATCH installation in the center seating position of the back seat. The lower anchors are hidden behind zippers in the upholstery and were very easy to access. Unfortunately, the lower anchors are off-set just a bit to the interior of the car, so when my dd tried to use her rigid LATCH Clek Olli booster seat, it overlapped the buckle enough that she couldn’t get her seatbelt buckled. So we switched her to her Harmony Literider (now known as the Youth Booster Seat) and she was able to easily buckle herself. The center position seatbelt will also be overlapped by any LATCH installation.

Let’s face it: this is a small car with a small back seat. With less than 52” of back seat space in which to install carseats, I’m not sure a 3-across with traditional carseats is doable. I installed a Britax Advocate 70CS rear-facing and a Cybex Aton in the outboard positions and there wasn’t enough room for a center passenger. The Advocate, a carseat with a shortish shell that normally fits well in tight back seats, wasn’t at an appropriate angle for a newborn. In its fully reclined position, it was tight against my driver’s seat. The Aton had about an inch between it and the front passenger’s seat, which I had moved up to a comfortable seating position. There are the standard 3 top tether anchors, so you can install a forward-facing seat in any back seat position.

If you have a rear-facing seat that tethers, such as a Britax, Sunshine Kids, or Combi Coccoro convertible, you won’t have any trouble finding a spot to wrap that tether connector strap (aka D-ring). If you have one of the new D-rings, it will be long enough to wrap around either of the front seat legs without having to remove the plastic.

 

Gasp! No DVD Player

There’s no option for a DVD player system available. Sorry kids, you’ll just have to listen to Radio Disney on the XM radio.

 

Final Word

Despite it’s rather laggy feel, I enjoyed driving the Lexus CT200h. They aren’t common on the road yet, so I was turning heads as I drove and I even got a compliment on the different color :). The sporty feel of the car, plus the tight handling, give the driver a sense of the road with the ability to save the planet along the way. Is this a family car? In my world, no, it’s much too small, although if straightjackets for the kids were included, perhaps, lol. But for a city car or a commuter car, it’s at a good price for luxury.



You can learn more about the Lexus CT 200h at the Lexus website and download brochures as well. For pricing information, we recommend CarsDirect.com.

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Our car was supplied to us by the Walker Agency, courtesy of Lexus.