The 2011 Lexus CT 200h is an eco-conscious, somewhat sporty compact hybrid hatchback. It takes Lexus to a new audience the company hasn’t sought out before: Gen X and Gen Y buyers who may be willing to give up their basic compact cars—or Toyota Prius hybrids—for the greater luxury of a Lexus, allied with gas mileage of 40 mpg or more.
The styling of the CT 200h is somewhat squat, but the car attracts almost no attention in public. It’s a dedicated hybrid, meaning there’s no gasoline model, but otherwise it’s a conventionally proportioned hatchback. The slit-like rear window limits rear vision, though, especially before the rear-seat headrests are folded forward.
Using a variation of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the Toyota Prius, the Lexus CT 200h is powered by a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of motor-generators. They are powered both by the engine and a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack behind the rear seat, which raises the rear load to less than a foot below the roll-out cover that shields its contents from view. The entire powertrain together produces 134 horsepower altogether.
The Sport drive mode—the others are Normal and Eco—changes steering feel and throttle mapping, allowing much more electric assist for acceleration. It also changes the blue power gauge in the instrument panel into a red-hued tachometer. Because the hybrid control system adjusts engine speed independent of the accelerator pedal, it’s more of a statement than a useful driving aid. But it’s undeniably cool.
The 2011 Lexus CT 200h has the sportiest handling of any compact hybrid, in part because the only other contender in that class is the Honda Civic Hybrid sedan, an entirely different beast.
The EPA rates the CT 200h at 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 42 mpg combined, and the car delivers 40 mpg in a variety of real-world uses. That makes it one of the most efficient vehicles sold, regardless of its luxury credentials.
Driver and passenger sit low, but the interior is surprisingly roomy in this wide car. Rear-seat room is decent, but the door opening is small and the lower seat cushion is somewhat short. Like most hatchbacks, the rear seatback folds down to deliver a flat load floor.
The instrument panel is more conventional than in the Prius, and there’s usable room on the console. The CT 200h is full of technology, including Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calling, full iPod integration, keyless ignition, and satellite radio. There’s also a long options list, including rain-sensing wipers, LED headlamps, and an extensive line of F-Sport appearance and performance accessories available through Lexus dealers.
While there are lots of luxury touches, the CT 200h doesn’t have quite the same uber-luxe personality as the big Lexus sedans. And it has some odd, old-school features at odds with its technology focus, like the plastic winder to reset the trip odometer, and the Oldsmobile-style pedal parking brake.
The base price of the 2011 Lexus CT 200h is $30,900, but a heavy hand on the options list can take you most of the way to $40,000. That’s the top of the line for the Audi A3 TDI, also a compact luxury hatchback that only sips fuel, and significantly higher than the Volkswagen Golf and the most luxurious models of mass-market hatches like the new 2012 Ford Focus.