By on November 8, 2010

Any way you slice Toyota’s sales figures for the past 5 years, its obvious that despite a ballooning product portfolio Lexus is in a world of hurt. Sales are down, the other import brands have improved their quality and buyers seem to be embracing a more performance-oriented (or is that German-oriented?) luxury style. But rather than re-orienting the Lexus brand to directly take on surging BMW, Audi and Mercedes sales, Toyota has doubled down on its major competitive advantage: hybrids.The recently-launched HS250h was Lexus’s first stab at an entry-premium hybrid, but after just a few months on sale it’s already going nowhere fast. With CAFÉ changes looming, Lexus may eventually benefit from an all-hybrid luxury line-up, but in the meantime the very idea of a luxury hybrid needs a shot in the arm. Is the CT200h hatchback hybrid the answer?

On the surface the CT200h looks like it could be the long-lost hatchback cousin of the IS250/350, but in reality it’s related to the HS250h, itself a derivative of the European Toyota Avensis. Despite sharing relatively few parts with the Toyota Prius, some critics have slammed the HS250h for being nothing more than a “Lexus Prius,” despite the fact that it comes with a version of the more powerful Camry Hybrid drivetrain. If that’s a problem for you on principle (it really shouldn’t be), you might want to stop reading now. Under the CT200h’s hood lurks the same 1.8L Atkinson cycle engine and Hybrid Synergy Drive system as the current generation Prius.

One of the many complaints about the HS250h has been its lackluster fuel economy and weak performance. Of course the HS250h could have been forgiven if Ford hadn’t released the Lincoln MKZ hybrid around the same time. The Lincoln hybrid is considerably larger than the HS, matches the Lexus for 0-60 acceleration, and beats it by a full 6 MPG on the freeway. In order to correct the problem, Lexus put the HS/CT shared platform on a diet and the result is that the CT200h tips the scales at 3,130lbs a 550lb weight reduction over the HS. Sounds good, right? The answer is a resounding maybe. The weight loss certainly makes the CT200h feel more nimble and no doubt contributes to the higher EPA numbers of 42/41/42 (highway/city/combined), but much of this improvement comes from swapping out the 187HP Camry Hybrid powerplant in favor of the relatively anemic 134HP Prius engine. Comparisons to Honda’s weak-sauce CR-Z are inevitable and not entirely unwarranted.

Naturally the forums will be alight with chatter proclaiming the CT200h to at last be “the real Lexus Prius,” but (as usual) the comments will be missing a few key details. The CT is six inches shorter than the Prius overall and rides on a four inch shorter wheelbase, and aside from the engine and Hybrid Synergy Drive system, the CT200h shares few parts with the Prius. Unfortunately one of the things the CT200h doesn’t share is the Prius’s 51/48/50 MPG fuel economy numbers (EPA, highway/city/combined) which is curious since the Prius is not much lighter than the CT.

Behind the wheel it is obvious to anyone who has spent time in Lexus’ other models that the CT200 is expected to be the cheapest Lexus available, starting at around $30,000. It would be unfair to say the materials are cheap, but they are certainly less than I would expect from Lexus. The dashboard and rear door trim plastics are particularly disappointing, and the memory seat controls look like an aftermarket addition. Fortunately the steering wheel really shines; it’s well-weighted, perfectly-shaped and feels exactly the way it should.

And in general, if you keep your hands to the controls, you’ll be OK. A 110 mile test drive gave ample opportunity to become acquainted with the interior and the only real quibble I have is the Lexus Navigation system. The system uses the same mouse/joystick like controls that have been spreading across the Lexus lineup, but the picture quality is less than inspiring and I don’t find the controller to be particularly user friendly. The location of the Nav screen up high on the dash doesn’t make using the system any easier.

Gadget lovers will appreciate the standard Bluetooth hands-free system with Bluetooth audio streaming, full iPod and USB device control, XM Radio, keyless go, dual-zone climate control, LED tail lamps and “bamboo charcoal speakers” in the audio system. Conspicuously absent is a Mark Levinson sound system available in other Lexus models. For those who want to option up their CT, Lexus offers a power moonroof, full LED headlamps, hard drive based nav system, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, in-mirror backup camera and several wood trim options. Keeping in mind that the CT200h will be the entry-level Lexus, the option list is fairly extensive.

In the bright light of day, the CT200h turns from an entry-level gadget lover’s dream to a mixed bag. Lexus is billing the CT200h as a sporty compact luxury hatch, but they only nailed half the formula… and let’s just say the CT is undoubtedly a compact hatch. Lexus says the competition for the CT is the Volvo C30, Audi A3 and the BMW 1-Series (personally, I would have forgotten about the 1-Series and included the Mini, but what do I know?). Luxury is in the eye of the beholder, and though the CT’s interior is a nice place to be compared to the self-proclaimed competition, it falls short of the level of luxury found even in Volvo’s C30. Sure the CT has better electronic toys (and a hybrid drivetrain), but as a place to spend time, the C30 is demonstrably better.

Our pre-defined route took us out on California State Route 243, portions of which were moderately twisty and well banked. On these winding mountain sections, the CT holds the road with finesse. The chassis is well behaved if not overeager, and even the electric power steering fails to detract from the mountain carving fun. Sadly the same cannot be said of the 134HP hybrid drive. Adding insult to underperformance, the sounds coming from under the hood cannot really be described as either sporty or luxurious. It’s not as bad as some four-bangers, but it’s not up to the standard of a brand built on admirably unobtrusive drivetrains. But even this could be forgiven if the CT’s acceleration was even remotely satisfactory, but there’s the final chink in the sporty hatchback armor: the CT’s manufacturer estimated 9.8second 0-60, which is actually slower than a Prius. This makes sense when you consider the Prius is lighter, but the end result is something along the lines of a softer Jetta TDi that doesn’t handle quite as well. Yes, it’s taut and composed in the corners, but when the road straightens you get nothing.

As I flew home from Palm Springs I was quite possibly more puzzled about the CT200h than I was when my journey began. It’s not a new paradigm of efficiency. In fact it’s only marginally better than the Lincoln MKZ hybrid that rendered its bigger brother irrelevant (although it is cheaper). It’s not particularly sporty either (do I need to say more than “slower than a Prius”?). And even at $30,000 (and up, if you want all the toys) it won’t be a huge amount cheaper than the HS250, which delivers more room and a bit peppier performance along with a more premium feel. Since the CT200h was designed to strengthen Lexus sales in Europe, it makes a certain amount of sense. Europeans are far more likely to accept a moderately prices cheap and cheerful small hatch with a nearly 10 second 0-60 time that is marketed as “sporty.” The same cannot however be said of Americans, and at the end of the day the CT200h appears to be a decent landing at the wrong airport.

Lexus provided airfare, lodging and hospitality for this press launch event

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52 Comments on “Review: 2011 Lexus CT200h...”

  • avatar

    The last paragraph states this is more for Europe. I agree in part but in Europe there will be the A1 and A3 (diesel), BMW 1 series (hatchback), Mini, Mercedes etc. Lexus is an irrelevance in Europe with tiny sales. They have been reduced to being a hydrid only company in the UK which is a niche. When diesel is as efficient and no more expensive to buy (the fuel that is) in the UK then Lexus have real problems. If it was not for Toyota’s huge cash pile I would expect to see Lexus retreat from the Uk if not mainland Europe. Just as Toyota failed to take on the Big 3 with trucks Lexus has failed to take on the Germans in luxutry cars in Europe (and maybe losing first place in the US).

    • 0 avatar


      Almost see none of them around here (Netherlands). Yes, you see the occasional IS (the only model they offered with a diesel) on the streets, but it’s nothing compared with the 318ds, A4 TDIs and to a lesser extent C-Class CDIs rolling about. Then there are a couple of those ugly RXs that have been mainly sold because some of the otherwise hefty taxes on particularly SUVs are mitigated by the hybrid system.

      Other than that, the GS is completely irrelevant; they’ve sold a whopping 29 of them in 2010 so far, compared to 3511 BMW 5-series, 2248 Mercedes E-Class and still 2185 Audi A6s.

      The LS does marginally better respectively, but it still pretty marginal stuff. So far this year they’ve sold 21 LS, compared to 147 7-series, 184 S-Class and 160 A8s.

      Also interesting; Jaguar sold 243 XFs and 107 XJs so far. The XJ is a new model of course, but looking at the charts it has still generally sold better than the LS over the last 10 years.

      Pretty much they’re getting beat by Jaguar, so that might just be about everything you need to know about Lexus in at least the Netherlands and I would imagine it would be much the same story for a good bunch of the other markets in Europe.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    This looks terrible – like a wagon. It’s almost as grotesque as the Versa.A Lexus needs to look desirable.Needs a longer bonnet , shorter roof , and longer tail.

  • avatar

    Europeans will certainly not be put off that much by the slow 0-60, but they might be by the styling.
    In my eyes BMW 1 shooting brake is way better looking. Alfa Giulietta definitely and even Audi A3 three door looks way cleaner. Don’t know if your photos don’t do it justice but the styling of this car looks a mess.

  • avatar

    The appearance is, if anything, worse and less brand-worthy than the HS.

    The HS actually accelerates fairly well. It feels much stronger than the Prius, and by extension than this car.

    Reliability will likely be good, but remains to be seen. To assist with TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey:

  • avatar

    Yay! It’s the spendy Matrix everyone was asking for!

    Where’d everybody go?

  • avatar

    Lexus continues to follow Acura down the road of disillusionment, and towards ruin. This leaves Infiniti (and the Germans) to pick up the slack. Hopefully Infiniti won’t botch its version of the Leaf.

  • avatar

    Appearance wise this looks like a warmed over uglified 15-20K Matrix. The interior is little better looking as if it may pass as the mid grade trim level with leather seats and wheel. In 10 years this thing is going to be collecting dust as Lexus deadly sin number whatever.

  • avatar

    Nothing to say about the ride quality?

  • avatar

    Wow, ugly AND overpriced. The Japanese have lost their way.

  • avatar

    If Toyota is the new GM then here’s their Cimarron.

  • avatar

    With rear hips like that, they at least could get Dodge to design external storage bins to make them useful, as on the Ram P/U.

    The interior design is looking drab. Bushed silver painted surfaces is already dated and cheap looking. I was of the opinion that car interiors were getting fancier, like the Malibus and Buicks. Maybe the Chinese should design Toyota’s interiors?

    What’s that sucking sound I hear? Maybe it’ll sell, somewhere.

  • avatar

    Interesting.  The last time Lexus did something like this (the IS SportCross) Mazda kicked out the Protege5 and stole it’s thunder, design-wise.  This time we have the Mazda3 first and the CT200h a bit after, though there’s not a lot of thunder-stealing happening here.
    Honestly, I like the vehicle.  I also think it’s not really worth it vis a vis the Prius, and not brand-appropriate unless iit gets a little luxing up, and even then not outside of Europe.

  • avatar

    So what you do is go on down to the Toyota store and buy a Matrix and put after market leather seats and steering wheel in it for about 3 grand. Save yourself 10,000 bucks which buys one hell of a lot of 1$ per litre gas.

    What’s the point other than having the fancy L logo which does seem to be on a slippery slope with the release of each subsequent model.

    Will Toyota become the new GM?

  • avatar

    Maybe the young daughters of wealthy fathers market?

    • 0 avatar

      Also might work for the late 20s early 30s guys with a decent job demographic. Similar to the GTI/WRX demographic but looking for a hybrid and (in the case of the GTI) maybe something a little more reliable.

  • avatar

    Toyota/Lexus could have had a good thing with the IS300, but instead marketed it as a Ricer for overgrown teenagers.  The interior appearance was more of the same. The next generation IS interior would have solved the problem, if they had left the performance and handling as it was.
    The SC400/300 was also a great car.
    Then as a follow up, Lexus went soft and feminine with the  IS250/350 and the SC430.

    In the past, I never agreed with the comment that Lexus was just a pumped up Toyota. I always felt the quality tricked down from Lexus to Toyota. While I still think that WAS true in the past, I am starting to have a change in opinion.

    If this is the Lexus “Matrix”, the HS250h is the Corolla.

  • avatar

    Fail.  Lexus has lost its identity by trying to sell a product like this.
    The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will blow the doors off this thing in most categories, and not sully its brand image in the process.

  • avatar

    I know looks are subjective, but I can’t believe people are saying they like the very awkward HS250 better.

    I think the CT200 looks pretty good in comparison to that.

    It is too bad that Toyota didn’t put in the more powerful drivetrain, with the lighter weight it would have been quite peppy.

  • avatar

    $30k for that?!?  Puke.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Unlike some of the B&B here, I don’t have a problem with the appearance.  The question that this car begs is why the Prius powertrain, instead of the one from the HS 250?  I can’t imagine that there would have been a significant fuel economy difference between the two, so I’m guessing that the problem was a lack of room for the larger engine.
    Too bad.

  • avatar

    Though I am no engineer, I wanted to comment on the fuel consumption when comparing it to the Prius.  The weight is nearly the same, the drivetrain is the same, but the consumption is worse.  I’d be willing to bet that it is much less aerodynamic than the Prius.  It’s overall length is shorter, and it’s taller at the rear…

    • 0 avatar

      One more thing I noticed… a foot operated parking brake?  I mean, come on!  Lexus is usually way ahead of the pack on electronics, etc… why not an electric parking brake?

  • avatar

    I don’t get it… and I’m a wagon guy.  This isn’t any bigger, nicer or more comfortable than an A3, but costs just as much.

  • avatar

    We were all discussing the failed Cobra lawsuits…now this.
    If Mazda can’t say this is mearly an older, richer and middle aged 3 in it’s dinner jacket, nobody can win such a case.
    This is a 3 after the kids have left home. The effects of success and lack of exercise are showing.

    I was really, really hoping for better performance. I just want hatches to do well.

  • avatar

    A full-boat Prius runs $31,266, incl destination (but no sunroof). Unlike the base CT200h, you get leather and Nav for that price.

    This seems kind of like a Prius for people that don’t want the Prius stigma and don’t mind paying extra for Lexus prestige.

  • avatar

    Leave out the hybrid drivetrain, add a proper clutch. Price it at $22k, and I have the replacement for my 1st gen Scion xB.

  • avatar

    Gosh that looks like a Matrix from the side!

  • avatar

    I think it looks cool.  I saw one in Philadelphia, its a good size for around here.  I see it competing with the Audi 3, and the GTI – both very popular among urbanites around these parts. I prefer smallish hatchback cars.  I now own a Golf which will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.  This car will be on my short list.  I wonder how well it do up against a new GTi?

    • 0 avatar

      Same here, I’m looking at it as well… it’s a decent size, a step up from the generic Prius, decent fuel milage, and could possibly make a fun commuting vehicle. Comparing it to the GTI, i doubt it will handle better, nor quicker. There are companies, especially in Japan, who specialize in Prius tuning… since this is fairly similar, it will be interesting to see what comes up of it.
      Around July, Lexus had also copyrighted the names CT300h and CT400h. I’d be happy with the same style of wagon but with more power!

  • avatar

    Very few luxury buyers in the US care so much about having a hybrid drivetrain.  I honestly would prefer to NOT have one, and would go in the other direction.  When you compare products like the hybrid version of the Lexus (RX300 vs RX400h), the gain in mpg is negligible (Consumer reports said it would take 10 years to break even)  Never mind the cost in new batteries after 10 years. (more than replacing an engine)
    I like Lexus, they really changed the luxury game.  I’ll take a Lexus over the German offerings any day simply because I place a high value on reliability and quality.  I’ve seen firsthand European quality after the warranty runs out.  Lexus though needs to step it up in the passion department.

  • avatar

    “Naturally the forums will be alight with chatter proclaiming the CT200h to at last be “the real Lexus Prius,” but (as usual) the comments will be missing a few key details.”
    Nice preemptive dig at your reader audience.

  • avatar

    It seems like Lexus, with both the CT200h and HS250h , has taken a Toyota parts bin approach in building a ‘Luxury’ dedicated hybrid. Is it any wonder if they don’t succeed? They need to start from scratch and build a hybrid that is better than a Prius in every way….  Performance, MPG, and Luxury. When paying more than a Toyota, people expect better than a Toyota. Slap a Toyota badge on it and charge 25K and I might be interested.

  • avatar

    This car existence merely sets up a tier between “real” Lexuses (LS, SC, ES, GS) and 2nd tier Lexuses (HS, IS, CT), the same way “real” Mercedes owners (S, CL, E, SL, CLS) dislike 2nd tier Mercedes (A, B, C, SLK, Sprinter) and “real” Porsche owners (911) dislike 2nd tier Porsches (everything else).
    At least Hyundai knows what a real Lexus is…a Buick!

  • avatar

    Ugliest.  C-pillar.  Ever.

  • avatar

    Interesting that in the US official mpg numbers are lower than the Prius. In European specs CT has basically the same mpg as Prius.

  • avatar

    And the Lexus brand gets a bit more diluted.

  • avatar

    Like someone else mentioned above, if you want a hybrid hatchback, why not just get a Prius? The high zoot one is pretty much spec’ed like a Lexus anyway. Just like the HS, I suspect this thing’s sales will go mainly to buyers of larger Lexi “needing” a second car. One thing Lexus still has over other brands, is customers who can actually stomach their dealer, and might be loathe to go anywhere else.

  • avatar

    Am I the only person that’s getting confused by all alpha-numerical models? I will call it a ‘fancy Matrix hybrid’.
    It’s a hybrid, alright: a Matrix with IS snout, Prius motor and leather seats.
    BTW, what’s CT stands for?

  • avatar

    Is this Lexus’ lord of darkness and terror? All you need to do is add an “L” and you have “ct2looh”.

  • avatar

    those wondering about the difference in fuel economy between the CT and the Prius should look into the size of the battery in KWH . I believe they used a smaller lighter pack for packaging, and changed drive train mix/ between electric and gas

    just when the thinking is LARGER packs and smaller gas engines ,,, good timing

  • avatar

    ” Europeans are far more likely to accept a moderately prices cheap and cheerful small hatch with a nearly 10 second 0-60 time that is marketed as “sporty” ”

    I am not sure about that…

  • avatar

    A common error in the CT200h’s market analysis is that its competitors are Audi, BMW, & Volvo. That is not the case.

    Lexus wants to expand by bringing in customers new to luxury vehicles. That’s why this is the lowest priced Lexus. Lexus wants younger customers, which is why they are trying to look ‘green’ and are copying the Mazda3’s styling. These potential customers are mid-30s, like the styling, care about efficiency, want the versatility of a 5-door, and are considering moving up to something nicer because they can now afford it.

    So, here’s the $64k question: What are those potential customers considering buying? Answer: The Mazda3, Ford Focus, etc. How do I know? Because that’s me. I’m in the market to replace my Mazda, and the CT200h is certainly tempting (which is exactly what Lexus is going for–so I’ll give them props for that). However, the Mazda3 has better handling & faster acceleration, more interior space, and costs nearly ~$8k less. Also, the 2012 Mazda3 will have the SkyActiv engine, which Mazda is targeting to get 30/40/34 mpg city/hwy/combined. The 2011 Focus will be similar to the Mazda for performance, but it is tricked out with all the gadgets. (Plus, an all-electric Focus is rumored for lat 2011.) So, the CT200h has better efficiency & a smoother/quieter ride going for it (unless the electric Focus is a reality), but not much else, and that’s not worth an extra $8k.

    I’m still going to test drive the CT200h, and I expect that I will like it, but I really doubt I’ll buy it. And that is Lexus’ failure–I’m the guy they’re targeting, and they didn’t win me over.

  • avatar

    I may buy the CT200h, and I can tell you why. First, I think it’s beautiful…absolutely gorgeous. Locally, the CT200h is sold out. I may buy the car when production is back up in Japan. I think the car has been a hit, judging from sales. Second, people don’t seem to get that the fact that the Lincoln is bigger is not a plus. People like myself who are buying the CT are in fact looking for an urban (smaller) vehicle that gets great mileage. There are not many upscale cars that meet that requirement. Third, Lexus reliability is stellar (unlike Audi and BMW and even Mercedes…check the Audi A3 reliability record…it’s awful. It was so bad that I crossed it off my list w/o even looking at it.) Fourth, I don’t want leather…period. AND I want a comfy adjustable driver’s seat w/lumbar support. Are you getting the picture? There is simply nothing else on the market that meets these criteria. As far as peppiness, hybrids drive differently from non-hybrids. People who buy hybrids understand this and aren’t looking for peppy. I just need to speed up enough to merge into traffic on a hwy, etc. This is an urban high-mileage vehicle. As far as being an upscale Prius…maybe. I liked the Prius…but you can’t get non-leather with adjustable seats with lumbar support in a Prius (unbelievable but true). Next, I don’t want a sunroof/moonroof. You can get the CT without it, but with plenty of other bells & whistles. There’s simply nothing else on the market like this car. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. Some of you don’t like its appearance. When I saw it in person, I fell in love with it. I walked around the car 360 degress and thought it was gorgeous from every angle. As far as buying diesel, diesel is about 50 cents more a gallon where I live, and it’s not found at every station…and never at the convenience stores, where you might have to stop for gas in a pinch. Plus, there aren’t many diesel cars sold here. VW sells some, but VW doesn’t have a good reliability record. I guess that’s why the CT is selling like hotcakes here. It’s a beauty and fills a niche that otherwise is not being filled. And Lexus is one of the top manufacturers in reliability…Lexus quality is hard to beat.

  • avatar

    Honeycombe makes a number of points that I agree with. I want my next auto to be reliable, economical to run, pleasant to drive and be in and able to haul the occasional bulky item. My ideal vehicle would be a Hyundai Sonata wagon, but not such thing exists for the U.S. The i40 is not expected here. Too bad.

    My wife and I almost passed on driving the CT as she has had a few Prius rentals and really didn’t like them. But she did own an RX300 and along with her current 2006 Cayman S, it is the best auto she has owned. The CT would be my car for commuting. Doubling my mileage is welcome. The seating position is identical to my Boxster.

    Our current ’97 BMW 528 has been a money pit. One sports car and one sensible car (no trucks or half-trucks allowed) will be sufficient, and the CT strikes the right balance for us. It may take six months for the supply to return, but we are in no hurry.

    The Boxster, excellent car that it has been, and the BMW will go to make room for the hybrid runabout. I must be getting old. This may sound odd, but the only other vehicles we really liked were the Cadillac CTS SportWagon and the Hyundai Genesis Sedan.

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