2011 Lexus CT200h Review – First Drive

A truly European hybrid, the Lexus CT200h looks to grow Lexus overseas while growing the premium compact segment here at home

2011 Lexus CT200h Review – First Drive

Zipping along the tight and twisty rural roads of France or negotiating the maze of diesel puffing Peugeots in Paris it doesn’t seem to matter – my fuel economy that is. Regardless of the style of driving, the Lexus CT200h hatchback I’m behind the wheel of is registering just under 40-mpg, a few ticks short of the claimed 42-mpg average.


1. Using the 134-hp hybrid drivetrain borrowed from the Prius, the CT200h gets 42/41-mpg (city/hwy) for a 42-mpg average.

2. A 4-way hybrid drive selector lets you pick from EV, Eco, Normal and a Sport mode that delivers heightened throttle sensitivity and increased steering response.

3. Lexus will offer a F-Sport suspension upgrade to further enhance the CT’s handling.

4. Pricing has yet to be released but the CT200h will be close to the $30,000 mark.

That number might not sound as impressive as some, but it is. While most automakers brag about their highway mileage and omit the city number, the CT200h hybrid is proud of both with a 42-city and 41-mpg highway rating that averages out to 42-mpg. By comparison, that average number (which is the one that really counts) is 8-mpg ahead of the CT’s nearest competitor.

What might that be? Well, it’s the Audi A3 TDI, a uniquely European Audi that’s also offered here in the U.S. And while the CT will be sold in North America, targeted at cars like the A3, BMW 1 Series and Volvo C30, it’s destined for far greater success on the Continent where those other models make up a significant segment of the market.

Historically, hybrid models have had very little success in Europe, while their popularity has spiked here at home. The opposite is true of diesels. There’s an obvious irony here, as apart from major urban centers diesels make more sense in the U.S., while a hybrid powertrain seems best suited to European style driving.


So why haven’t hybrids caught on in Europe? For starters, European automakers have been reluctant to adopt the technology and consumers have been equally skittish about buying non-EU cars. But Lexus believes there’s a bigger reason, namely, that no one ever offered a hybrid for Europe. Sure, automakers, (including Lexus and parent company Toyota), have offered hybrids in Europe, but not for Europe.

And so Lexus crafted the CT200h, specifically tailored for European tastes, while exhibiting trademark Lexus quality, luxury and the company’s sophisticated hybrid drive.

So what exactly makes this a Euro-type car? For starters, it’s a hatchback, with five doors and a significantly-sized 14.3 cu.-ft. trunk. And of course, there’s a 60/40 folding rear seat assembly that allows for up to 34.8 cu.-ft. of room.

Next, it’s a premium small car. Traditionally, North American sensibilities have tended towards a philosophy that luxury means large, but over in Europe where space (not to mention fuel) is at a premium, they’ve learned to infuse luxury into smaller packages – and that’s just what the CT does.

As a result, it’s European in its approach to fuel consumption, although with a twist. Rather than opt for a loud diesel (say what you will about how improved modern diesels are, they still sounds like tractors compared to gasoline engines) they’ve fitted the same Hybrid Synergy Drive engine as found in the modern Toyota Prius under the hood. The result is 134-adequate horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 9.8 seconds. That’s hardly a stunning number, but we can’t harp on the car too much. After all, the A3 TDI is only a second faster to 60 mph – despite 236 ft-lbs of torque.


To get the most out of the hybrid setup, Lexus has built in four different drive modes that let you customize the driving experience: Sport, Eco, Normal and EV. Like the Prius, EV mode is essentially a gimmick – although it’s an important addition as it does make for reduced taxes in many parts of the world and it allows the car to skip or pay reduced inner city congestion charges in Europe. Eco mode is also similar to that in the Prius with retarded throttle sensitivity to ensure you’re using a light foot.

Switch to Sport mode and not only does the throttle sensitivity pick up, but a more direct steering program is also engaged. While the outright 0-60 mph time remains the same regardless of the mode you’re in (full power is always available at wide open throttle), once you’re already moving, the Sport mode delivers far more immediate acceleration. With 200 volts of power normally available, Sport mode pumps up to 650 volts, meaning that even slight throttle applications make a big difference. In many ways, this electric boost of power delivers the sort of high-torque feeling generated by diesel engines – something that is sure to be appealing to European buyers – and there’s certainly a feeling that you’ve got significantly more than 134-hp underfoot.

Helping make that 134-hp go a long way is a relatively low curb weight of just 3,130 lbs – a factor that also helps give the CT it’s nimble feel.

Switching between the modes is simple with a dial on the center stack, rather than the buttons in the Prius – although EV mode is still engaged via a button. And in case you can’t tell what mode you’re in (which would be hard as they are quite defined) the dash lights up blue in EV or ECO mode, while there’s a red glow in Sport mode. Plus, in Sport mode the hybrid “power” meter on the left side of the speedometer turns into a tachometer.

The obvious downside to this setup is that even though you get a more immediate throttle response, it’s still a CVT transmission. We‘d really like to see pre-programmed “gears” (like on the LS600h L) and paddle shifters – which are a must-have on a vehicle that’s marketed as the sporty side of Lexus. And while we’re asking, instead of the dial, how about a steering wheel mounted control switch for the hybrid modes so you can switch back and forth on the fly?


The CT maintains the serene driving experience we’ve come to expect from Lexus over the years, (even being an entry-level model), while delivering a more driver-focus experience than we expected. 

Like the Prius and the rest of the Toyota family of hybrids, switching from electric to gas power is seamless and most folks probably wouldn’t even notice it was a hybrid were it not for the badging and interior idiosyncrasies – like the joystick gear shifter.

In Sport mode, with the more direct steering engaged and a less-restrictive stability control program, it’s a rather enjoyable package when the road narrows and starts to twist and turn. With a MacPherson strut front suspension and double-wishbone rear, Lexus actually credits much of a car’s driving dynamics to a rigid chassis and two innovative strut bars – yes, strut bars. While a conventional bar connecting the strut towers will offer rigidity, it will also make for a less pleasant ride. Lexus engineers came up with a solution for this by building a strut brace with a shock in the middle of it that will dampen out much of the harshness of the more rigid structure while still maintaining its shape. As a result, the CT is solid while retaining the trademark Lexus comfort and smoothness.

In many ways it delivers a ride similar to that of the, albeit, more detached sixth-generation GTI, with a solid on-road feel, although again, without the power. In fact, for a front-drive Lexus there’s far less understeer than we anticipated, although it’s still present – with the weakest part of the handling package easily the low rolling resistance 215/45/17 tires.

Even the electric steering is good without the numb on-center feel prevalent in most EPS systems.

Adding to the driving experience is a lower center of gravity, and a cockpit that’s built to suit a driver. The seats are low in the car and nicely bolstered with a thick three-spoke steering wheel that looks lifted directly from the Lotus Evora.

Lexus even paid attention to the location of the pedals, which may sound inconsequential, but isn’t. In most other Toyota/Lexus products you step down on the pedals, whereas in the CT you press against them. Seemingly trivial traits like this are part of a concerted effort by Lexus to appeal to a younger and more enthusiastic driver and are some of the small ways in which Osamu Sadakata, Chief Engineer for the CT200h (and for all of Toyota) let his passion for driving (he owns a track-prepped Miata) flow though to this project.

Overall, its what you might call, (cliché alert) a very European driving experience.


In terms of design, the CT is arguably too conservative and could use some more hot-hatch aggression. The choice of colors does, however, make a big impact on how the car looks and while most folks with tend towards the silvers and grays, we love the Matador Red Mica, Starfire Pearl and even the new Daybreak Yellow Mica, which looks a bit mustardy when it’s overcast, but absolutely shines like gold in the sun.

Inside the cabin is elegant yet simple with the aforementioned seating position combined with the hybrid controls and gauges to give a high-tech sporty feel. The rear seat area is functional, although not quite what we’d call spacious.

Base models feature NuLuxe faux-leather that’s pretty close to the real thing and arguably feels more genuine than the real stuff used by some of the competition. And you don’t have to stick with NuLuxe just because you’re on a budget, as its available in a wider variety of colors (including a nice Caramel option), plus it’s made through a more environmentally responsible process that produces 65 percent less CO2.

A Leather Package includes high-grade perforated leather on the seats, a driver’s seat memory and heated front seats – although for some reason Lexus chose to make the heated seat operation a silly push out dial (like the audio controls on a 1990s Pontiac) rather than a more convenient button.

Other option packs include a Moonroof and premium audio system, while a rearview mirror backup camera can also be added. Better yet, get a real backup camera coupled with the Nav system that features the easy-to-use and ergonomically sound Remote Touch system that lets you hunt through menus with a mouse where you “feel” each item. Another stand-alone option is the Pre-Collision system with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control that lets you set the distance from the car ahead an will prep the brakes and tighten the seat belts if it detects a collision.

Dealer options will include an F-Sport suspension upgrade and an optional trim piece on the passenger side of the dash that can be ordered as metal, Ash Burl wood or Bamboo. That may sound trivial, but this one item really helps add a luxury feel to the interior.

Standard features on all CT200h models include full power items, Smart Access keyless entry and a push-button ignition, LED daytime running lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, iPod hookup and control, Bluetooth, use of eco plastics for dash and trunk areas and the OnStar-like Safety Connect system.

An with the focus on the safety record of Lexus as of late, we should point out the CT200h comes with eight airbags, stability and traction control, as well as Smart Stop – the name given to Toyota’s brake override feature.


With efficient packaging that’s also luxurious and high-tech, plus fuel economy that’s well-beyond best-in-class, about the only complaint one can have about the CT200h is a lack of power. In many ways it’s a testament to how good a car the CT is that we’d love to have 200-hp on command.

Having established that the CT200h is a perfect vehicle for the European market, where Lexus hopes it will double their sales; what about here?

In the U.S. Lexus doesn’t have any lofty ambitions for the CT, targeting just 12,000 units per year, but even those sales numbers will almost double the segment leading BMW 1 Series. And while the 1 Series isn’t really a competitor, with its performance-focused engines and rear-drive setup, there’s a lot more room for the CT in the U.S. market than you might think, offering a compelling alternative to popular urbanite transportation like the MINI Cooper and Smart car, with excellent fuel economy and a luxurious ride in a fashionable package.

Lexus has yet to release pricing, but the CT will cost less than the IS250, which will put it very close to its rival the A3 TDI.

With its long list of attractive traits, the CT should see a lot of first-time Lexus buyers, winning over the small Euro-car faithful with luxury, a sporty drive, impressive fuel economy and Japanese reliability, helping Lexus to secure itself as the leader in the emerging small premium segment. It’s not likely to be an overnight success, but the CT200h is looking down the road, with a hybrid that’s kind to the planet and a business case that’s good for the future of the brand.


2010 Audi A3 TDI Review
2Audi A3 2.0T
2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI: First Drive
2010 Volkswagen GTI: First Drive
2010 Honda Insight
2010 Toyota Prius III Review
2010 Volvo C30 R-Design Review
2009 MINI Cooper Clubman Review

  • JC

    I love mine!

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked