Pros: Great fuel economy; high-quality interior; quiet operation; supportive front seats; least expensive way to own a new Lexus

Cons: Leisurely acceleration; cramped backseat; firm ride; not as sporty as Lexus claims

What's New: minor technology updates; park assist added; new colors for F Sport models

Introduction

The 2013 Lexus CT200h is a luxury hybrid hatchback that attempts to bridge the gap between stellar fuel economy and a sport-luxury driving experience. Does it succeed? Well, let's just say it's better with fuel economy than with sport-luxury.

Here's why: the CT is based on the same underlying platform used for the Toyota Matrix hatchback and the Toyota Corolla compact sedan. That platform doesn't give the CT the strongest foundation for a sporting luxury experience. But with the same gas-electric hybrid powertrain as the Toyota Prius, it does achieve stellar fuel economy, rated at 43 miles per gallon city/40 mpg highway. Incidentally, the CT is also the cheapest car in the Lexus lineup, so if joining the prestigious ranks of Lexus owners is on your bucket list, the CT200h could be your ticket in.

So as long as you don't care about track-ready handling or swift acceleration, the relatively affordable CT hits a sort of sweet spot in the green car market.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Lexus CT200h 4-door hatchback ($32,050) comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, leatherette upholstery, a power driver's seat, electroluminescent gauges, a trip computer, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6-speaker audio system with iPod and USB connectors.

Beyond that, the CT200h can be outfitted with several option packages: a Seat Comfort package ($600) with heated front seats and a power passenger seat; a Premium package ($1,125) that adds a 10-speaker audio system, 6-CD changer and an auto-dimming inside mirror; a Navigation package ($3,365) which contributes a hard drive-based navigation system with a power-retractable display screen, rearview camera and voice recognition software. The Lexus Enform telematics suite with Safety Connect also comes with the Navigation package (see Technology below). The Leather package ($1,330) adds leather upholstery, driver memory functions, auto-dimming side mirrors with auto-tilt in reverse and rain-sensing wipers. Finally, the F Sport package ($1,000) tacks on a sport-tuned suspension, different 17-in alloys and various sport-themed styling cues.

Lexus has given this hybrid a decidedly sporty interior vibe. The seat itself is low-slung and pleasantly snug, while the central control panel rises rakishly toward the dashboard in a cockpit-like fashion. The racy 3-spoke steering wheel (even sportier with the F Sport package) adds to the effect.

The quality of the materials is outstanding for this price point. Crisp electroluminescent gauges exude a similarly premium attitude. One memorable disappointment is that a manually adjustable passenger seat is standard. Yes, on a Lexus. The CT's backseat is also rather cramped. While the materials are nice, space is just as important to a luxury car as cushiness, and here the CT feels more like the compact cars with which it shares its mechanicals.

The CT200h model's battery pack is located beneath the load floor, which eats up some of its cargo capacity. Trunk space measures just 14.3 cu ft -- tiny for a hatchback -- while folding the rear seat backs down opens up a maximum of 32.3 cu ft. For reference, the Prius can swallow almost 40 cu ft of stuff despite carrying the same box of batteries.

Technology

As a luxury hybrid, the CT200h mostly has its technological bases covered. Between the hybrid-specific gauges and readouts and standard iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, the CT200h is loaded with techie stuff that gadget fans will surely appreciate. The news only gets better with the available hard drive-based navigation system, which operates via the Lexus company's unusual mouse-like controller and features a slick retractable display screen atop the dashboard. We'd like to see more sophisticated graphics on that screen, but the system's functionality is solid.

CT models with the Navigation package also have the Enform telematics system, which lets you plan trips and send destinations to your car from your home computer using a Lexus-exclusive online search called eDestination, or from your smartphone with the Enform mobile app. Or you can use Destination Assist, which provides live navigation assistance from Lexus's 24-hour response center, to get directions beamed to your car. Even cooler is the Enform app suite's new-for-2013 capability to integrate mobile apps like Pandora, Open Table or Yelp into the vehicle as well.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Like the Prius, the front-wheel drive CT200h is motivated by a team consisting of a 1.8-liter inline-4 and an electric motor supported by a nickel metal hydride battery pack with a total system output of 134 horsepower. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT). Not surprisingly, the CT200h is a slow car. The sporty driving position initially had us excited, but this Lexus just doesn't have enough power to compete with anything quicker than an economy hatchback.

Speaking of economy, the CT is very fuel-efficient, though it can't match Prius 50-miles-per-gallon levels of miserliness. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the CT at 43 mpg city/40 mpg highway.

Safety

The 2013 Lexus CT200h comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee and side curtain). All models feature Safety Connect, an emergency assistance program that uses the same 24-hour response center as the Enform system to get you the help you need.

The government had not crash tested the CT at the time this article was written, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the CT its highest rating of Good in every testing category.

Driving Impressions

The Lexus CT200h feels sporty until you start pushing the pace. When we attempted to hustle the CT along some winding roads, we were repeatedly slapped down by its intrusive, always-on stability control system, which seems calibrated to prevent even the slightest squeal from the tires. The F Sport package's sport-tuned suspension strikes us as pointless because it's got the same conservative stability control threshold, and it makes the CT's already firm ride even more so. On the bright side, road and wind noise are exceptionally well suppressed. It is a Lexus, after all.

Other Cars to Consider

Toyota Prius: Since it has the same powertrain, the cheaper Prius ($24,200) is a natural reference point. The Prius can also be outfitted quite luxuriously, and is also available with the Entune mobile app system, which is like Lexus' Enform system.

Volkswagen Golf TDI: We could have mentioned the Audi A3 TDI here, as it's the CT200h model's natural rival, but we're pointing you to the Golf TDI ($24,235) instead because it offers almost all the A3's goodness in a more affordable package. Either way, the excellent TDI turbodiesel engine outdoes the CT's hybrid system on the highway, though it's a no contest win for the Lexus in urban driving.

Honda CR-Z: Maybe we're reaching here, but the CR-Z ($19,975) could be an interesting alternative if you don't care about having a backseat. Its hybrid-powered fuel economy isn't quite as awesome as the CT's, but the 2-seat CR-Z makes up for it with sportier handling and a pretty cool interior of its own.

AutoTrader Recommends

We'd want the Navigation package in our CT200h, but we could definitely do without the Leather and F Sport packages. The CT200h with Navigation is a good middleground option.

What do you think of the new CT200h? Let us know in the comments below.

author photo

Steve Siler is a freelance automotive journalist and presenter based in Los Angeles, California. Known for his ability to make automotive subjects accessible to both enthusiast and non-enthusiast audiences, Siler has contributed to dozens of lifestyle and enthusiast publications, including The Robb Report, Automobile Magazine, Edmunds.com and Car and Driver Magazine.

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