The 2014 Lexus CT 200h is an attempt to bridge the gap between stellar fuel economy and a sport-luxury driving experience. Typically, you have to choose one or the other. There are plenty of fuel-sippers humming around these days. And, of course, there's never a shortage of premium cars with agile handling. But if you want all of the above in a single set of wheels, Lexus says the CT 200h just might be the only game in town.

Getting down to brass tacks, the CT's front-wheel-drive platform isn't an obvious choice for a performance car, as it's derived from the previous-generation Toyota Corolla. Also, the CT is powered by the same gas-electric hybrid powerplant as the Toyota Prius, which means it has 134 horsepower and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) -- not exactly the stuff dreams are made of.

But as long as you don't care about track-ready reflexes or swift acceleration, the CT could very well hit the spot. It has stellar interior quality along with hatchback versatility, and although 43 miles per gallon in the city isn't Prius-perfect, it's nothing to sneeze at either. Plus, this is the most affordable car in Lexus' lineup. Depending on your priorities, the 2014 Lexus CT 200h might end up being the perfect mix.

What's New for 2014?

The CT 200h gets a few notable exterior changes, including a shark-fin antenna, LED running lights and a new front fascia with the signature Lexus spindle grille. The F SPORT model also receives a contrasting black roof and a more aggressive spoiler. Inside, the Remote Touch Interface infotainment system upgrades to next-generation software and hardware, while the sun visors now slide for better sun protection.

What We Like

Great fuel economy; handy hatchback; high-quality interior; quiet at speed; supportive front seats

What We Don't

Leisurely acceleration; cramped back seat; firm ride; not that sporty

How Much?

$32,945-$34,125

Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive CT 200h is motivated by a team consisting of a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor supported by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Total system power is 134 hp. If these details seem familiar, well, they are: The Prius uses the same system. As in the Prius, the transmission is a CVT.

The Environmental Protection Agency's fuel economy estimates stand at 43 mpg city/40 mpg highway, which is very impressive for a luxury car.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Lexus CT 200h is offered in two trim levels: base and F SPORT.

The base CT 200h ($32,945) starts with 17-inch alloy wheels, Nuluxe synthetic leather upholstery that's supposedly manufactured in an environmentally friendly fashion, a power driver seat with adjustable lumbar support, a manual passenger seat, electroluminescent gauges with a hybrid status monitor, a trip computer, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth and a 6-speaker audio system with iPod/USB connectivity.

The F SPORT ($34,125) adds unique 17-in wheels, exterior trim (including a mesh grille, a blacked-out roof and a rear spoiler), a sport-tuned suspension, a black headliner, aluminum pedals, silver dashboard trim and an F SPORT steering wheel. Note that the F SPORT with Leather model is essentially an F SPORT with the Premium and Luxury packages (see below).

Options on the CT are mainly grouped into packages. The Premium package adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats, a power passenger seat and a universal garage door opener. The Luxury package adds perforated leather upholstery, driver memory functions and auto-dimming exterior mirrors (with automatic reverse tilt-down).

The Navigation package brings a navigation system with a 7-in display, the mouselike Remote Touch interface, Lexus Enform mobile-app integration (including Facebook, Pandora and Yelp), advanced voice recognition, a backup camera and a 10-speaker premium audio system. The Display Audio package is a cheaper version of this bundle for those who can live without navigation.

A la carte options include LED headlights, a self-parking system and adaptive cruise control with radar-based collision mitigation.

Thanks in part to the battery pack located beneath the load floor, the CT 200h doesn't have much in the way of cargo capacity. Trunk space measures just 14.3 cu ft, which is tiny for a hatchback, while folding the rear seat backs down opens up a maximum of 32.3 cu ft. Still, the option to fold those seat backs makes the CT 200h handier than any sedan if you're on hauling duty.

Safety

The 2014 Lexus CT 200h comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain). The optional adaptive cruise control system includes a collision mitigation system with automatic braking capability.

The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the CT its highest rating of Good in every crash-test category.

Behind the Wheel

Plop down in the CT 200h's driver seat and we think you'll agree that 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 cockpitlike fashion. The racy 3-spoke steering wheel (even sportier with the F SPORT package) adds to the effect.

As you'd expect of a luxury hybrid, the CT 200h mostly has its technological bases covered. In addition to all the hybrid-specific gauges and readouts, the CT boasts an available hard-drive-based navigation system, which operates via Lexus' unusual mouselike controller and features a slick retractable display screen atop the dashboard.

We've poked and prodded everything the CT's cabin has to offer, and we can report that the quality of the materials is outstanding for this price point. The crisp electroluminescent gauges exude a similarly premium attitude. The only memorable disappointment is the standard manually adjustable passenger seat, which seems out of place in a luxury vehicle.

Actually, there's a second memorable disappointment: the CT's tight back seat. Because the CT 200h is a Lexus, it's easy to forget that it's roughly the size of a Ford Focus, with similarly cramped rear quarters. If a 6-footer's behind the wheel, it'll be tough to squeeze an adult in back with any semblance of comfort.

Under the hood, the CT 200h doesn't have the oomph that many luxury shoppers expect. Unless you find the Prius to be a thrill ride, you'll likely be underwhelmed by the 134-hp CT's ponderous acceleration. The CVT isn't particularly responsive, either. Of course, you can't argue with 43 mpg city/40 mpg hwy. If that's a priority, the CT is more or less peerless among premium vehicles.

On the road, the CT's sporty driving position instills confidence, but this Lexus prefers to maintain a moderate pace. When we attempted to hustle it along some winding roads, we were repeatedly slapped down by the 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 adds firmness, but you can't fully exploit its capabilities due to the conservative stability-control threshold. On the bright side, road and wind noise are exceptionally well-suppressed.

Other Cars to Consider

Toyota Prius -- Equipped with the same powertrain as the CT, the cheaper, more spacious Prius is a natural reference point.

Volkswagen Golf TDI -- Whether you get the Mk6 2014 Golf or the redesigned Mk7 2015 Golf, the TDI version delivers great fuel economy along with torque-rich driving performance.

Honda CR-Z -- Maybe we're reaching here, but the CR-Z could be an interesting alternative if you don't care about having a back seat. 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's Advice

We'd want the Navigation package in our CT 200h, but we could definitely do without the Leather and F SPORT packages. The CT 200h with Navigation is a good middle-ground option.

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