2013 Lexus CT200h Walk Around

The Lexus CT 200h looks like no other Lexus. Some would call this five-door a long hatchback, but it's more like a small wagon. Its overall length is about the same as the Audi A3 wagon, and its profile from all angles is very similar. Its shape looks more European than Japanese.

It's quite an attractive car, with smooth and flowing lines, from the contours on the hood to the tidy shoulders, up to the long low roofline and straight back to the spoiler with a cool little lip over the muscular liftgate. The radio antenna adds to the coolness by being located there, rear center. It says Hybrid on the side, in discreet but clear chrome letters.

The only Lexus badge is in front, inside the dark grille pushed forward of the headlamps. Lexus describes the nose much more vividly than we might: The grille incorporates a deeper, more sculpted interpretation of the L-finesse signature arrowhead motif, they say. Together the upper and lower air openings suggest the spindle grille that has recently become a Lexus hallmark; but while on other models the shape is more explicit, on the CT200h it remains a suggestion, still bisected by a conventional bumper.

The coefficient of drag is a low 0.29, as much of the aero design was decided by wind tunnel testing, a program called Computational Fluid Dynamics. More attention to detail: there are no less than nine tweaks under the car, to smooth the airflow.

The details are superb. Handsome 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, impressive headlights either with single halogen or twin LED low beams, LED DRLs, black lower airdam, tidy foglights, compact aerodynamic sideview mirrors, a neat chrome outline around the windows, black B-pillar to blend with tinted glass, body-colored door handles, wide rear door openings, LED taillights with horizontal red brake-light stripes that curve around the edge of the car and up. That touch is unique, along with the C-pillar that defines the wagon part, wide at the top and bottom, a sort of distorted hourglass shape.

Interior

First time we got in the car, we were greeted with a task that had nothing to do with getting where we were going. A message said: “You have a new Lexus Insider article,” and there was a choice to make: “Read it now, remind me later.” We looked for the option that said: I don't care, ever, just go away and stop asking me to do things before I even leave my driveway. But no such luck.

We wanted to shoot the dinging bell that told us we were in reverse, as if we were a forklift or UPS truck, worse, because those heavy-equipment warnings are understandable for the safety of others, not for the driver whom Lexus must presume is brainless. The dinging warning is actually a hazard, not a safety feature, because it interrupts the driver's concentration at a time when he or she needs it: backing up.

If Lexus wants to make reverse safer, they should relocate the lens for the backup camera so it's not blurred by wet weather. If Kia can do it with the Soul that's half the price of the CT 200h, then Lexus should be able to. We were testing a Soul at the same time, and the backup camera's view was clear.

Lexus calls the cockpit airy and spacious, but we'd call it cozy and snug. The steering wheel is a bit flat-bottomed, giving slightly more knee room when climbing in and out, and the driver's seat slides way back, although the driver's right knee is crowded against the center stack tunnel. There's only 32.8 inches of legroom in the rear, so be careful of passengers' toes when you slide the driver's seat back.

The center stack angles downward from the dash to the console, to make the controls easier to reach, and we appreciate it. The CT 200h F Sport we drove had a plastic cellphone holder near the shift lever, which restricted hand access to the two small dials for the heated front seats. It was a clear afterthought because of this awkward location, which seems un-Lexus-like. However, it appears that the problem only exists on models with the optional navigation system, as the cellphone slot is in a different place as standard equipment. Models without navigation use a thinner center console with cupholders fore and aft rather than side-by-side. The forward ends of door pockets are slim, while the back part is shaped for a bottle. Good armrests with good grab handles on the doors.

There's a T-handle shift lever, located up high where an airplane joystick might be. Lexus calls it highly tactile, but we'd just call it big. Maybe it's evidence that the car is not highly focused on shifting gears.

Visibility in the rearview mirror is pinched. Rounded edges around the liftgate window, rear headrests rising into the picture, even the wiper blade, all restrict the view.

You can get real leather if you need it, in black or gray, but standard equipment is a Lexus material we like called NuLuxe, which is cheaper and friendlier to the environment, and nobody will notice it's not leather, not even you after a while. It comes in Black, Ecru (gray) or Caramel. Interior trim can be matte wood, silver metallic or bamboo. Still thinking of the environment, much of the plastic on the CT 200h is vegetable based.

The eco-driving information is simple, without any attempt to be cute or entertaining; that is, no leaves or other dumb distracting stuff. EV, Eco, Normal or Power mode are indicated; fuel mileage at three different starting times; and battery status, when it's charging and when it's drawing.

The 40GB navigation system uses an eight-inch popup screen, its functions controlled with a mouse-like thing called Remote Touch that's easy to use, with good ergonomics. The system includes many music storing options and voice recognition in three languages.

The batteries live behind the back seat and under the cargo compartment, and probably raise the floor just a bit. The cargo area is high and small, with only 26.2 inches from floor to roof. The double wishbone rear suspension increases the cargo volume to the sides a bit, in the absence of strut towers. There's 14.3 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seat, about the size of the trunk in a compact sedan, but a lot less than the 19.5 cubic feet the Audi A3 manages to find. Lexus stats don't include how much space is gained when the rear seat is dropped flat.

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