2014 Lexus CT 200h Walk Around

Lexus CT's five-door design might be seen as a long hatchback or a small wagon. Its overall length is about the same as the Audi A3 wagon, and its profile is similar.

The new family nose for 2014 changes its image, moving it more upscale. The bottom corners of the spindle shape are wider than before, and the pinch point is lower, to add stance. The spindle grille works on the CT, especially on the F Sport model hiding the front bumper behind uninterrupted black mesh. A Lexus badge lives inside the dark grille that pushes forward to create a powerful, more three-dimensional form, according to Lexus. So you might say that the CT has a 3D face.

The CT's lines are both smooth and edgy, from the contours on the hood to the tidy shoulders, up to the long low roofline and straight back to a larger spoiler over the muscular liftgate. It extends from the top of the C-pillar, which matches the shape of the spindle grille, only it's vertical. A sharkfin antenna completes the stylish effect.

The coefficient of drag is a low 0.29, with much of the aero design 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.

Other excellent details include beautiful new 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, sharp headlamps with single halogen or twin LED low beams, LED daytime running lights, aerodynamic sideview mirrors, tidy chrome outline around the windows, black B-pillar to blend with tinted glass, body-colored door handles, wide rear door openings, and LED taillights.

A new bumper design emphasizes the horizontal structure at the rear, with dark gray fascia shaped for stance, and trapezoidal red reflectors inlayed into the corners, for pizzazz.

The CT 200h comes in six colors including the new Redline. A black roof is available with any color. Each car gets a final spray over the paint, with a scratch-resistant, self-restoring top coat. We like the sound of that.

The F Sport has a way better looking spindle grille, all black mesh, a bigger and cooler rear spoiler, and hot 10-spoke wheels. White Nova is an exclusive color.

Interior

First time we got in the Lexus CT, 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 driving a forklift or UPS truck, although at least their beeps are for the safety of others, not to remind the driver he's going backwards as if he couldn't figure it out for himself. Those beeps are dangerous, because they're distracting, and sharp focus is needed while backing up.

We found the cockpit cozy and snug, which is the opposite of airy and spacious. The flat-bottomed steering wheel with controls is new in 2014, but a tall driver's knees will rub when climbing in and out, and his right knee is crowded against the center stack tunnel. The seat slides way back. There's only 32.8 inches of legroom in the rear, so be careful of your rear-seat passenger's toes when you slide the driver's seat back.

The batteries live behind the back seat and under the cargo compartment, and raise the floor just a bit. The cargo area is high and small, with only 26.2 inches from floor to roof. A horizontal 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.

Lexus says that more than 94 changes were made to the 2014 model, in order to reduce vibration and harshness, and to make the cabin super quiet, as opposed to just very quiet, which it already was at 75 mph with the hybrid powertrain. For example, a new inlet duct design for the engine is both more efficient and quieter.

The center stack angles downward from the dash to the console, to make the controls easier to reach, and we appreciate it. The switchgear has an improved metallic film finish. The forward ends of door pockets are slim, while the back part is shaped for a bottle. The doors have good armrests and grab handles. Visibility in the rearview mirror is pinched by the liftgate window, rear headrests, and wiper blade.

You can get real leather if you need it, in black, gray or the new perforated Flaxen, but we like the standard NuLuxe; nobody will notice it's not leather, not even you after a while, and it's less expensive while being friendlier to the environment. It comes in Black, Ecru (gray), Caramel, Flaxen and the new Parchment. Interior trim can be matte wood, silver metallic, bamboo, or the new Shimamoku, a gray striped wood. Much of the plastic on the CT 200h is vegetable based, keeps the car green.

The eco-driving information is simple, without any attempt to be cute or entertaining with leaves or other distractions. 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 Lexus Display Audio (LDA) and Electro Multi Vision/Navigation (EMV/N) multimedia system is made more user-friendly in the areas of hands-free, voice recognition, and console controller, the second generation Remote Touch Interface (RTI). The Optitron instrument panel is now available with a 4.2-inch TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screen which may be linked to the multimedia and navigation system and controlled at the steering wheel. This next generation multimedia system includes HD Radio, traffic and weather, Bluetooth 3.0 and two USB ports.

The sound quality of the Lexus audio systems, both standard six-speaker and premium 10-speaker, has been enhanced by the world's first bamboo loudspeaker technology. Bamboo fiber, plant opal and charcoal are combined in an injection molding process to create the industry's thinnest loudspeaker diagram.

The shift lever with a new leather wrap is located high, suggesting that shifting gears is not a high priority in this car. More on that later.

The F Sport interior is all its own, with upgraded upholstery including synthetic leather side bolsters and headrests, fabric center panels, enhanced stitching and a new Slate Grey color and Wedge Metal trim. Full leather is available in Black or Dark Rose.

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