2014 Lexus CT 200h Introduction

The Lexus CT 200h is a five-door hatchback powered by a hybrid gas-electric powertrain taken from the Toyota Prius. The CT 200h is 6 inches shorter than the Prius, or about the same overall length as the Audi A3 wagon. 2014 is the third year for the CT, now poised to claim a bigger presence, on its striking new face with the Lexus family spindle grille.

You do not plug this car in, you fill the tank with gas. It's propelled at times by both the electric motor and its four-cylinder engine, but at very low speeds it can run in electric-only mode for very short periods of time. The CT 200h achieves an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 43/40 mpg City/Highway.

The Lexus CT 200h F Sport has slightly firmer springs, but its sports appeal is mainly aesthetic: black leather, racy 17-inch alloy wheels, mesh grilles, big rear spoiler, aluminum pedals, perforated leather steering wheel, titanium-gray metal instrument panel trim, and F Sport badging.

Born of a hatchback, the CT 200h looks like no other Lexus, from the sides and rear. The shape of the CT 200h looks more European than Japanese, and its profile from all angles is very similar to that of the Audi A3. The design was determined largely by wind tunnel testing, and the coefficient of drag is a low 0.29 Cd. The Lexus CT makes boxy look stylish, with smooth and flowing lines, from the contours on the hood up to the long roofline and straight back to the spoiler with a little lip over the muscular liftgate. The details of the design, trim and wheels are flawless.

For 2014, the CT gets the Lexus spindle grille. Designers make this grille different with every car, and the CT version is fairly quiet compared to the visually loud Lexus GX 460 SUV. On the CT the striking spindle outline is chrome, but it's black mesh not chrome bars. LED daytime running lights are new for 2014. There's also a new rear bumper design with a larger rear spoiler, aero fins, and a shark-fin antenna. And every 2014 CT gets a scratch-resistant clearcoat on the sheetmetal.

Inside, the cabin is cozy with a comfortable driver's seat. Everything is easy to reach. Rear-seat legroom is tight. Cargo space is about the same as a compact sedan, smallish for a hatch. The view rearward is restricted, so we recommend the optional rearview camera that comes with the navigation system, that's now on a thinner screen with upgraded touch-interface. In the audio department, the speaker system is improved in both the 6-speaker base and 10-speaker premium systems. The next-gen multimedia system includes HD Radio and real-time traffic and weather.

More interior tweaks for 2014 include the flat-bottom steering wheel redesigned for better feel, a new leather shift knob and sliding sun visors , and metallic interior ornamentation, with more choices in color and trim.

With the Prius powertrain, the CT 200h makes 98 horsepower from the 1.8-liter Atkinson Cycle gas engine and 80 hp 60 (kW) from the motor/generator, for a total of 134 hp, not much. Its 0-60 mph acceleration time of 9.8 seconds is the same lethargic pace as that of the Prius. It corners so well that a driver might be lured into treating the car in a sporty manner, but the small engine and electronically controlled continuously variable transmission cannot respond to that urge. The CT has four driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. Don't count on going anywhere in EV, the all-electric mode: We couldn't cross the street from the bank to the grocery store in EV mode. It's EPA-rated at 42 mpg Combined, and we got 38 mpg while not exactly striving to drive green.

We were surprised and delighted to discover the CT 200h handles so well, and the F Sport goes even better. In any CT 200h model, the cornering is spirited and secure. This Lexus has impressive balance, with a low center of gravity and centralized moment of inertia (the spin-out factor). The chassis offers high torsional rigidity, using a double-wishbone rear suspension, and sophisticated performance dampers.

Ride quality is very good. We drove hard over a section of road with a lot of lumpy tar patches, and our Lexus took them in stride. The CT 200h is very maneuverable, able to make a U-turn in just 34.2 feet. The brakes are firm, too. It's very quiet inside the cabin at freeway speeds.

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