Not quite a Prius, but is it F-Sport material?
One of the most affordable ways to get into a hybrid electric vehicle (referred to by Lexus as a “hybrid luxury sportback”) that doesn’t happen to be a Toyota Prius.
The 2013 Lexus CT200h F-Sport occupies an interesting position in the model lineup. It is the most affordable way to get into the Lexus family by some margin – the next closest car up is six thousand dollars more. It is also one of the most affordable ways to get into a hybrid electric vehicle (referred to by Lexus as a “hybrid luxury sportback”) that doesn’t happen to be a Toyota Prius. The CT200h exists, seemingly to mold itself into the young urban professional lifestyle: somebody who cares about their outward image, while the environmentally-conscious chip on their shoulder looks on. The commercials produced by Lexus Canada even suggest so: a young and stylish couple bouncing to and from high-class parties in the bustling city.
We recently tested the new Acura ILX Hybrid – currently the closest competitor to the CT200h. It is also an entry-level luxury hybrid possessing almost-similar dimensions, except it shares the body and styling of its gasoline-only brothers. This can be seen as a good or bad thing: some prefer the ability to discreetly blend in with the crowd, where others may prefer their hybrids to make a bolder statement. The CT200h, while it shares a similar platform to its cousin, the Prius, makes enough changes to stand out and command the usual Lexus premium. It is easy to see the function-first design philosophy in the Prius, which contrasts with the sleeker, more attractive CT200h. The aggressive kick-up in the sill just behind the rear doors is good evidence of this.
Visibility in general is somewhat restricted compared to the Prius but the large wing mirrors help you see the world around you. The interior is styled more like a sports car than a fuel-sipping hypermiler. Instead of a basic bar-graph indicating throttle position mounted right up top and centre, the instrument cluster is more traditional with easy-to-read high-resolution gauges and more technical information than what the Prius offers (a tachometer, for starters).
I drove the F-Sport version of the CT200h, with an as-tested price of $37,400. This option package adds performance-oriented goodies such as an upgraded thick-rim steering wheel, F-Sport specific 17” wheels, more aggressive front and rear bumper design, unique F-Sport leather seats (well bolstered, by the way), and aluminum sport pedals for that high-tech look. More importantly to enthusiasts like myself, the dampers in the suspension are retuned for better performance. The CT200h also features a more advanced suspension layout for the rear axle by way of a double-wishbone configuration that ensures good body and wheel control, as well as good ride quality over rougher road surfaces. In the week I had the car, I found overall handling to be very good – the CT200h feels very nimble and very suitable for the cut-and-thrust rush of urban traffic in the downtown core. Turn-in, specifically, is fantastic with “right now!” reaction when you turn the wheel.
The CT200h is powered by the same 1.8L Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and battery combination that powers the Prius. It also puts out a respectable combined 134hp. Rated at 4.5L/100km in the city, 4.8L/100km on the highway, and 4.6L/100km in a combined cycle, the numbers are higher than what the Prius manages. This is attributed to the additional weight that makes up all the luxury features that Lexus specifies, and a different calibration for the hybrid-electric powertrain. Having driven the Prius a few weeks prior, I can definitely feel the added weight which makes for a somewhat slower launch in battery-only “EV mode” from a stop. I also found myself dipping more into the “Power” section of the powertrain to stay ahead of urban traffic, negatively affecting fuel efficiency. One feature added by Lexus is the Drive Mode Select knob prominently featured in the centre console.
The added Sport mode on the CT recalibrates throttle response, power steering assist, changes one of the gauges to a tachometer setup (with red accent lighting), and makes for a much more eager powertrain in general. I spent time in the Eco mode when cruising the streets, and Sport mode for more enthusiastic driving. The difference between all three modes is fairly significant. Over about 500km of mixed city and highway driving, I was able to extract an average of 5.0L/100km – impressive but almost 1L/100km higher than what I managed in the Prius. I wasn’t exactly aiming to employ drastic hypermiling techniques all week in the CT200h – this isn’t a car you drive to extract the most from your hard-earned regular-grade fuel.
My particular CT200h F-Sport tester wasn’t fully loaded to the gills. It was missing Lexus’ navigation system and their somewhat polarizing remote touch interface. I’m in the camp that likes the mouse-like system that lets you access commonly-used items as well as the navigation interface. All week, I had to make do with deep menu layouts and lots of voice commands. The voice command input itself is fairly intuitive, but whenever you need to make any sort of configuration change, you end up having to listen to a lot of robotic speech dialogues. And then, you have to say “Confirm!” quite a bit before the car will accept your inputs. Call me a luddite, but I like deep menu layouts, at least when you have a screen handy to display it all.
Another thing this car lacked was the full LED headlighting system. I believe upgraded lighting always makes cars safer, and Lexus really does give you a lot if you choose to tick that option box. The standard halogen projector setup is substituted for full LEDs in the low-beam position. What stuck out to me is the row of LEDs that serve as the daytime-running-lights. In standard cars, the strip of LEDs is broken by the halogen projector. In upgraded cars, the strip of LEDs is continuous, leading to a much cleaner appearance overall.
One interesting thing discovered on a short road-trip is: there are no rear cupholders! I looked in the door pockets, in the back of the centre console (sometimes they pop out), and there’s no centre armrest in the rear seatback. Looking around on some CT200H-specific forums on the internet confirmed my findings. Maybe it is less of a deal in Japan and Europe where they don’t have Tim Hortons, but here in North America, one needs to have somewhere to put their coffee (or Big Gulp for those south of the border)!
The high-quality interior, stylish exterior, tidy size, and practical hatchback (don’t call it a wagon) configuration make it an easy car for many people to live with. The enthusiastic handling is also a bonus. The fact that the Lexus CT200h F-Sport combines many positive attributes while returning excellent overall fuel economy makes it an attractive proposition.
2013 Lexus CT200h F-Sport Gallery