Wearing the F Sport badge while rocking the same powertrain as a Prius gives the Lexus CT 200h a mixed bag of credentials to say the least. The concept of a “performance hybrid” is still regarded as more of an oxymoron than anything else, and for good reason.
But is the CT 200h really trying to posture itself as a sporty hybrid hatchback?
Consider the raw numbers. As mentioned above the 200h uses the same 134hp hybrid system found in the Prius. Each car reaches 60mph in 9.8 seconds. Those aren’t the sort of numbers that will throw Doc Brown back in his seat and leave a set of flaming tire marks on the ground.
Without digging much deeper it’s safe to say Lexus wasn’t very concerned with blowing the doors off a Volkswagen GTI or Subaru Impreza hatchback. In fact those cars aren’t even on the 200h’s radar. At its core Lexus is a luxury brand.
Starting at just under $30,000 the CT 200h is aimed at the burgeoning entry-level luxury market. With 43mpg city, 40mpg highway (only 8mpg less combined than the Prius) it boasts the best fuel economy in the segment.
Impressive as those numbers are they run the risk of losing their luster when compared to the 200h’s real competition: Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volvo C30. None of these cars come close to matching the 200h’s fuel economy but all will run circles around it any day of the week.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a healthy degree of fun to be had in the 200h. Using the same double A-arms found in the HS 250h, the suspension was retuned for sportier driving with a Yamaha front and rear damping system that firms up ride quality and reduces body vibration.
An optional F Sport package includes a tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels, mesh grill, larger rear spoiler, aluminum sport pedals and F Sport badging that insists sporty hybrids are sports cars too.
The first time I sat behind the wheel of the 200h, before pushing the start button to hear the soft hum of hybrid power, it gave every impression of being a car that was destined to have 300hp at the front wheels and an aggressive suspension to do battle with an Impreza STI – gas mileage be-damned.
In the driver’s seat the cabin fits like a glove. The steering wheel has the feel of a meaty performance car, the well-bolstered seats hold you snug in place. Switching to Sport mode cranks up the RPM’s, tightens steering response and increases battery thrust from 500 to 600 volts. The stability and traction control back off to allow for a bit more reckless abandon here and there.
When kept in Sport mode the car’s unimpressive power is far less noticeable, especially around town where there’s not enough room to wait for the Prius-esque acceleration to rear its eco-friendly head on a long freeway onramp.
That said, even when mashing the accelerator to the floor like a burning bag left on a front porch it’s hard to manage much less than 35mpg.
Handling is a mixture of what you should expect from a Lexus combined with hints of Toyota. It gets the job done in style and lives up to luxury segment standards but isn’t set up to handle any more fun than the synergy drive can muster.
By hybrid standards the 200h is by all means near the top the fun factor list. The closest comparable rival could be the 2012 Honda CR-Z hybrid. Then again, nether car is going to completely satisfy an enthusiast who doesn’t want to compromise performance for fuel efficiency.
Those who are willing to spend a bit more time at the pump in exchange for more jollies behind the wheel should look to the Audi A3 TDI, another fuel-efficient entry level luxury car starting at close to $30,000. The A3 bests the Lexus with 140hp and 236 ft-lb of torque.
On the comparative downside the A3 only manages 30mpg city, 42mpg highway for a combined estimate of 34mpg, or about the worst you can expect to get out of the 200h.
There lies the rub. In the entry-level luxury market buyers who want performance versus outstanding gas mileage would be better suited to look towards the cars mentioned above to quench their sports car needs.
Drawing on Lexus F-Sport and Prius DNA, the CT 200h deserves a serious look for anyone who wants best in class fuel economy and just enough thrills to keep themselves entertained during a week’s commute.
In the end, regardless of how much sport the F-Sport badge can exude from the 200h, most people still buy a hybrid to save gas and the planet, not because their supposed to be fun to drive.
Looking at it that way the 200h goes above and beyond the call of duty. That’s what a luxury car is supposed to do.
Lexus CT 200h slideshow: http://tinyurl.com/6wq6oea