With fuel prices once again soaring in much of America, the long-in-tooth Lexus CT 200h just might be one of the most relevant entry-level luxury models available today. Only Audi’s more advanced plug-in A3 e-tron can give it a run for its money regarding fuel economy, although the German is initially $7,255 more expensive than the $32,245 CT. Then again, you can get much of that $7k back through government greenification incentives, which the non-plug-in Lexus unfortunately doesn’t qualify for.
Updated just a few years ago, the CT remains fairly fresh looking thanks to Lexus’ new spindle grille and aggressive frontal body cladding, while its profile and sporty five-door body style has always been good looking.
It uses an older generation Lexus Hybrid Drive powertrain, incorporating a 134 horsepower 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine for driving the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while a proven (a.k.a. old-school) Ni-MH battery pack powers an electric motor that more often than not is used to assist the gasoline engine in true hybrid form, although the CT can drive under pure EV power for very short distances at extremely low speeds (bumper-to-bumper traffic, parking lots, etc). If the power unit sounds familiar, it’s identical to that used in the previous Toyota Prius, and like that old Prius the CT delivers superb claimed fuel economy at 43 mpg city, 40 highway and 42 combined.
While the drivetrain is pulled from the old Prius, the platform architecture is sourced from Toyota’s global compact car line, which made sure a fully independent suspension lived up to Lexus’ handling and ride quality standards. Its road holding is even more engaging in as-tested F Sport trim.
Normally right about now I’d go into changes made to last year’s model that affect the current version, plus a few comments about new and carryover features known for the upcoming model year, but alas the CT 200h car has been cancelled for 2018, so therefore the cars your local dealers have on their lots will be all you can get.
The car in these photos is a full load CT 200h F Sport, which means its feature set includes the more aggressive grille with integrated LED headlights and LED fog lamps, the larger 17-inch F Sport rims on 215/45 rubber (the base model comes on 16s), a sport suspension, and a bigger rear rooftop spoiler, while also adding metal treadplates, a unique F Sport steering wheel, metal-look inlays, aluminum sport pedals, a conventionally sized power moonroof overhead, and an infotainment display atop the dash that connects to a rotating controller on the lower console.
Seriously, you can still get a CT 200h with a narrow one-inch-tall black-on-green monochromatic dot matrix-style display (or at least you could), so if you’re vehemently opposed to all things modern this car in base trim is your retro ride. Additional features found in my top-tier tester include a bigger backup camera no longer housed within the rearview mirror, navigation, voice activation, 10-speaker audio, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, a garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, and more.
My tester came in new Atomic Silver paint, while strangely all colors include a black painted rooftop panel, and by that I’m not referring to the pillars or roof’s top edges, but rather a shiny black center section the continues into the rear spoiler. It looks nice and sporty, but it makes it appear as if the roof is made from a large piece of glass, which is kind of a letdown when seeing the aforementioned moonroof from below.
I suppose this takes us inside, where the CT 200h F Sport remains a well-made compact hatch that certainly appears more modern with the previously noted infotainment display atop the dash. Lexus applies most of the expected soft touch surfaces, some even finished in stitched leatherette, and the aluminum trim is attractive and quite fitting for this sportiest model, but even in this top-line trim the otherwise bright and colorful analog gauge cluster is missing a modern multi-information display, instead making do with a tiny monochromatic trip computer, whereas the rightmost steering wheel spoke is mostly devoid of switchgear thanks to cruise control functions still mounted in behind on a classic stalk, and, well, you get the idea. The controls for the infotainment system are pretty remedial too, and the display’s graphics are as dated looking as the rest of the car.
At least you don’t need to fumble for your keys to get inside, and a button starts the engine, but a foot-operated parking brake detracts from both modernity and sportiness, a strange sight when placed beside this F Sport’s row of shiny metal pedals. If you’re getting the feeling the CT 200h put me off, that’s not completely true. While I’m disappointed in Lexus for mostly neglecting this entry-level model that’s only received a facelift over its seven-year lifecycle, it still has merit.
It has always been a pleasant car to drive, with sporty handling and a very nice ride. Of course, I think this can be said of most entry-level premium cars, but few offer the aforementioned fuel economy or this model’s penchant for diehard dependability. Its five-door hatchback body style is practical too, albeit rear cargo space is limited to just 14.3 cubic feet when rear passengers are aboard and 34.1 cubic feet when vacated, while the seatbacks only split 60/40 and don’t provide a center pass-through.
I suppose its cancelation should come as no surprise, with Lexus’ North American operations announcing there won’t be a 2018 model. A refreshed version will soldier on in other markets, probably including Europe where hatchback love reigns supreme and the CT 200h has enjoyed slightly better sales per capita, but it’s seen its best days here. So consider this a warning if you’ve always wanted one yet hesitated, or currently own an older version and would like to trade up. I would totally understand your reasoning if you did, but in the same breath I’d recommend testing one of its rivals, such as the previously noted A3 e-tron, before you sign on the dotted line. You should also push for a sizable discount, as discontinued models rarely hold their values high.
Right about now I feel as if this should be some sort of a swansong article, paying tribute to a premium car that’s finally on its way “out to pasture” as the much overused saying goes, but despite enjoying plenty of weeklong tests with the CT 200h over the years, it never imprinted on my heart like, say, Toyota’s FJ Cruiser, or even the automaker’s wonderfully practical and quite stylish Venza, or for that matter ultimately oddball Scion iQ (what can I say, I have a thing for pugs). Want to make me cry? Kill the Toyota 86. As for the Lexus CT 200h, even in F Sport trim, its final departure merely seems like the inevitable end of a so-so movie that’s honestly taken too long to wrap up. I, for one, just want to skip ahead to the part where Lexus introduces its next entry-level model. They really need to get it right this time. Fingers crossed…
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press