Behind the Wheel – 2012 Lexus CT 200h

Did we have to twist the arm of our Auto Editor to take the 2012 Lexus CT 200h for a week. Kinda.  

CraveOnlineby CraveOnline

Lexus CT 200h

I might stand amongst the worst people on Earth you could pick to review a hybrid.

It’s not that I’m bound and determined to dislike them because I see them somehow as a threat to traditional internal combustion cars. It’s not that I deliberately seek out to offend the whining bloodless turnips people who obsess over “climate change” while trying to force us to share their obsession.

In fact, I don’t drive sensibly enough to make a hybrid useful. While I’m not some crazed night rider roaring down the interstate north of 100 mph, I do drive offensively to the edge of the posted speed limit to get where I’m going and to stay out of the way of lesser drivers. If you share those traits, I can’t imagine a hybrid – with its general aura of underperformance – would suit you, either. You have to push most hybrids so hard to drive them aggressively that you destroy any tendency they might have to save you money on fuel.

Enter the 2012 Lexus CT 200h for a weeklong road test. The hybrid version of the line’s entry level hatchback, the CT 200h packs a 134 hp hybrid drivetrain – a four cylinder power plant aided by an electric motor that earns 43 mpg highway. It’s the same technology Toyota – Lexus’ parent company – uses for the Prius. But it goes to better use in the more stylish and better equipped in the CT 200h.

You can drive that engine in three modes – normal, eco and sport. Normal driving engages the electric motor when possible, while Eco mode regulates everything from acceleration to air conditioning to try to squeeze extra mpg out of the engine. Finally, Sport mode nudges economy and ecology aside, applying both the combustion engine and electric motor to force maximum speed and performance out of the car.

In truth, the CT 200h is most fun to drive in the Sport mode, and it loses any semblance of excitement or joy when you switch to Eco.

Finally, there’s a single button to activate the car’s EV Mode. Under EV, the car moves for a short distance under only the power of its electric motor and can manage a top speed of about 25 mph. Lexus calls it a “crawl home mode,” so it’s not likely to come in uber useful. Still, it’s there if you want to drive a two ton golf cart for a few blocks.

The CT 200h cuts a sporty frame with its sleek, five door layout, double layer grill, dual sport mirrors and rounded tail light sections. It’s odd that the least expensive and smallest car in the Lexus line wears a sportier look than many of its more pricey cousins. That’s a lack of visual design ambition Lexus is confronting with the LFA, IS F and the new GS.

Inside, the CT 200h carries the sort of technological conveniences you’d expect from a Lexus. You get power everything, satellite navigation and AM/FM/CD/satellite. The driver and passenger seats are comfortable, but folks the back might be cramped if tall riders take positions up front.

In general, when driven as hard as a VW Golf or a Subaru Impreza, the CT 200h holds up well. But, such driving destroys the fuel efficiency that owners specifically buy the car to enjoy.

So, while it’s still a hybrid and not a car this reviewer would purchase for previously mentioned personal shortcomings (the F Sport version aside), the 2012 Lexus CT 200h stands well above the Prius, Volt or Civic Hybrid as the most sophisticated and appealing ride in its class. If you can afford the base pride of $29,120, your hunt for a hybrid could easily start and end with this little Lexus.