2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport road test
Revised CT keeps frugality high on its priority list
Photo: Justin Couture
Gliding along, powered by a steady stream of electrons and novelty, you can’t help but wonder why Lexus’s CT 200h didn’t become a roaring success.
It entered the market just as small premium-branded cars were taking off. It was fashionably styled, unlike the stodgy HS 250h sedan that it replaced. It was also better on fuel, too, courtesy its running gear, which was plucked from the Prius. And yet, the CT 200h is a relatively rare sight on our roads. Even in hybrid-crazy California, you won’t trip over them like you would a Prius.
But that hasn’t bothered Lexus, which is resolutely committed to hybrids and to the baby of the family. Three years after its launch, Lexus has just updated the CT – and it’s well-timed too, just ahead of a major influx of new small premium arrivals from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and soon, Infiniti.
Small tweaks yield notable results
Photo: Justin Couture
Although the CT did not undergo a clean-sheet redesign, it is easy to tell the new model from the old one. The entire front-end of the car has been re-worked, with an attention-grabbing rendition of the brand’s signature spindle grille. LEDs now outline the entire lower edge of the headlamps and act as the main headlight beams, too. Re-jigged tail lights and new wheel designs round out the exterior changes. Overall, the grille works, though we're still getting used to the sheer square footage it consumes of the CT's formerly demure visage.
But it’s the changes underneath that are of greater substance. Additional spot-welds in the rear section of the vehicle have been added, which Lexus says makes the CT feel stiffer. True to their word, the new CT’s body structure feels considerably more rigid. Over frost-heaved roads, the CT’s structure doesn’t twist or quake – something that can’t be said for either the Prius or its platform-mate, the Scion tC.
This newfound strength also benefits the car’s on-road performance. Grasp the new steering wheel – the thick-rimmed three-spoke tiller from the IS – and you’ll find sharp responses. On the wish list: the rest of the IS’s steering setup. Although the steering is quick and revised steering column mounts have remove the deadness around the straight-ahead position, precious little information is communicated from the front wheels. This is unfortunate given the CT’s chassis has a surprising amount of grip, and with the F Sport suspension fitted, it corners about as flat as anything in the segment. The ride quality has also been boosted: there’s more finesse to the ride than the old F Sport. It’s European-car firm, but does so without being flinty.
Hybrid delivers fuel economy. Performance … not so much
Photo: Justin Couture
For 2014 the CT 200h’s powertrain goes unchanged. The 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder in combination with a battery pack produces 134 hp. On its own, the engine spins out 105 lb.-ft., with the electric motor rated at 153 lb.-ft. When it was introduced, these figures were adequate – the Benz B 200 made 134 hp, and the Acura CSX 155 hp. These days, the CT’s output is on the low-end for compact cars, let alone those wearing premium badges. Rivals like the new '15 A3 1.8T make upwards of 170 hp. The Lexus is fuel-efficient, though: 4.5 L/100 km city, 4.8 L/100 km highway.
Helping to claw back that performance differences is a large, silver knob in the middle of the centre stack that engages one of four different drive modes (EV, Eco, Normal, Sport). Twisting the knob to the right engages Sport mode; a red mist descends across the instrument cluster, with the back lighting for the rotary knob and ambient lighting changing to match. It also changes the hybrid gauge to a true tachometer, though it’s more for visual effect as the CT does not offer the driver a manual mode or a red line.
More hype than performance, the only discernible difference Sport mode makes is the sharpening of the throttle's response by about 25 per cent. On that note it amplifies the droning CVT effect by about the same amount. The CT picks up speed faster, but can't dodge the fact that it sounds a lot like a car with a worn clutch making its way up a San Francisco hill. Passing at highway speeds is an effortful and noisy affair, but such is the trade-off for ease of use and the ability to cruise solely on electricity in urban environments.
It takes a light foot to extract the most out of the CT’s powertrain should you be gunning for maximum fuel efficiency, but it always takes a light foot when it comes to the brake pedal. In order to recharge the batteries more effectively, Lexus has amped up the regeneration effect of the brakes. Anything more than the lightest of touches will send you into the clutches of the car’s seatbelts. At least the pedal feel is pleasingly firm.
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