Walkaround and Interior

By January 27, 2011


One can't say that the Lexus CT 200h looks like no other car, but it does look like no other Lexus. Some would call it a hatchback. It's a five-door, or small wagon. Its overall length is the same as the Audi A3 wagon, and its profile from all angles is very similar. Its shape looks more European than Japanese.

It's quite an attractive car, with smooth and flowing lines, from the contours on the hood to the tidy shoulders, up to the long low roofline and straight back to the spoiler with a cool little lip over the muscular liftgate. The radio antenna adds to the coolness by being located there, rear center. It says Hybrid on the side, in discreet but clear chrome letters.

The only Lexus badge is in front, inside the dark grille pushed forward of the headlamps, and its chrome badge. Lexus describes the nose much more vividly than we might: The grille incorporates a deeper, more sculpted interpretation of the L-finesse signature arrowhead motif, they say. The upper and lower grilles combine to form a unique spindle shape, bringing both bold simplicity and elegant dynamism to the very apex of the vehicle.

The coefficient of drag is a low 0.29, as much of the aero design was decided by wind tunnel testing. Computerized Fluid Dynamics, it's called. More attention to detail: there are no less than nine tweaks under the car, to smooth the airflow.

The details are flawless, if not exceptional. Handsome 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, impressive headlights either with single halogen or twin LED low beams, LED DRLs, black lower airdam, tidy foglights, compact aerodynamic sideview mirrors, a neat chrome outline around the windows, black B-pillar to blend with tinted glass, body-colored door handles, wide rear door openings, LED taillights with horizontal red brake-light stripes that curve around the edge of the car and up. That touch is unique, along with the C-pillar that defines the wagon part, wide at the top and bottom, a sort of distorted hourglass shape.

Interior Features

In the driver's seat, the feeling is quite cozy and we found the fit snug. The first thing we noticed was our right knee crowded against the center stack tunnel. The steering wheel is actually flat-bottomed, just a teensy bit, to get maybe an inch more knee room, climbing in and out. And the driver's seat slides way back.

But be careful with your back-seat passenger's toes. There's only 32.9 inches of legroom back there.

The cockpit grew on us, and felt less cramped by the end of the day, although not quite airy and spacious as Lexus calls it. We appreciated such an easy reach to the controls on the panel. It's less distracting, thus safer. The center stack angles downward from the dash to the console, rather than dropping vertically; it's more of a center slope than a center stack. It must be part of the design to more highly focus the controls on the driver, or vice-versa.

The view rearward is a bit pinched, as well. Rounded edges around the liftgate window, rear headrests rising into the picture, even the wiper blade, all restrict visibility.

You might end up thinking of your CT as a light aircraft, to be piloted with efficiency. Especially when you grab the one control that's not tidy, a big fat T-handle for the shift lever, located up high where an airplane joystick might be. Lexus calls it highly tactile, but we'd just call it big and wide and chrome-looking. Or maybe it's just evidence that the car is not highly focused on shifting gears. Except reverse, which it reminds you you're in with incessant dinging of a bell, as if the Lexus were a fork lift. Do we really need this? We think not.

You can get real leather if you need it, in black or beige, but standard equipment is a Lexus material we like called NuLuxe, which is cheaper and friendlier to the environment, and nobody will ever notice it's not leather, probably not even you after a while. It comes in Black, Ecru (gray) or Caramel. Interior trim can be matte wood, silver metallic or bamboo. Still thinking of the environment, much of the plastic on the CT 200h is vegetable based.

Every hybrid maker has their own ideas about how to display eco-driving information. They're still trying to find what hybrid drivers like, or want, by doing different designs. Put it this way: with the Lexus, you won't get a bunch of pictures of leaves and stuff. The gauges that show or tell you the things you might watch are clear and easy to access. For example whether you're in Eco, Normal or Power mode; and fuel mileage right now, recently, and since you started this trip or last reset it. Also the battery status, when it's charging and when it's drawing.

We drove models with the optional 40GB navigation, and without. The eight-inch screen flips up on the dash, and the functions are controlled with a mouse-like thing called Remote Touch that's easy to use, good ergonomics. The system includes all the music storing options you could think of, and voice recognition in three languages, but the navigation itself got us lost the one time we used it, probably because we used a POI without a street address. It sent us to a similar place 3 miles away, via I-10 instead of the short route which happened to be a scenic tour down Dinah Shore Blvd.

Models without the navigation system use a different center console. Lexus conveniently provides a slot on the center console for a portable navigation device (or cellphone), on models without the available navigation system. It's a whole different console, in fact: thinner, with two cupholders fore and aft rather than side-by-side.

The forward ends of door pockets are slim, while the back part is shaped for a bottle. Good armrests with good grab handles on the doors.

The batteries live behind the back seat and under the cargo compartment, and probably raise the floor just a bit. It's above your knees, when loading things in the back, and only 26.2 inches from floor to roof. The cargo ara is high and small, in other words. The double wishbone rear suspension increases the cargo volume to the sides a bit, in the absence of strut towers. There's 14.3 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seat, about the size of the trunk in a compact sedan, but a lot less than the 19.5 cubic feet the A3 manages to find. Lexus stats don't include how much space is gained when the rear seat is dropped flat.