2017 Lexus CT 200h review: A frugal hybrid that is showing its age

2017 Lexus CT 200h

2017 Lexus CT 200h

Although representatives of parent Toyota couldn’t confirm it, reports indicate that the Lexus CT 200h is due for a major update within months. After a week and a couple hundred miles behind the wheel of this compact hybrid hatchback, I can only say the day of delivery for the new model can’t come soon enough.

For those of you not familiar with this alphanumeric scramble, the CT 200h hit the road in 2010 as Lexus’ upscale version of the unique Toyota Prius.

Although not quite as versatile as the roomier Prius, it arrived with the same frugal gasoline/electric powerplant, was and is (in my opinion) better looking, and contained a number of luxury features not available on the Prius. Hence the loftier price tag.

But that was then. While the Prius has been modernized over the years, the Lexus CT 200h has soldiered on essentially unchanged. Its only real updates have been cosmetic, including the controversial Lexus spindle grille, and that was back in the 2014 model year. For the 2017 model year the only things new are a trio of exterior colors.

The result, not surprisingly, is that the littlest Lexus has become dated. While an EPA-estimated average of 42 miles per gallon was pretty spectacular in 2010, the number now seems merely mediocre compared to the upgraded Prius, which boasts an estimated average of 56 mpg.

Lexus CT 200h instrument panel

Lexus CT 200h instrument panel

The Prius achieves its new economy in part from the use of modern lithium-ion battery pack. The Lexus still gets its electric power from a heavier, less-efficient nickel-metal hydride battery pack.

There is also the matter of price. The 2017 Prius clocks in at thousands of dollars less than the 2017 Lexus CT 200h, which nears $40,000 with a generous list of options.

Lest you get the wrong impression, all of this is not to say that this Lexus is a bad car. Most of the products engineered and built under the umbrella of Japanese automaker Toyota come with a good reputation and are built to last.

It could be a satisfactory choice for a buyer with small car needs who enjoys luxury features but cares about excellent fuel mileage more than anything else.

The Lexus CT 200h powerplant combines a 1.8-liter, Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 650-volt motor generator to produce a total of 134 horsepower. A second motor generator is used to start the gasoline engine and to charge the battery pack.

The engine and primary battery pack are teamed with a continuously variable automatic transmission and together they produce acceleration variously described as languid or even glacial.

Lexus CT 200h cargo area

Lexus CT 200h cargo area

Real-world numbers indicate an all-out 0-60 mph run of about 10 seconds, but to achieve that passengers need to endure the engine’s high-speed roar as the transmission sorts through its infinite number of ratios until it settles on the best ones for maximum acceleration.

In typical driving on mostly level roads, however, engine noise and acceleration are tolerable. Remember, the No. 1 goal is efficiency, not excitement.