In case you’re wondering what it is that I found to be such a letdown in the CT, it comes down to the powertrain. Regardless of trim level, every CT 200h is powered by the “Lexus Hybrid Drive” system, which in this case is a 1.8L Atkinson cycle gasoline engine teamed up with an electric motor that is fed by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The various components of this hybrid system team up to generate 134 hp. This is hardly a figure suitable for a luxury-branded vehicle in my mind, but I have to remind myself that this is the “new luxury” and not everybody in this market cares about power and responsiveness.

Test Drive: 2013 Lexus CT 200h car test drives luxury cars lexus hybrids Test Drive: 2013 Lexus CT 200h car test drives luxury cars lexus hybrids
2013 Lexus CT 200h. Click image to enlarge

And this brings me to my second beef with the powertrain: the CVT, or continuously variable transmission. There is a pokey response from the computer and CVT to fire up the gas engine and spin the revs up when power is called for. Even after twisting the drive mode knob to the right for Sport (causing the instrument panel to glow red as if to ask you why you hate the environment), it just takes too long for the engine to reach its power peak. And given the limited resources available, the system needs all the help it can get.

Other CVT-peddling car companies have rectified this by allowing the CVT to change ratios more quickly so the engine speed jumps up and the car feels more responsive. In this “faux-sport” model, I would have at least expected some shift paddles so that revs could be held when desired, but no such luck.

In Toyota’s world, the CVT is the brains of the entire hybrid operation, which is why every Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicle has one. Rather than having the fixed gear ratios of a five- or six- speed automatic, a CVT has the ability to continuously vary the drive ratio so that the engine speed is always where it needs to be to meet certain performance criteria. In a Toyota hybrid, that criterion is achieving the lowest possible fuel consumption, which in turn means keeping engine revs as low as possible under any given circumstance.

Toyota would not be at the forefront of hybrid performance if not for the CVT; I recall having the audacity to ask whether a manual transmission would be considered for future Toyota hybrids at the launch of the current-generation Prius. Toyota’s PR folks then looked at me as if I had an extra head growing out of my neck. I guess that answers it.

The CT starts at $31,450 and includes push-button start, dual-zone climate control, a cargo cover, synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker audio, wheel-mounted controls, fog lights, 16-inch alloys, and a vehicle immobilizer.

Test Drive: 2013 Lexus CT 200h car test drives luxury cars lexus hybrids Test Drive: 2013 Lexus CT 200h car test drives luxury cars lexus hybrids
2013 Lexus CT 200h. Click image to enlarge

Option packages are plentiful: the $2,000 Touring package nets 17-inch alloys, a power glass moonroof, and a storage compartment with a second 12-volt outlet. For an additional $3,050, buyers get the Premium package, which adds 10-speaker premium audio, real leather on the seats, a backup camera, rain-sensing wipers, and more.

Our tester had all that plus the $900 F-Sport pack, with graphite-finished rims, premium leather, and trim upgrades. Total as-tested price for our test unit rang the registers at $37,400 before freight and taxes.




About Haney Louka

A lifelong car nut, Haney Louka has been a journalist member of AJAC since 2001. He is a professional engineer and has been on AJAC’s Technology of the Year panel since 2010.