2013 Lexus CT 200h
2013 Lexus CT 200h. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Haney Louka

My favourite Lexus since the inception of Toyota’s upscale brand in 1989 is the original IS 300. That car, produced between 2000 and 2005, was a model of balance and poise; just as large as it needed to be and equipped with a sweetheart of an inline-six and rear-wheel drive. It was available with a five-speed stick and it was as close as Lexus ever got to challenging BMW in the sports sedan arena. In short, it spoke to me. Granted, it was quickly forgotten when the second-generation car replaced it and brought with it a luxurious air more befitting of a Lexus, but it’s still the one to beat in my books.

Since that car (which was a rebadged Toyota Altezza from the Japanese domestic market) left us, there really hasn’t been a Lexus that speaks to me, mostly because I’m not a target customer for the brand and it’s clear the company has been going after the more “mature” car shoppers out there. But times, they are a-changing. Everybody wants a younger crowd to be interested in their products to secure continuity of a market base as generations age.

Imagine my interest, then, when this racy, low-slung CT 200h hatchback first appeared in 2011. It’s small and well-proportioned, and has an interior that screams “sport”. All was well when I first got behind the wheel of a CT last year. Well, that is, until I pushed the power button and started driving. That’s when reality sunk in.

This car is, at its heart, a Toyota hybrid. As far as the driving experience goes, that’s what you get. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, mind you, but as colossal test drive disappointments go for me personally, that one ranked at the top.

There’s just way too much in the way of unfulfilled promises with the CT 200h. I’d much rather be behind the wheel of a car that doesn’t look like much but quietly satisfies its driver than be piloting a machine that screams a sporty pretense without much of anything to back it up.

2013 Lexus CT 200h2013 Lexus CT 200h2013 Lexus CT 200h
2013 Lexus CT 200h. Click image to enlarge

And now it’s time to check out the 2013 model. Not surprisingly for a two-year-old model, nothing has materially changed on the car for 2013. However, this year’s tester was equipped with the F-Sport package, complete with graphite rims and more sporting cues on the interior. F-Sport is Lexus-speak for its line of performance-oriented models. From the company’s website: “Lexus F vehicles are born of a pure passion for driving, dedicated to ultra performance with a unique Lexus perspective on extreme driver engagement.” Ummm, no.

So don’t worry; I didn’t fall into that trap again. My expectations for a spirited drive were lowered to a more appropriate level and now I can say with confidence that what you get with the CT 200h is a very sporty rendition of a Toyota Prius.

Steering response and suspension firmness are what separate a drive in the CT from a drive in a Prius, and these changes are certainly welcome. Where the steering rack in the Prius feels as if it might be made of rubber, the CT has a satisfyingly quick turn-in that starts with a nicely shaped thick-rimmed steering wheel and ends with those 17-inch low-profile performance tires. The firmer ride, made more so in the F-Sport version of the CT, walks that fine line between sporty firmness and econobox choppy. This is a small car with a small-car ride.

2013 Lexus CT 200h
2013 Lexus CT 200h. Click image to enlarge

I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to consume fuel at a rate of 5.2 L/100 km in the CT, regardless of city or highway conditions (the CT is officially rated at 4.6 L/100 km in combined driving). This number was achieved on sunny days with the mercury rising above the 30-degree-Celsius mark, so the A/C was certainly getting a workout. By way of comparison, similar conditions in my VW Golf TDI would yield a city figure in the mid-sixes and a highway number in the high-fours. I have way more fun driving the VW, mind you, but we’ve already established that that is not the point of this Lexus.

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