After a day spent flogging the 2012 Lexus CT 200h over mountain roads, I was ready to strip the car of the F Sport badges adorning its fenders, busting it down from a rank of which it was not really worthy. I had no problem with the car's handling, but the 134 horsepower from the hybrid power system, combined with the inability to shift, couldn't deliver anything approaching excitement.
The CT 200h looks good enough, but the new Toyota Camry Hybrid is faster. And the F Sport package, a new option for the CT 200h, affects only the suspension and some cosmetic items, not the power output.
For the CT 200h, Lexus chose the same 1.8-liter engine-based hybrid system used in the Toyota Prius. That means a Lexus-tested 0-to-60 mph time of 9.8 seconds, not fast in anyone's book. On the plus side, this power train gives the CT 200h excellent fuel economy, with an average over 40 mpg in real-world driving.
As with the Prius, the CT 200h has buttons for different drive modes, in this case Eco, Sport, and EV. Sport equates to the Power button in the Prius, and has the very cool effect of turning the power gauge in the instrument cluster into a tachometer.
Not that a tachometer does any good in the CT 200h, as the car's transmission, a planetary gear set, gives the driver no shifting control. Similar to a band-driven continuously variable transmission, the CT 200h's transmission changes ratios constantly, depending on the driving conditions, and is programmed to optimize fuel economy. Stomping on the accelerator makes the car move forward at a leisurely pace, and brings no oomph to bear when exiting a turn.
Given the behavior of the power train, my experience with the CT 200h's handling mostly had to do with the way it entered turns. And that was very good. The electrically boosted power steering felt a little numb, but the car was planted and non-divey when I threw it into a turn at speed.
The F Sport package helped a little, due to its suspension tuning, and didn't hurt much. The ride quality of the CT 200h remained true to Lexus' luxury image. I got the chance to drive it back to back with the Hyundai Veloster over the same road, which featured some rough pavement, and the difference was dramatic: the Lexus provided much greater comfort.
The cosmetic elements of the F Sport package include custom 17-inch wheels, aluminum pedals, and a wire mesh grille. These elements go well with the CT 200h's overall design. F Sport also means a larger rear spoiler, making the rear window look like a very narrow, tinted band. LED running lights in the headlight casings give the front a unique character.
Even if the CT 200h is a faux hot hatchback, it makes a case for comfortable practicality. Fuel economy is the first point in its favor. The hatchback design gives it a versatile interior. The roofline is a bit low, limiting the height of the cargo area, but the space has a lot of width, and the rear seats fold down easily, making for a flat load floor.