"Versatile luxury compact"4.0 starson by Scott Gardener
Pros: Fit and finish consistent with Lexus heritage; excellent fuel economy
Cons: Though not the fault of the car, odd marketing
Summary: The representative car that influences this review is a loaner car while my own GS450h had its rear bumper repaired following a parking lot fender-bender. It is a comparatively basic model, without a navigation package. That said, it still offers most essential luxury amenities, such as heated seats and push-button start. Its Nuluxe interior, while not technically leather, feels close in texture and feel. The overall fit and finish is in keeping with the Lexus name-sake, though it lacks the familiar wood accents I love about the other cars in the lineup.
As a hybrid, the company claims 40 mpg. I am getting at last check 45.7mpg, with mostly highway driving, with some stretches with pretty generous speed limits. This is in keeping with my general experience with Lexus, in that actual fuel economy is superior to reported fuel economy, at least by my usual driving habits. I applaud Lexus for beating expectations, given how us technophiles have come to expect real-world figures to fall short of claims most of the time. Acceleration is good, but not exceptional; the Sport mode setting does produce a noticeable change in response compared to Normal.
My wife tried riding in the back seat for a short trip and was pleased with how much room it has, particularly given its small size. It offers a lot of the same versatility we found in her old PT Cruiser from about a decade ago, but without its shortcomings. The rear hatch trunk capacity is pretty small, but only because the rear cabin space is so generous.
As a compact, maneuverable vehicle, it seems well-suited to city driving, though it remains comfortable for long highway stretches as well. It has a bit of a European feel--as though Lexus had French and German tastes in mind rather than the American fascination with huge trucks and muscle cars. The CT is none-the-less popular here, and I see a number of them in upscale parts of town. I do wonder, however, about the marketing. The car seems best suited to people who prefer frequent short trips and want a light carbon footprint. It might be a first vehicle for someone in a wealthier family starting college or building a career. Lexus marketing seems to be improving, but when the car first came out, the push seemed to be to present the CT as a sporty car for the young and hip, most of whom can't afford a $38,000 car, and of the ones who could would rather have something along the lines of a Nissan 370Z or Scion FR-S. The car's green credentials have been heavily under-sold, given that it's in essence a Lexified Prius.
The learning curve is easy for those already accustomed to hybrids. That said, even though we have two Lexus hybrids and have been driving hybrids for five years, the CT's layout is just different enough that I have almost forgotten to turn it off before exiting. The point of confusion may be arising from its odd gear shifter; Drive, Reverse, and Neutral come from a shifter, but Park is done via a button; I then have to remember afterwards to push the Start button as well. Another quirk is that it chimes when backing; it took me a few moments of trying to find what door was opened or seatbelt not done before I realized what it was doing.
The CT is unique enough to hold its own niche for now, though some all-electric compacts are starting to challenge its green credentials. Those interested in luxury for just a little higher price point, however, will find some competing options right there at the Lexus dealership; they might prefer the IS if they want true sport handling or the ES300h if they want a much more substantial vehicle with fairly close gas mileage.
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