Driving the CT 200h

Road-ready CT 200h prototypes are finally hereıııand the opportunity to learn what it feels like to drive the new model. Here, Kevin R.E. Watts of The Lexus Enthusiast gives us his first impressions.

Editor’s note: All opinions expressed are those of Mr. Watts of The Lexus Enthusiast, a valued independent contributor not employed by Lexus.

Settling into the driver’s seat of the Lexus CT 200h, I did a mental review of my situation—here I was, about to set off through midtown Manhattan on a Friday afternoon, in a near-priceless prototype, with absolutely no experience driving in NYC. All the makings for an intensely stressful event, to be sure, and yet I feel relaxed and calm. This is what the CT 200h was built for, after all—Lexus’ new hybrid hatchback was made for the busy city.

Shifting into D, I pull the hatchback into the staggering New York traffic, where it doesn’t take long to get comfortable. The CT 200h has an airy and modern cabin with excellent visibility, making it easy to get a good sense of the vehicle’s size. The steering wheel feels good in my hand, with a nice heft to it, and the front seats are beyond supportive—before I know it, I’m zipping around illegally parked cars, squeezing down narrow side streets, and navigating through sudden traffic jams like a NYC pro.

It all feels so natural, and much of that is due to a rotary dial located in the middle of the center console, which puts the driver in direct control of the CT 200h’s three distinct performance modes: ECO, Normal, and Sport.

ECO mode is focused on maximizing fuel economy, which it does by aggressively reducing throttle response. This increased efficiency comes at the expense of the CT 200h’s acceleration, leaving the hatchback feeling subdued but perfectly suited for rush hour traffic.

Normal mode sets the CT 200h on a more even keel, bringing the acceleration up to a less challenging level, but crank the dial into the Sport mode and the car transforms into something else entirely. Suddenly, there’s a surge of torque and sharper, more direct steering, the engine revs are held higher, control systems become less intrusive—even the interior reconfigures itself, replacing the instrument panel’s hybrid power indicator with a tachometer and swapping the calm blue mood lighting for an energetic red.

These changes alter the CT 200h in a fundamental way, with such a surprising difference from ECO mode that it’s not unlike driving another car. The increase in available power is strong and immediate, making it much easier to blow by NYC taxis trying their best to cut me off. Even better, turn heavy in the corners and the CT 200h exhibits no discernible body lean, despite the weight that goes along with the hybrid system.

No matter the mode, the CT 200h feels good on the road, with a ride quality that manages to deliver a delicate balance of Lexus-level comfort and a satisfying sportiness. There was no better demonstration than a wrong turn down a cobblestone road—the suspension was able to take much of the harshness away from the bumps, but still leave enough feedback to feel each and every brick.

It isn’t too long before I’m unbuckling myself from the CT 200h, amazed at what Lexus engineers were able to fit in such a small package. Even in a pre-production prototype, the quality of the suspension, the ability to customize the driving experience depending on personal mood or circumstance, the seriously special interior—it all comes together to give the CT 200h a rich character that fits perfectly into the Lexus lineup. I can’t wait to drive it again.

Legal Disclaimers

Prototype vehicle shown with options. Production model may vary.