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2013 Lexus CT 200h F Sport Quick Spin

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
September 24, 2013
4 min. Reading Time

When a luxury brand creates a pseudo-sporty trim package – whether its name starts with the letter M, S, or F – and makes it available to almost every model it builds, there are bound to be a few awkward cousins born along the way.  Such is the case with the 2013 Lexus CT 200h F Sport, a respectable compact hatchback that just so happens to be an efficiency-focused hybrid – and ergo, not the best candidate to receive a set of tweaks intended to bring out its sporty character.

There’s something funny about the Lexus CT 200h F Sport, however: it actually almost works.  You see, lurking underneath the sleek lines of what is the least expensive Lexus money can buy is a legitimate hot hatch waiting to burst out.  At least, I think there is, because the car’s anemic powertrain only revealed so much during my time with the car.  I think what I am trying to say is that the CT 200h F Sport is a good idea, but one that’s ahead of its time, and will continue to be until the compact gets the power boost it truly deserves.

Hybrid, But Not The Quick Kind

There are performance-oriented hybrid cars out there, but the 2013 Lexus CT 200h F Sport isn’t one of them.  Instead of a muscular, battery-assisted turbocharged arrangement like that found in the BMW ActiveHybrid 3, the CT 200h makes do with the same four-cylinder drivetrain found in the quintessential non-driver’s car, the Toyota Prius.  The 134 horsepower arrangement (which consists of a pair of electric motors working in tandem with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine) delivers exceptional fuel efficiency of 42-mpg combined – a number that ended up being a still-good 37-mpg in my real-world testing.

No one is doubting the Lexus’ eco-cred, which is beyond reproach.  The point is, the Prius is notorious for its lackluster acceleration and throttle response, and these same characteristics are ported over to the CT 200h F Sport.  Even engaging the vehicle’s Sport setting via the Lexus Drive Select Mode system does little more than make the car’s hybrid arrangement more livable when trying to move through traffic.

It’s a real shame, because the 2013 Lexus CT 200h F Sport’s chassis – bolstered by specially-tuned springs and shocks – continually hinted to me that it wanted more.  More power, more braking (a standard hybrid weak spot), and more personality.  I enjoyed driving the Lexus every time I encountered a bend in the road, but I am sure things would have been even better had I been able to exit from said corners with an authoritative burst of the throttle.


Snug, Not Small

Accentuating the 2013 Lexus CT 200h F Sport’s potential as a legitimate premium performance hatchback was the way the car’s cockpit seemed to wrap around me and make me feel that much more connected to the driving experience.  Comfortable seats up front (balanced out by tiny rear accommodations) combined with a generous dose of high end materials wrapping every surface that I might come into contact with, creating the impression of a car that cost more than its $33,000 price.  The vehicle I drove was outfitted with the basic Lexus stereo system, a knob and button affair finished in black plastic that made me nostalgic for the days when sound systems were simple to operate.  I didn’t miss the Lexus Remote Touch interface, which wasn’t installed in my tester, and which I find very difficult to use due to its oversensitive mouse-like controller.


My Least-Favorite Shifter

Although Remote Touch was banished, I was sad to see that Lexus had not only imported the Prius’ hybrid drivetrain but that they had also seen fit to install its vestigial, dash-mounted shifting apparatus as well.  This stubby knob and its associated buttons are the definition of confusing, with a pair of gates (allowing you to move the car into Neutral, Drive, Reverse, and B, which is engages engine braking on a downhill slope) and push button Park. 

Let me give an example:  I was traveling down one of Montreal’s steeper roads and I decided to hit the EV mode button – which is very close to the Park button – to gain a few more miles per gallon.  The car beeped at me to tell me that I could not engage that particular drive mode at this time.  I assumed that it was because the Lexus moving too quickly and thought nothing of it – until I came to the bottom of the hill and realized that hitting the accelerator had no effect on the car’s forward progress.

What I had actually done was accidentally push the Park button instead of the close-by EV mode button, which is why the car displayed the message that it did.  What I didn’t realize is that hitting Park while Drive is engaged automatically engages Neutral, even though they are essentially polar opposites on any automatic gearbox.  I was lucky that I didn’t need to move the car out of the way of oncoming traffic when I discovered my faux-pas, but it’s a dangerous situation that doesn’t seem to subscribe to any logic that I can suss out.  Adding insult to injury: it’s actually impossible to shift the car from Drive to Neutral while it is in motion by you know, moving the shift knob to the Neutral position.  Nothing happens – you just stay in drive.  Oh, and the car beeps at you the entire time you are in Reverse.  I assume that this is to let you know that you are, in fact, driving.


A Good Start For Lexus

A Good Start For Lexus

The 2013 Lexus CT 200h F Sport has the chance to snag younger, image-conscious luxury buyers with its unique combination of aggressive, yet classy styling (thanks to the F Sport’s exclusive wing, wheels, and front bumper and grill treatment) with an interior that is well turned-out and quite comfortable for two, or occasionally three occupants.  There aren’t a lot of luxury hatchbacks out there – and even fewer with the reliability track record of a Lexus.  While I might complain about the car’s shifter, and its frugal, yet uninspiring hybrid power plant, at its core this is an excellent automobile that is practically begging for additional development dollars from Lexus to turn it into more than just a one-trick pony.  Not everyone craves fuel mileage above all else, and it’s time to give the rest of us a CT 200 minus the ‘h.’  Please.



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