Lexus hybrid a blend of pros and cons

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I have mixed feelings about the Lexus CT200h. While Lexus has refreshed this hatchback with a new look, revised interior and an F-Sport model for 2014, I remind myself it’s still a Prius under the fancy body. That’s either a good thing for most people, but for me I associate F-Sport with performance models that Lexus does very well.

The biggest changes to the CT200h are up front, where a spindle grille design dominates the front of the car. Up front is also where the headlight treatment, with LED daytime running lights enhances the front end.

The rear also got a styling revision but still reminds me of a Mazda 3. The CT itself rides on a set of redesigned 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels. A new colour – Redline – has been introduced for this model year. My tester was painted in this hue and I’m sure is the main reason people looked at the car.

Inside, the CT gets improved materials and a more intuitive entertainment system. It gets a few new features, like real-time traffic updates. Linking up my Android cellphone was easily done, unlike some cars I’ve driven. A thicker steering wheel is also new.

Mechanically, the CT remains largely unchanged. It’s still powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder gas engine mated to an electric motor. Output remains at 134 horsepower, sent to the front wheels via a CVT. The CT also receives some retuned suspension bits and pieces in the name of improved ride comfort, most notably revised springs and thicker anti-roll bars.

The F-Sport package is pricey but adds new graphite 17-inch wheels, badging and a rear spoiler. Combined with the “Redline Red” the CT looked very striking no matter what angle you looked at it.

The car is nicely done inside with soft-touch plastics and nicely stitched leather seats and trim.

It’s also comfortable to sit in. Even so, anyone who is tall like me will find headroom is OK, but knee room and shoulder room is snug.

The driver’s seat is power adjustable; the front passenger seat is not. As for the back seat, it’s good for little kids but not adults. You get a big, clear speedometer, a typical hybrid/charge gauge that turns to a tachometer when you press the “Sport” button. There is also a driver information screen. The centre screen on the instrument panel is not a touch screen but is controlled by a rotary knob. This works for me although it took a little getting used to.

I was bothered by the Pruis-style shifter on the centre console. Getting out of “park” and into “reverse” or “drive” was far more complicated than it should have been. On the plus side, there is plenty of storage space and you can find two USB connections and a 12V plug under a pop-up lid. In the back, don’t expect much cargo room – only 405 litres of space, although you can fold down the rear seat for more room.

So while the CT looks sporty it is a hybrid and feels very much like one even in “Sport” mode. Fuel economy is the name of the game with the CT rated at 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 4.8 L/100 on the highway.

The only highway driving I did was on Anthony Henday Drive so I don’t know what I could have achieved for a long trip at 120 kilometres per hour, such as a drive to Jasper or Calgary. I did manage to achieve around 5.3 L/100km in mixed driving.

Equipped with the F-Sport package, the CT handles very well and grips the road surface like any performance sedan. The ride might be a tad too stiff for most people and even I was surprised at how firm it was – not harsh, mind you, but you’ll feel potholes and ruts a lot more than you’d like. I didn’t drive in “ECO” mode, as it just makes the car too slow.

The price tag with F-Sport package pushed the $40,000 mark and I can’t justify that much money for a car that looks great but lacks interior roominess and performance for a driver like me. Perhaps there are people who want a stylish, fuel sipping hybrid and aren’t concerned about not having a lot of cargo space. Then this might be the car. However I’d do some serious looking around before putting the money down.

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