The Best Hybrid Under $30,000?

What is the perfect balance of performance, fuel economy, luxury, and price? Lexus may have hit upon the formula with its new CT 200h.
Looking to escape the sunny (and weak) image of parent company Toyota’s Prius hybrid, Lexus is claiming its own dedicated hybrid, the CT 200h, is the darker shade of green. Designed with an emphasis on styling and performance, the CT 200h is Lexus’ attempt to show the world that green cars don’t have to be boring. 

The Basics

  • Price: $29,120
  • 0-60 time: 9.8 seconds
  • MPG / LPG: 43/40 city/hwy
We spent a considerable amount of time in Lexus’ other hybrid vehicles, and, to put it nicely, we weren’t all that impressed. At best, Lexus’ hybrids offer marginal mileage increases at premium costs; at worst, the company’s pricey hybrids feel like a Corolla in a tuxedo. Needless to say, we weren’t expecting much at all from the compact CT 200h. But with its upmarket feel, high real-world MPG figures and (relatively) affordable cost, we can’t help but think Lexus finally got its hybrid formula right.


Though designed as a performance hybrid, no one would ever accuse the CT 200h of being fast. With a combined 134 horsepower and a claimed 0-60 time of 9.8 seconds, the CT 200h will get dusted by just about anything on the road. But the car doesn’t feel slow; acceleration is punchy, and the CT feels confident even while accelerating up steep grades. A MacPherson strut front and double A-arm rear suspension help the CT feel planted to the road in all conditions, and the steering, though not as sharp as we’d like, provides a nice amount of feedback.

The CT’s standard and ECO driving modes are fine for most conditions, though we’d often use the CT 200h’s sport mode for those times the roads opened up a bit. In addition to giving the gauges a red glow and switching the battery meter to a tach, sport mode amps up the CT’s throttle and steering response. The car doesn’t feel significantly different in this mode, but that extra crispness does make the CT feel more hot hatch than Prius.

Having absolutely no interest in hypermiling, we drove the CT 200h with a very heavy right foot. The CT’s well-tuned chassis and instant torque from the electric motor kept the car’s fun factor high. And best of all,

this is still a hybrid; no matter how hard we drove the car, we still managed to get an observed 38 combined miles per gallon.


At first glance, the CT 200h almost looks like an IS sedan with a fat bottom -- not necessarily a bad thing given the four-door’s popularity. It’s a striking vehicle, and our Daybreak Yellow test car attracted its fair share of attention as we drove it through Los Angeles. The shape still feels a bit odd to us, and we’re still hung up on the odd shutline of the rear doors, but we feel that the CT’s looks could grow on us in time.

But one never sees the outside of the car while driving, and the CT 200h’s cabin gets a lot of things right. The steering wheel is nice and meaty, and the front seats sit low and have a fair amount of lateral support, giving the CT a genuine sports car-like feel. This is a feature-rich vehicle, and as such, there are a number of buttons scattered throughout the dash, though the force feedback “mouse” control makes controlling the CT’s varied amenities a bit easier. The 14.3 cubic feet of cargo space is decent, and the driving position, though a bit tight, doesn’t feel cramped. The back seats, on the other hand, are all but useless. We sit upright and close to the wheel, and legroom in the back is still practically nonexistent. Rear headroom is cramped as well, making us think that the CT may have been better off as a three-door hatch.

The luxury hatchback market is nonexistent in North America, and we commend Lexus for having the balls to release such a niche vehicle. The CT 200h’s unique looks, fun-to-drive character and hybrid powertrain will convince some to overlook the cost premium over other hatchbacks, and as gas starts to creep to five bucks a gallon, we can see the potential market for this car grow. 

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