The Toyota Prius is quite possibly one of the least hip cars around. There’s nothing sexy or exciting about the best-selling hybrid in America. It’s one of those cars that’s practical, and nothing else. So it stands to reason that Toyota would offer something similar to the Prius, only with a little luxury and just tiny bit of excitement.

That’s where my tester for the week comes in. I drove the 2015 Lexus CT200h, which is a luxury version of the Prius. That may be oversimplifying things a bit, but the CT200h shares many of the positive things of a Prius, and then delivers some of its own distinction to separate itself from the Prius.

Exterior

2014_Lexus_CT_200h_032First, on looks alone, there’s barely a resemblance to the Prius (and that’s a good thing). The CT200h is simple (a lot simpler than many other Lexus sedans). The hatchback design is modern and sharp. Often, hybrid vehicles have weird, quirky looks to them, but that’s not the case with the CT200h. Crisp, clean lines give it a quality look. The rear spoiler, right above the rear hatch fits right in, and really makes the CT200h the handsome car that it is.

If you’re comparing this to the Prius C (hatchback), there’s little similarities. The CT200h looks bigger, more luxurious and has a significantly better overall look.

Powertrain

Unfortunately, where the looks are different, the engine and power plant are all too similar. The Prius is one of the pokiest vehicles on the road. There’s nothing exciting about driving a Prius. Likewise, there’s little enjoyment when it comes to driving the CT200h.

2014_Lexus_CT_200h_048A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine has a pair of motors that are powered by batteries. The total horsepower output is only 134 horses, all driven by the gasoline engine and sent to the front wheels. If that weren’t bad enough, there’s a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). My disdain for CVTs is well documented, and nothing about this transmission changes my mind. It’s slow to catch up with shifts, which is hard to believe considering how slow the overall output is.

Being that this is a Lexus, I at least expected the cabin to be quiet, but instead, the CT200h is loud. You can hear the struggle of the engine during shifts and higher revs. I’ve grown to accept that hybrids are quiet, but the CT200h is one hybrid you will hear coming down the road.

To be fair, nobody would buy the CT200h (over the Prius) because of how fast it is. The appeal of the CT200h (as compared to the Prius) is in the luxury inside.

Interior

Whereas, the Toyota Prius is a bare boned vehicle (in all varieties and trims), the CT200h redeems itself inside and shows why it’s (barely) worthy of having the Lexus badging on it. Lexus is a premium brand with a strong reputation. The CT200h is an entry level vehicle within the Lexus family. It’s also a hybrid. So with those two things in mind, the CT200h hits its mark.

2014_Lexus_CT_200h_042The cabin has some premium materials and an upgraded interior (over Prius), but it doesn’t quite match up to other Lexus vehicles either. Instead of leather seats, the seats are made of recycled materials. This sounds uncomfortable, but it really isn’t. Both front and back seats are soft and comfortable. Luxury doesn’t always equal leather, and the CT200h proves that. Overall touch points are of high quality.

The infotainment system, like so many other Lexus vehicles, uses their Remote Touch system. This is one of the most cumbersome infotainment systems to operate and is especially difficult for a driver. The joystick-like unit is extremely touchy and makes simple tasks like changing stations, switching to navigation or even the home screen very clumsy.

Cargo room for this hatch is adequate. There is 14.3 cubic feet of space behind the back seat, and when those seats get folded flat, there’s 34.8 cubic feet of space.

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is this car’s saving grace. The CT200h is Lexus’ most fuel efficient vehicle. It has an EPA rating of 43 mpg/city and 40 mpg/hwy. This rivals the Prius, and that’s a comparison you actually want. Too many times, cars forego the power for the sake of fuel economy and then still deliver under 40 mpg. In a week’s worth of driving, mostly through city streets, I averaged 41 mpg. I can look past most of the other issues I have with the CT200h, to get a luxurious feeling car that delivers segment-leading fuel economy.

Pricing

There is only one trim for the CT200h. Starting price is $32,000. You can add options too make this feel nicer and add more luxury to it. For example, my tester had the Premium Package, Navigation Package and Park Assist. All of those packages combined took my tester to a price point of $39,110.

The Lexus CT200h won’t have a huge consumer base. It’s really a move up car from those who owned and were happy with a Prius. When you want to be good for the environment, want amazing fuel economy and want just a little bit of luxury, that’s where the 2015 Lexus CT200h comes in.

Specs

2015 Lexus CT200h

Price/As tested price………………………. $32,000/$39,110

Mileage…………………………………… 43 mpg/city; 40 mpg/hwy

Engine……………………………………… 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder

Horsepower…………………………… 134 hp/127 lbs./ft.

Transmission…………………………… CVT

Drive Wheels………………………….. Front-wheel drive

Final Assembly Point……………………….. Kokura, Japan

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Jimmy Dinsmore

For several years Jimmy Dinsmore has reviewed new vehicles, offering up a unique look and an interesting voice in his weekly column. Jimmy looks at vehicles from the consumer’s point of view. Light on the technical jargon, and lacking the cynicism that pervades many other auto reviews, Driver’s Side treats each vehicle fairly, offering a light-hearted take. Email him at - jimmydinsmore@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @driversside.

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