Deep in the bowels of the ShiftingLanes.com World Headquarters there was a meeting. Many things were discussed. However for the purposes there was 1 decision that stood out. Somehow, against my will, I would be given the unenviable task of reviewing the eco cars. Mind you this is not because I like them, quite the opposite. So why give them to me? One would assume that I will declare them eco crap and then go about my day. After all I am probably the most stubborn and stuck in my ways member of ShiftingLanes.com. I like my cars a certain way. Mustang over Camaro, Corvette over Viper, Focus RS over Golf R, and the list goes on and on. For better or worse, it takes a lot for me to change my mind. This is in stark contrast to my colleagues. They are more open-minded than I am. Perfect example, we recently drove a Camaro 2LT. That’s the 4 cylinder turbo version of the latest Camaro. I won’t go into detail but they liked it. I, having grown up in a muscle car household could not look past the lack of a V8. Couldn’t do it. Camaros and pony cars in general are supposed to have a V8. Pretty sure it was written in the bible. Right next to the passage about honoring thy neighbor. The Camaro 2LT was a very good car but no, V8 no manual, no thank you.
All this brings me not so neatly to my latest test drive, the Lexus CT200h. Yes, the leather clad handsomer, richer cousin of the Toyota Prius. The Prius is without question my least favorite car of all time. There isn’t a word strong enough in the English language to accurately describe my disdain for it. Right off the bat, the CT is not on the best of terms. However, this is no ordinary CT200h, this one comes with an extra little badge that says F-Sport. F is to Lexus what M is to BMW. The F division is the in-house performance department within Lexus. Recently BMW has been putting M-Sport badges on its normal cars. Giving them some extra sporty-ness at a fraction of the cost of a full-blown M Car. Lexus, in its undying pursuit of BMW has done the same with the F-Sport badge. So maybe, just maybe, this one little badge and its upgrades could make the CT200h F-Sport into a car I don’t mega loathe.
The base CT200h is better than the insultingly ugly and totally hateful Prius. For starters the CT is a good-looking car. It is a handsome 5 door hatchback. The interior is very well put together. Seats are comfortable and the leather feels very high quality. Same could be said for all of the surfaces and dials. The interior will be familiar to anyone who has ever owned a Lexus/Toyota. However, they are a bit last year. They may look and feel good but they are definitely not the latest offerings from Lexus. They definitely feel more nicer Toyota than a full blown Lexus.
For starters, the moronic shifter from the Prius has found its way into the CT. What is wrong with a normal shifter? I’d even settle for a dial or buttons or anything other than the dainty little thing that adorns this car. And make no mistake, it does feel dainty. Honestly, it wouldn’t take much effort at all for this thing to break. Not to mention it always snaps back to a central position which if you are unfamiliar makes it highly frustrating when trying to find a gear. But that all pales in comparison to the most annoying feature to ever be fitted to any normal, everyday car, in the whole of human history, past present and future. When you put the CT into reverse it beeps at you. Not once and goes away, not on the outside so others can hear your quiet hybrid coming, no. For reasons I can not even begin to comprehend the beeping can only be heard by the driver and any unfortunate passengers who happen to be in the car. What exactly is the purpose of this? I know I’m in reverse, I shifted the car into reverse. So why in the unholy hell are you reminding me of that fact? Make no mistake this is not some form of sensing device aimed to prevent you from running over the neighbor’s cat. It beeps at you, steadily, even if there is nothing behind you.
Another annoyance, the SatNav. It is almost exactly the same style unit as is in my 2002 IS300. The software is almost identical. The graphics are slightly updated but the feel and interface of it are very similar. However, this gives it a woefully dated appearance. In addition the system is just different enough to make it frustrating to use. Eventually you get used to it and it will get job done, but considering what Lexus puts in its other vehicles this is a major let down.
Lastly, the rear trunk space is shockingly small. It couldn’t even fit my golf clubs back there. This is a hatchback remember. More importantly this is a Lexus. Lexus owners play golf. Not some of them, damn near all of them. Like it’s part of the credit check when buying one. So what is the point of a Lexus that you can’t fit golf clubs into?
This brings me back to the F-Sport badge. What exactly was done to make this mind numbingly boring vehicle sporty? Short answer, some exterior tweaks like a larger spoiler and bigger wheels, and a re-tuned suspension featuring MacPherson Struts, that’s it. No increase in power which this car desperately needs. 138 combined Horsepower is not enough. Not even slightly enough. 9.8 agonizing seconds to 60. This could be made borderline tolerable if you had a manual transmission to play around with while your passing the time. Sadly, you don’t, your only transmission option is a CVT. Anyone who has ever driven a manual transmission will cringe driving this car. The way the rpm’s hang feels like a noob riding the clutch on his first day of 3 pedal training. It makes any instance of hard acceleration an instrument of torture. I honestly found myself on several occasions stomping down with my left foot as if a clutch pedal was there. Only to find nothing. I know this is how a CVT works and technically they are the perfect transmission blah blah blah. Fact remains, you can add it to the list of things I do not like about this car.
So what does the minimal upgrades in the F-Sport package actually do? Well believe it or not the CT200h F-Sport does feel pretty composed. It handles fast sweeping corners quite well (fast for this car, not for actual sporty cars). Body roll is minimal and it feels relatively planted to the road. Increase speed and sharpen the corner however and this car will under-steer quite a lot. The not so grippy eco-friendly tires do not help matters either. Is it an improvement? Yes. Is it worth the extra $1730? No, a thousand times no.
I really tried to put my preconceptions aside for this car. For starters I like Lexus. Hell, I own one. There are many things I do like about this car, the interior and exterior styling for example. But as a whole this car is a farce. Sorry, there are just too many things going on that I don’t like. It is a hybrid eco car so enthusiasts will see right past the badging to what the car really is.. A car built for MPGs not MPHs. The driving experience is slow and boring. Hybrid enthusiasts will hate everything about it because it has a Sport badge on it. Not to mention when you consider it is a hybrid it isn’t all that fuel-efficient. It advertises 42 combined mpg.
During mixed driving with as light a right foot as I can possibly manage, I struggled to get 38 mpg. For comparison a brand new Prius will do 50ish mpg. This thing is based on a Prius after all, shouldn’t it get similar mileage? They may say the CT200h F-Sport is brand new for 2016. In actuality it really isn’t. Underneath the new bodywork lies the tech of an old Prius. The engine and hybrid systems are old tech. This would be fine if the CT200h F-Sport was a cheap way into Lexus luxury, but it isn’t. It starts at $33,000 and the one we tested was over $35,000. That is not cheap. That is brand new BMW 2 series money.
Before I got my hands on a CT200h F-Sport I disliked it for what it represented. Make as many miles per gallon as possible. Sacrifice fun and speed for hybridy goodness. Now that I’ve driven it I dislike it for so many more reasons. The farcical badge. The word “sport” has no business being anywhere near this car. It is about as sporty as Bernie Sanders trying out for Ninja Warrior. I am fully convinced the badge is an inside joke by the engineers at Lexus. “Top brass wants us to make a sport version of a dull, slow car, fine we will call it the F-Sport, as in “Fuck Sport!” It is well put together but it feels dated and last year. It is way too expensive and not even as efficient as hybridists would want. I honestly can’t see the point. This is simply a car that need not exist.