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This vehicle doesn’t exactly fit the typical Lexus mode. Luxury vehicle? Hardly. Yet the CT 200 hybrid is a unique offering in the Lexus lineup that provides some definite diversity for Toyota’s well respected luxury auto division.

So what’s distinctive about the 2012 CT 200? First off, it looks cool. During a week of test driving, several people remarked on the outward appearance of this compact four-door hatchback. No one identified it as a Lexus, but the CT 200 has a distinct look that sets it apart.

Of course, what’s also cool is the gas mileage. Sharing components with the Lexus HS 250 hybrid and the very popular Toyota Prius, the CT 200 can travel a long way on one tank of gas. The CT 200 averages between 40-43 mpg, which ranks at the top among all hatchbacks.

As previously mentioned, this is such a unique vehicle – a fuel-economy hybrid matched up with a hatchback body – that really doesn’t have any true head-to-head competitors. Perhaps the Audi 3, which is diesel powered, could be in the same class. And maybe the Volvo C30 and BMW 1 Series might be considered rivals, but those are probably a stretch.

Another positive aspect of the CT 200 is it offers three driving impressions. One can stay in “Eco” mode and the reward is receiving the maximum gas mileage possible. If that’s not suitable, try the “Normal” mode, which helps when a little more giddy-up is required. For the maximum performance level, switch to “Sport” and that not only induces more throttle response but also sharpens the steering.

While there are choices in regards to driving capability, the CT 200 lineup features only two options – the base model ($29,120) or the premium ($31,280), which both share the same engine. The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder has 134 horsepower, but really doesn’t feel all that pokey. The CT 200 seems quicker than its10.4 second clocking going 0-60 mph.

Weighing a few hundred pounds more than the Prius, the CT 200 is fun to drive, especially in Sport mode. It has a nice body lean and corners well, and is fairly nimble overall. It was a bit surprising that it had very little road noise as well.

The CT 200 interior has a fair amount of wood trim, which sets it apart from other hatchbacks. Although the cabin can’t be labeled upscale, it does feature mostly soft-padded surfaces, and offers several high-tech qualities that many drivers will find to their liking. The CT 200 has a remote touch controller (think mouse) near the center console that is easy to use, but distracting to maneuver when not at a full stop.

Introduced in 2011, there’s no doubt that the CT 200 will not be appealing to that many regular Lexus customers. Afterall, the CT 200 is a luxury vehicle in name only. But this attractive, distinctive hybrid is worth checking out if you happen to be shopping for a hatchback and always wanted to own a Lexus.

2012 Lexus CT 200 Hybrid

  • Performance: 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 134 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 40-43 mpg
  • Price: $29,120 to $31,280
  • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles; drivetrain 6 years/70,000 miles; Hybrid components 8 years/100,000
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