Lexus CT 200h Redesign Exercise

The 2011 Lexus CT200h was an awkwardly proportioned and unhappy design. Could it have been better resolved?

2017 Lexus CT 200h. Image:

My recent DTW piece on the Lexus CT 200h contained an analysis of its design and identified the rear door profile and C-pillar treatment as the primary cause of its awkward proportions and stance. In particular, the too-short rear door glass and badly drawn shut-line between the door and rear quarter panel are poorly resolved and jarring details.

Accepting that the three-part backlight was a necessary compromise for production, could the side profile still have been better resolved without losing the essential character of the design?

Below is my first attempt at a redesign. Here, the rear door window shape is retained but extended rearward to allow the door shut-line to meet it in a more ‘natural’ way, similar to the LF-Ch concept. The tailgate backlight is shortened to maintain a viable C-pillar width:

Revised DLO and side profile. Image: the Author

Another, more radical redesign inverts the shape of the rear quarter glass but keeps the existing tailgate backlight unaltered:

Revised DLO and side profile. Image: the Author

In both redesigns the front and rear door glasses are now better balanced. The visual weight of the overly wide C-pillar is reduced and the centre of gravity of the cabin is moved rearward, making the tail look less elongated. The car is, I think, still immediately identifiable as the CT 200h, especially in the first redesign, but is rather less challenging in its appearance.

I think it is helpful to analyse the visual relationship between the shapes of the side-glasses across the C-pillar on both the original and revised designs as this helps to explain how both the revised treatments are more harmonious and less unsettling to the eye.  First, the original:

Original, marked up. Image: the Author

The marked-up image shows the dominant visual link, illustrated by the downward sloping red line. The yellow lines illustrate the clash between the other edges, which bear little relationship to each other (other than that they intersect at the base of the door quarter-window).

Now, the revised designs:

Revised design, marked up. Image: the Author
Revised design, marked up. Image: the Author

In the first redesign, the dominant red line remains, but the secondary yellow lines are now parallel to each other and define the reverse-rake C-pillar clearly.

In the second redesign, the dominant red line is inverted and slopes upwards towards the rear of the car. The secondary yellow lines are now parallel and define the shape of the (now conventionally sloping) C-pillar better.

Finally, here is an animation that allows readers to compare the production and revised designs in a single image:

Animation of original and redesigns. Image: the Author

The fact that there are (at least) two viable alternative treatments, both of which seem to deliver a better balanced, more coherent and pleasing resolution, really makes one wonder how Lexus came to settle on the production design.


Author’s note: I am indebted to my fellow DTW author, Richard Herriott, for his valuable input to this piece.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

24 thoughts on “Lexus CT 200h Redesign Exercise”

  1. Daniel, I have an interesting thing to posit to you: have you ever tried squinting?

    I purely joke seeing as you plainly state your foibles in the bio placed succinctly above, but while I commend your effort and appreciate them as an improvement in the cutline and cohesion department, I cannot help but notice that they completely change the shape of the C-pillar as compared with the concept. While I understand that the greatest butthurt is the loss of the true clamshell hatch (a real tragedy, no doubt), the thickness of the C-pillar helps distinguish the fact that the DLO is a completely separate shape from the rear glass, with the thickness of the pillar creating a sort of ‘hourglass’ to fill the space. Both of your alterations place too much emphasis, in my opinion, on resolving the DLO with the rear 3/4 glass panel which I feel dilutes the intention of the original concept.

    All that said, my happy medium is definitely your second take, but I’d rather the rear bit of the DLO not kink before the character line. I say keep the window line as low as possible, with just a curve at the end to bring it up as necessary. I don’t think matching the angle to the rear glass is really a requirement either given the original intent of the concept’s pillar. It seems like the front DLO was interpreted as a canopy over the passenger compartment, whereas the rear bit is contiguous with the hatch opening, of course as the lost clamshell.

    In any way, I come to this car’s defence more than I intend to here on DTW, but the truth of the matter is that I just see it as such a curiosity; what business does Lexus have making a hatchback, and based on the Prius no less! Proportionally it’s not the worst (Civic hatch, anyone? ugh) and before I happened upon this site, I always found the clashing rear cutline treatment to be rather charming and quaint, not egregious and marring. Add that to the fact that, like I said, they’re not an uncommon sight where I’m from, and I just adore their cutesy appeal (often adorned with Japanese-inspired graphics or stickers). It’s definitely a look for the Manga generation, and it seems like quite a few enjoy it.

  2. Goodness, it’s a long while since I was at school on a Saturday morning. But well worth turning up for. Excellent lesson, Daniel (and Richard), thank you. Here’s an apple.

    Sadly this proves to me why I could never be a designer. Without the animation, of course I can see the changes but fail to fully understand why they work. The second version works for me and would probably be a more realistic engineering option. The latter version doesn’t appear to have much metal between the passenger window and the rear window, no doubt causing all manner of extra production meetings.

    Happily, this also proves that DTW has the power to expunge the world of iffy designs foisted upon us. But as it’s Saturday morning, can we leave class now?

    1. Good morning Alexander and Andrew, and thank you for your comments. Alexander, you are quite right to say that an unconventional, even dissonant approach to a design issue can create something that is refreshingly different from the norm. I am aware that what I have done above in both revisions is to make the CT look more conventional, ergo possibly less interesting. (This is an accusation that can be made with some justification in respect of most of my Photoshop redesign efforts!)

      That said, I couldn’t ever consider buying the production CT because I find its appearance so offputting, even ignoring its other foibles. Perhaps I was simply not in the target demographic for the car as I was nearly 50 when it was launched in 2010?

      Andrew, I think both redesigns are feasible for production. Take a look at the current Ford Focus’s C-pillar, which is similarly pinched (and the estate version’s even moreso):

      I think that the CT also has a D-pillar hidden under the side glass of the backlight. Anyway, class dismissed, and have a nice weekend!

    2. Upon seeing Daniel’s reply, my immediate thought was ‘Goodness, that Focus looks so much better than the Lexus’… and I’m not actually that big a fan of the current Focus.

      Funnily enough, I saw a CT 200h parked near my home the other day; the first I had seen in a long time, despite the models previously remarked upon popularity in this part of the world. It remains a frumpy thing.

      The second redesign, whilst undeniably making the car more conventional, does look significantly better balanced I think.

    3. Hi Chris. I was going to reply that Ford would never put anything as polarizing as the CT into production, then I remembered the EcoSport…😲

  3. Daniel´s discovered another car like the Citroen C5 that is fundamentally a broken design. You can chase the details and it´ll never really look right. As Archie Vicar said about the Countach, there are only two things wrong with the car: the way it looks and the way it drives.
    Regarding the Ford, it´s a very convincing car in the metal. I find it very eye-catching and non-obvious. It doesn´t have an obvious schtick and it isn´t a slather of unrelated features. That´s a nice way to go about it, I think. Is it just me but there is a subliminal hint of Mk1 Escort in there too.

    1. Hi Richard. For just a moment, by “Ford” I thought you meant the EcoSport, then I realised you meant the current Focus. Phew!

    2. In your 2020 piece referenced above, ‘Frustration and Fury in Fergana’, you drew our attention to Lexus’s earlier difficulties with rear door shut-lines, in this case, on the 2005 second generation IS250 model:

    3. Daniel – the next thing you´ll be posting are images of flesh wounds. That Lexus IS250 door is wickedly bad. I put such things are down to the judgment of heads of design. Most design flubs are about errors of proportion or perhaps a sad flourish.

    4. For my money, the IS 250 is nothing as egregious as the CT 200h in that I could live with the former, but certainly not the latter.

      Incidentally, the image is lifted straight from your piece, so you started it!

    5. The Mk5 Focus is a grower I think. It seemed an uncoordinated collection of random curves when it came out, but I’ve come to like it more as I see examples on the road. (There was a time, of course, when it wouldn’t have taken so long for a family Ford to become ubiquitous!)
      My current Ford dilemma is trying to work out what the rear three quarter view of the Mk3 Kuga reminds me of. There’s something familiar about the area around the D pillar and lamp cluster that’s bugging me…

    6. The two waist level sweeps fading to the smooth surface just briefly in the middle remind me of the similar ‘coke bottle’ sweeps on the Mk.3 Cortina.

    7. Good morning Bernard. You’re referring to the current Focus and I see exactly what you mean. It’s more apparent in this photo of the Cortina, where the light catches the creases you mention:

      Wait around for long enough, and everything comes around again!

    8. Ditto on the Focus, also the estate: there’s a lot going on, but well judged I think. It evokes various vintage Fords, including their stance, but also looks contemporary. Something of an unsung hero.

  4. I think both of your proposals improve it. Your most radical version has a similar design to the rear doors of the 4-door version of the Ford Consul Classic, which I always thought was an interesting / sensible door design.

    1. Hi Charles. I’d never have made the comparison, but I see what you mean:

      I think the C-pillar is resolved rather well here!

  5. Hi Daniel, interesting work, but I think I’m with Mr. Herriot on the Lexus (though not the Seat): it might be irredeemable. The only way I see that design working is with a radically different glasshouse and c/d pillars, either a mini estate in the vein of the first IS SportCross, or something foreshadowing the latter generation Auris (easy in hindsight, I know).

    It was indeed quite popular in the Netherlands for tax reasons. Freerk’s description of the dysfunction of the Dutch tax regime for company cars is true, but the Dutch situation also reveals the power of taxes over a market. Apart from the company car rules, there is an extra tax put on cars that increases almost exponentially with rising CO2 emissions. This makes everything but the smallest, most efficient petrol cars and the odd hybrid (electric cars still being too expensive) essentially unaffordable. This also explains the high and rising age of the average Dutch car. Driving home from, say, Germany, the contrast is stark: fleets and fleets (flocks?) of Toyota Aygos (and their ilk) buzzing about. And certain models of previous generation Polo, Mégane Estate and 308 Estate diesel (usually the smallest version) that look impressive and managed to squeeze in under whatever emissions requirement was in force at that time.

    The Toledo just doesn’t work for me: that back end on an MPV. That is just my layman’s opinion of course, I think I can see Richard’s point that it was well executed. What doesn’t help of course is that Seat’s line up above the Ibiza at that time was essentially the same design held up to various fun house mirrors. A fundamentally sound design, sure, but not strong enough to be diluted this much.

    1. Hi Tom. You might well be right about the CT, although I think both redesigns are still improvements over the original. I think SEAT realised that they had missed the mark with the Toledo Mk3 and tried to take a second crack at it with the Altea XL:

      Only 9mm difference in overall length, and a rather more palatable appearance.

    2. I’ve always thought that the problem with the Toledo was the ‘A’ pillars – all four of them – and the proximity of the base of the windscreen to the front axle. Much as I like the tweaks to the Lexus CT ‘C’ pillar, I would have started by adding six inches of steel between the front wheel-arch and drivers door…

    3. Hi Mervyn. That’s a different issue entirely! 🙂

    4. Odd as it may sound, the Toledo is one of the more interesting designs of the period. It´s not its fault that Seat chose to produce what amounted to slight variations on the MPV theme. Even I can´t really remember which one was which other than the Toledo.

  6. Styling is one thing, making it sales-friendly is quite another. All it would take to do that to the CT200h is a 2″ lift kit and some gray plastic flares and rocker panel trim.

    The newest Focus isn’t sold in the US at all and has fallen completely off my radar since the launch pics went around the internet, at first glance I thought Daniel had ‘shopped together a Chevy Cruze hatchback and a last-generation Mazda 3.

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