Will It Suit Me?
Rarely did a car leave me quite as puzzled as the original Lexus CT200h. Every time I drove it, I came away with a different impression. Every time I looked at it, I swung from thinking it was a handsomely proportioned thing to finding it ungainly and fussy in its detailing.
Lexus' idea of putting Toyota Prius mechanicals in a posh frock was a good one but a lack of refinement, a thrashy CVT auto gearbox and over-firm ride all told against the car in its original form in its quest to offer a real alternative to premium small German hatchbacks like BMW's 1 Series and Audi's A3. Now though, Lexus says this CT200h is much improved, as well as being smarter and better equipped. Time to give this car another chance.
Given that the Lexus is probably competing with entry-level diesel versions of BMW's 1 Series and Audi's A3, it doesn't do at all badly when it comes to practicality. Premium hatches as a breed don't make spaciousness a big priority and the Lexus remains better than the class norm, though what would be quite a decent luggage capacity is compromised by the battery pack located underneath the rear seats and boot floor. Still, the 375-litre boot capacity is class-competitive. Leg and headroom dimensions in the back are adequate and the small of stature shouldn't feel cramped, though the CT's high waistline means the view out isn't great for shorties.
Exterior changes to this revised model are relatively minor. The front gille has a smarter mesh pattern, the foglamps now have grey bezels and at the rear, there's a re-shaped bumper and the tail lamps now feature all-LED technlogy and have a wider, sportier look. The good news is that, when it comes to perceived quality - the standard of the paintwork, fixtures and fittings, the sense of solidity and the tactility of the cabin materials - the Lexus can stand toe-to-toe with Audi and BMW and better them in certain regards. It certainly looks a more modern piece of interior design than any of the German rivals.
Behind the Wheel
If you're still not familiar with the hybrid driving experience, a bit of adjustment will be needed - but not too much. Press the 'Start' button and the virtual silence is very, very different from the ugly, grumbly diesel note delivered by this car's competitors. That's because from start-up to speeds of up to 25mph, or for very short distances, this car (in theory anyway) is supposed to automatically operate in 'EV' mode under electric power alone. Unfortunately, the range in question really is very short - about 1.2 miles. It would be longer if this car used a modern lithium-ion rechargeable battery rather than an old-tech nickel metal hydride one - but that of course would add to the cost.
Once you're up and running with battery and petrol power chipping in and out, Lexus says that the CT200h has been engineered to perform in two driving 'moods', 'Relaxing' or 'Dynamic', depending on the setting you choose from a dash-mounted centre drive controller. In truth, this car never gets really 'Dynamic' but if you really want to push on, 62mph can be achieved from rest in 10.3s. Tweaks to the CVT auto gearbox that all CTs must have has alleviated the awful thrashiness that was there before. Oh and the car's chassis has been stiffened so that the springs can be softened a bit. That's why the ride quality seems more compliant these days.
My favourite bit though, is how beautifully quiet everything all is. Previously, though the hybrid engine was certainly quiet, the rest of the car wasn't. Now, Lexus has sorted that. If you're urban-bound, it's a lovely way to travel. Without the company of a running internal combustion engine, you start to hear all sorts of other sounds you otherwise miss; people's conversations at bus stops, grit pinging off the car's underside, the engine notes of other cars and your keys jangling in your handbag.
Value For Money
You get a wide range of trim levels with this improved CT200h but as before, they all embellish one essential package that gives you a five-door bodystyle and an automatic-only petrol/electric hybrid powerplant offering a combined 134bhp output. Prices range in the £23,500 to £31,500 bracket. Trim-wise, there's a choice of 'SE', 'SE Plus Pack', 'Luxury', 'F Sport', 'F Sport Premier Pack' and 'Premier' trim levels. The 'F-Sport' version doesn't get any mechanical changes but has been upgraded with performance dampers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and Lexus Navigation. Even the base 'SE' model features dual-zone air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, a Drive Mode Select system, a reversing camera, a six speaker audio system and a seven-inch Lexus Media Display infotainment set-up with rotary controller.
As for running costs, well you'll need to take the official combined consumption figures with a pinch of salt - for the record, we're talking 74.3mpg for the base SE model with its smaller 16-inch wheels. Lexus may be able to achieve these returns by initially creeping along at under 25mph on an industry test track until the full electric-only driving range is used up, but try that in the real world and you'd get a queue of angry motorists behind you. CO2 though, can be as low as 88g/km, miles better than a diesel automatic German rival.