Lexus hybrid hatchback aims for green halo

I remember the first Lexus I drove. It was clearly something rather special. It was probably no accident that its proportions were similar to Mercedes or the big BMWs of the day. It had presence.

The Lexus CT 200h doesn’t have anything like that presence. Its appearance is of a neat, but not particularly distinctive, hatchback. Unless you are bent on making an impression wherever you go, then the more low-key looks are unlikely to be a problem.

Lexus CT 200h

Certainly when you are installed behind the wheel you are likely to feel a bit more special. This is an attractive and comfortable place to be. It is also well equipped and my only quibble would be that some of the minor controls and switches seem to have been located more by convenience than by logic.

There is a mouse-like device on the central console that helps you select functions on the control screen. It takes a little getting used to, but by the end of my time with the car I was beginning to become reasonably adept at aiming and clicking. For other than left-handers, it is a little less easy to use on right-hand-drive cars.

There is good passenger space, given the less opulent dimensions. When you open the hatchback you may, like me, be a little surprised by the height of the boot floor. It is higher than you might expect, for good reason – to make space for the batteries on this hybrid. There is still ample usable space for most people, at 375 litres with the rear seats up. That’s more space than, for example, a Ford Focus. Seats down you get 985 litres of space.

As with hybrids bearing parent company Toyota’s badge, the start-up procedure for the Lexus CT 200h is extremely simple. You just press the start button and a green light comes on the dashboard to tell you the car is “Ready”. Normally, the petrol engine doesn’t start at this point and, if you press the accelerator gently the car will take off, almost silently, under electric power.

The petrol engine cuts in when you need more power or when the batteries need charged. As with the Toyota Prius or Auris Hybrid, it is not the sensations of driving a hybrid that are important. Rather it is the lack of sensation that is so impressive.

The hybrid system just works. Unless you open the graphic display showing the motors and power usage, you can only imagine how the on-board computers and sensors are working so hard to achieve seamless switching between electric motor, petrol motor, both power units or charging.

Lexus CT 200h

Ever since that first Lexus I mentioned, the brand has been associated in my mind with refinement. Famously the first commercials showed a coin balanced on its edge on top of the running engine. Impressive.

Now, this Lexus CT 200h is very comfortable, and pretty refined. At tickover the engine is so quiet it is difficult to tell if it is still running, or has handed over duties to the electric motor. The ride, in particular is excellent. ‘Sleeping policemen’ that would normally have your head bouncing off the roof lining, seem to lose their ferocity. But, apart from the ride, the Lexus CT200h doesn’t seem to set any new benchmarks for refinement, compared to other similar cars on the market.

The car has three drive modes – ‘eco’, normal and sport. I found the ‘eco’ mode a bit lethargic and tended to drive in ‘normal’, or ‘sport’. Even in these modes, the CT 200h needs a quite deliberate push on the accelerator to get it going.

The automatic gearbox is a CVT system. This means you have the odd sensation of driving a car that never changes gear. Engine noise is well subdued, but you can make out the way the engine note simply rises and falls in response to the throttle.

The petrol engine is 1800cc which gives the Lexus CT 200h a power output of 98 bhp. With petrol and electric motors working together to deliver maximum power, acceleration 0-62 mph takes 10.3 seconds and the top speed is 113 mph.

Lexus CT 200h

As with most hybrids I have driven so far, I find myself struggling to justify the huge amount of technology involved in the hybrid system. The combined fuel consumption for the Lexus is 68.9 mpg, which is impressive. However, in the real world my overall consumption was 46 mpg. That’s quite impressive, even in these days of ever improving economy figures, except that the Volkswagen Jetta I drove the very next week returned 51 mpg with no hybrid technology.

However, the hybrid system has undoubtedly helped the Lexus CT 200h to achieve a C02 emissions figure of 94 g/km, meaning that it takes its place in Band A for UK car tax. That means you can polish your green halo as HM Government gives you a free tax disc.

Prices for the Lexus CT 200h start at £23,750 for the SE-I, rising to £30,950 for the top line SE-L Premier.
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