Not only is the Lexus CT200h the world’s first full-hybrid entrant in the ‘compact premium’ car category, but it is also Lexus’s first compact model. It was previewed by the LF-Ch concept shown at Frankfurt in 2009.

The CT200h’s petrol-electric parallel hybrid powertrain has already seen service in the third-generation of Toyota’s environmental poster boy, the Prius  It also inherits a great deal of proven reliability from the two generations of Prius before that, stretching back to 1997.

Even so, it’s not enough just to be different in a class oozing with impressive models. To be taken seriously in the premium hatchback pack, a car needs to drive like a BMW, be built like an Audi and have plenty of kerbside appeal. Not an easy task.

The CT200h’s engine/electric motor set-up  produces a combined 134bhp, which isn’t a huge amount in a car weighing more than 1600kgs (a portly passenger more than an Audi A3 Sportback) but even so, Lexus claims an impressive 68.9mpg on the combined cycle. Straight-line performance is less than sparkling, though, with an official 10.3sec 0-62mph time being touted by Lexus.

What that number doesn’t tell you is that to get to hit that speed is a pretty noisy affair, although once there, and cruising, it delivers more on its promise of the ‘silent revolution’.

Those looking for a posh, smallish hybrid could easily overlook the slightly wooden steering, but it’s harder to forgive the harsh ride – even if it does corner far better than you’d expect.

What the Lexus certainly has on its side is appealing cost of ownership for company car drivers. Although it wears a premium badge, a huge amount of equipment means buyers don’t need to bump up their P11D value by diving into the options list. And CO2 emissions of 94g/km mean a 10 per cent benefit-in-kind rating, plus it avoids the diesel surcharge.

So is this the car that will finally make the compact hybrid truly desirable, or is it just an overpriced, over-equipped and predictably compromised economy car?

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