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 four generations 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. Especially as more premium hybrid hatches are emerging from the woodwork - just look at the emergence of the Audi A3 e-tron, Volkswagen Golf GTE and the Mini Countryman Cooper S E.
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 percent benefit-in-kind rating, plus it avoids the diesel surcharge.
After six years in production, the CT is being given a final facelift ahead of being replaced, with the exterior given sharper more purposeful lines, the interior given a light spruce of upgrade tech including a 10.3in infotainment system and the inclusion of Lexus's Safety System+. It includes autonomous emergency braking which operates up to the speed of 50mph, alongside lane departure, traffic sign recognition, adpative cruise control and headlight assistance systems.
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?