Compact Lexus hybrid has impressive kit, quality and mechanical refinement, but poor performance and ride disappoint.

What is it?

The world’s first luxury compact hatchback hybrid - and it has finally landed in Britain. As of March 1st, Lexus began delivering examples of the CT200h here, mostly to fleet drivers keen to reap the benefits of low company car tax, and to drive a Lexus for little more than a well-equipped volume family hatchback.

Running the same powertrain as the latest Toyota Prius, a 1.8-litre, 98bhp Atkinson cycle petrol engine mated to an 81bhp, 153lb ft electric motor, the CT200h produces a maximum 134bhp at 5200rpm via the front wheels. It’s slow by premium compact class standards: 62mph takes 10.3sec to come up, and maximum speed is 112mph. The trade-off, aside from those tax-saving low emissions, is claimed economy of almost 70mpg.

See pics of the Lexus CT 200h SE-L in action

What’s it like?

This new upmarket five-door has more going for it than fleet-targetted value for money. The quality and richness of its cabin materials are top-notch. Although one or two switches and stalks seem identical to those that you’d find on a Toyota Prius, you can’t fail to be impressed by the upmarket ambiance and attention-to-detail of this interior, both of which are remarkable at this price point.

The general feeling of plush luxury continues when you move off in the CT200h: noise and vibration insulation is excellent. Move off gently, under electric power alone, and refinement is limo-like, and even when the petrol engine starts at 28mph, there’s little added disturbance of the peace.

If you’re in more of a hurry, the car’s manners aren’t nearly so hushed, however. With lots of throttle, the CT200h’s continuously variable transmission makes that petrol engine spin away at consistently high rpm, shattering the quiet. And even then, although the car can feel quite responsive when its electric motor is chiming in, acceleration is still modest. You have to work this powertrain uncomfortably hard to pick up speed quickly.

And whether you’re moving along particularly quickly or not, you’ll notice a restless lack of compliance in the CT200h’s chassis that seems curious. This isn’t a performance car, after all, but Toyota has given it hot hatchback level chassis settings in order to make it decidely different to drive than the Prius – a car with which comparisons are unavoidable. That means the CT200h is unexpectedly precise and agile through smooth-surfaced corners, and is almost immune from body roll. But it also means that the car doesn’t ride with the kind of comfort or composure that befits a compact luxury option.

Should I buy one?

The CT200h is a car with a great deal going for it. Leaving dynamic considerations aside, it would be a very satisfying car to spend time in, a cheap car to run and a surprisingly affordable one to lease.

But you should certainly drive one before letting your fleet manager talk you into ordering, because whether you already drive a hybrid or not, you’re unlikely to be totally convinced with the way this Lexus drives. If you’re a Prius driver trading up, you may well be disappointed by this car’s shortage of ride comfort. And if you’re giving up a more conventional diesel-engined fleet car, we dare say you’ll still find the performance compromises that the CT200h imposes too much to bear.

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Lexus CT200h SE-L

Price: £25,200; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 10.3sec; Economy: 68.9mpg; Co2: 94g/km; Kerbweight: 1410kg; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls in line, 1798cc, Atkinson cycle petrol; with electric assistance; Power: 134bhp at 5200rpm; Torque: 257lb ft at 2800-4400rpm; Gearbox: CVT

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
pdmc 10 March 2011

Re: Lexus CT 200h SE-L

This car is abhorrently, biblicly ugly. That is to say, if Beelezebub had piles, they would look like this.
J400uk 10 March 2011

Re: Lexus CT 200h SE-L

I still don't like it, very overpriced for what it is. £25k will buy a BMW 320d ED with Full Dakota Leather and Media Pack including Sat Nav if you haggle hard or buy through a broker. Although the CO2 and MPG isn't quite as good as this, it comes very close, and in every other way is a far superior car.

blowerbentley 10 March 2011

Re: Lexus CT 200h SE-L

Myk wrote:
I think I vote this the ugliest car currently on sale, and that's saying something.
I agree, I saw one at Goodwood last year. An absolute shocker. There was an advert on the radio today which showed what a stupid name CT200h is. Just try saying it, it's so clumsy.