What is it?
An updated version of the Lexus CT200h, the petrol-electric hybrid hatchback which has quickly evolved into Lexus’s best-selling car in Europe since its introduction in 2011.
There are minor styling alterations - mostly to ensure that the brand’s ‘spindle’ grille design is synchronised across its lineup - but the bulk of the changes occur underneath, where the engineers have clearly been told to resolve some of the criticisms levelled at the old model.
To improve body rigidity, Lexus has broken out the structural adhesive and found space for 20 additional spot welds around the tailgate, allowing it to adjust the spring rates on the CT200h’s notoriously tough suspension. It has also introduced 94 separate measures to combat the car’s thoroughly un-Lexus like NVH problems, including improved sound deadening behind the dash and in the rear arches.
Although the standard powertrain remains basically unaltered - essentially the same 98bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine and 81bhp electric motor that powers the Toyota Prius - the CT200h’s transmission has been remapped for a more linear build-up of revs, in the hope that a more conventional and intuitive driving experience will result. Inside, there’s a new rotary remote touch control for the infotainment system, as well as a cheaper (£995) navigation option.
Finally, and best of all from a business users point of view, Lexus has managed to lower both the CO2 emissions and the car’s price tag. In base S grade spec (with 15-inch wheels) the CT200h is now £1000 cheaper and 5g/km cleaner at 82g/km CO2 - making it 4 per cent cheaper than most of its diesel-engined rivals on the all-important BIK banding. Even the more expensive F Sport grade driven here is £1250 cheaper than before and (on 17-inch wheels and frillier bodywork) still below the 95g/km, 11 per cent cut-off point for 2014/15
What's it like?
Better, for sure. If the first CT200h was not an easy car to love, the second is at least a good deal easier to live with. Credit for that must go mostly to the spot welds. The extra pliancy that has been liberated from the suspension is immediately felt; on the F-Sport’s 17-inch wheels it may still lack the fluency and ripple-smoothing capacity of several major rivals but the brain-rattling abrasiveness of its predecessor has gone. Firm it remains, but not inadequately so.
The new relationship between engine speed and actual velocity is also far more convincing: there’s still not much pleasure to be wrung from interacting with the drivetrain at speed, but at least measured inputs are now characterised by a plausible rise in revs rather than the distant drone of a generator.
But it's at more middling speeds that the Lexus's better refinement is particularly appreciable, edging the CT200h closer to the noiseless, effortless prospect it ought to be.
Arguably it would be closer still if Lexus had taken the opportunity to lengthen the accelerator pedal travel; there is still too little difference between tickling the CT200h along and unsympathetically flooring it. That said, the latter is too often unavoidable: its maker may quote 10.3 seconds to 62mph, but the battery-laden hatchback feels a good deal slower than that, and isn’t responsive enough to make pulling out into tight gaps in the traffic an easy manoeuvre.
This modest facelift was never likely to fix that, although the wand ought to have been waved more wisely elsewhere. Lexus says the steering column has had its mounts stiffened, but it’s done nothing to alleviate the muddy deadweight encountered on input at the smaller, IS-donated wheel. Its utter lack of feedback swindles the otherwise grippy chassis out of any playfulness it may have had.
Worst of all though are the brakes, which thanks to the neediness of energy recuperation, plunge your face towards the dash with any input more forceful than that you’d employ to remove dust from a gnat’s wing.
Should I buy one?
Certainly there is more sense in asking that question now. For all its popularity, there was little to really recommend the CT200h other than its tax-evading emissions and famed Lexus build quality. The new version, given that it’s cheaper, much quieter and a good bit more comfortable, clearly has something more going for it. As a premium fleet option, it would be foolish not to at least consider it.
Nevertheless, the competition is fierce, and for all its clean-living cleverness, the CT200h still doesn’t commend itself to the keen driver or, indeed, those fixated with economy (Lexus claims 68.9mpg from the F Sport, but we didn’t see higher than 45mpg over three days). If either description covers you, we’d still advise paying the taxman slightly more for a small diesel engine and an all-round better car.
Lexus CT200h F Sport
Price £26,745; 0-62mph 10.3 seconds; Top speed 112mph; Economy 68.9mpg; CO2 94g/km; Kerbweight 1410kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1798cc, petrol (81bhp electric motor); Power 134bhp; Torque 105lb ft (engine) /153lb ft (electric motor); Gearbox E-CVT