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.
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.