The Lexus CT 200h is the first hatchback and the first four-cylinder vehicle from Lexus Australia in its 21-year history. It is also the world’s first premium hybrid hatch, offering a more fuel-efficient alternative to the diesel offerings from the Germans.
- Lexus CT 200h Prestige – $39,990 (Manufacturer’s list price)
- Lexus CT 200h F Sports – $49,990 (Manufacturer’s list price)
The starting price makes the entry-level Lexus CT 200h Prestige between $1000 and $3590 more expensive than its key competitors – the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz B-Class. However, when compared with the diesel models in those ranges (which don’t come close to matching the Lexus for fuel efficiency), the value equation of the CT 200h begins to add up.
The positioning of the CT 200h is also set to force a major revision of Toyota Prius pricing. Currently, the luxury Lexus has only a $90 price premium over the entry-level Toyota Prius.
Lexus has taken the bold step of introducing the CT as hybrid-only model. Previously, Lexus Australia’s most inexpensive hybrid was the $89,788 RX 450 Hybrid Prestige, which means the CT has opened the technology to an entirely new buyer demographic.
Lexus CT 200h chief engineer, Osamu Sadakata, says although the CT was never designed to be a performance car, it was designed to exude great driving pleasure and express different personalities. He says driving enjoyment is not just about speed, but also about engagement and responsiveness in all facets of the drive.
After driving the $39,990 entry-level Prestige and the $49,990 F Sports model, we can confidently say the CT 200h meets the goals Mr Sadakata set out to achieve.
Those familiar with the Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the third-generation Prius will find no surprises in the CT 200h’s Lexus Hybrid Drive powertrain.
The compact Lexus features the same 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine and 60kW/207Nm electric motor teamed with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT). Maximum power output is 100kW. The nickel-metal-hydride battery pack below the rear seat stores charge accumulated from vehicle braking and uses its energy to drive the electric motor.
Officially, the CT 200h consumes 4.1 litres/100km of premium unleaded fuel on the combined cycle and emits 95g/km CO2
The Drive Mode Select feature allows CT 200h owners to choose between four driving modes.
In EV mode, the vehicle uses battery power only, using no fuel and producing no emissions. With a fully charged battery, it will coast along silently below 45km/h for up to 2km – making it perfect for car parks and 40km/h school zones.
Eco mode counters aggressive throttle inputs and reduces air-conditioner power to keep fuel consumption as low as possible. It works well in city and traffic conditions when you don’t require that initial burst of acceleration.
Oddly, this is where a large proportion of Mr Sadakata’s driving enjoyment comes in. With displays in the dashboard and centre console showing the flow of energy, charge state of the battery and overall fuel consumption, you often find yourself playing internal efficiency games, trying to keep your consumption down or seeing how far you can drive in EV mode.
Accelerating hard beyond 50km/h in Eco mode produces a rather clattery engine note that is at times reminiscent of a diesel. In these conditions, Sport mode is best suited. Turning the drive mode selector to the right boosts accelerator responsiveness, increases the drive voltage, sharpens the electric power steering, limits the engine-stop function and makes the stability and traction control less intrusive.
The hybrid powertrain is very much understated in Sport mode, with the petrol engine taking the reins at almost every opportunity. The 10.3 second 0-100km/h acceleration time is far from sporting, although the changes, especially to the steering and pedal feel, make the CT instantly more engaging from a drive perspective.
The fourth mode, Normal, is the default setting and is tuned somewhere to the left of centre on the Eco-to-Sport scale.
Lexus gave the media a preview drive of the CT 200h last October, where it was widely criticised for unrefined NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels.
Before its Australian launch, the vehicle was tweaked and then tested in local conditions with particular attention to NVH – although Australia’s suspension will share a global set-up rather than getting a unique tune.
The changes must have made a big difference, with the CT 200h far from noisy or unrefined on the launch drive. Road and tyre noise is evident on some surfaces, but it’s nowhere near a deal-breaker.
Independent front and rear suspension gives the Prestige a comfortable and compliant ride. The F Sports feels even tighter thanks to its unique chassis calibration and suspension tune and the addition of performance dampers front and rear.
The brakes on all models are slightly touchy at first contact, but all are progressive, confidence inspiring and easy to operate smoothly.
The Prestige is reasonably equipped for a sub-$40,000 small vehicle. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, heated mirrors, dual-zone climate control, six-speaker audio with CD player, USB and 3.5mm auxiliary jack, leather steering wheel, push-button start, cruise control and hill-start assist.
The cloth upholstery can be optioned in three no-cost combinations (black, ivory or red on black). Black, ivory or white leather is a $3000 option.
Similar to the RX SUV, the interior is laid out in two zones, with the upper display zone and the lower operational zone (a design that will underpin future Lexus cabin layouts). The foot-operated hand brake contributes to the clean, uncluttered console.
Sitting behind the wheel of the Prestige, the overwhelming feel is that features have been pulled out to make it a $39,990 base model, rather than it being a complete package that higher models have then built upon. It misses out on the seven-inch folding colour monitor, Remote Touch joystick and monitor control buttons, and seat heating dials. In their place is blank plastic inserts that look a little cheap and remind you that you’re in the base model.
Shopping the Prestige against the entry-level Prius, the Lexus sacrifices 70 litres of boot space, rear head and leg room, keyless entry and head-up display. The Toyota's audio system also has two more speakers than the entry-level CT 200h and includes Bluetooth phone functionality.
Alternatively, the Lexus benefits from a more sophisticated suspension set-up with improved ride characteristics, and adds larger alloy wheels, LED daytime running lamps, more comfortable front seats, an extra zone in the climate control system and an additional passenger's knee airbag.
In terms of efficiency, the Prius takes the points with combined cycle consumption of 3.9 litres/100km and CO
emissions of 89g/km.
Lexus Australia CEO Tony Cramb says the brand expects the F Sports model will be the most popular in Australia, and at $49,990 it’s not hard to see why.
For an extra $10,000, the F Sports gets smoky 17-inch alloy wheels, sports bumpers, side skirts and a larger rear spoiler, front fog lights, side and rear privacy glass and exterior mirrors with memory, self-dimming and auto-retract function.
Inside, the F Sports adds perforated leather trim, heated front seats, 10-way adjustable driver’s seat with electric lumbar support and memory settings, rain sensing wipers, dimming rear-view mirror, scuff plates, sports pedals, Sport mode tachometer, instrument mood lighting reversing camera, satellite navigation, Remote Touch, 10-speaker audio with six-CD changer, Bluetooth phone connectivity and an anti-theft siren.
The driver’s seat is snug and supportive and electrically adjustable to the finest preference. All the Prestige’s plastic gaps are filled with their intended features in the F Sports.
The instrument display is full of character. When Eco mode is selected, the upper arch of the speedometer is illuminated blue and the hybrid system indicator dial is displayed (as it is in Normal and EV modes). It truly comes to life when Sport mode is selected, with the speedo glowing red and the hybrid indicator digitally replaced by a more conventional red-themed tachometer.
Unfortunately, the modern and engaging instrument panel is juxtaposed by a dated central monitor. Its functionality is not questioned: navigation is easy to operate, hybrid performance data is accessible and phone Bluetooth pairing is user-friendly. It’s the way the thing looks and operates that will disappoint some prospective buyers. Older and less-tech-savvy shoppers won’t have any issues with it, but members of the Apple generation are likely to be underwhelmed.
The Remote Touch joystick has a stubby, notchy feel to it. While it spares the screen from greasy fingerprints, it just feels old-tech to a generation that is used to intuitive scroll wheels and touch surfaces from other products. The visual display itself again does the job, but it looks dated, lacks colour and is uninspiring compared with the other interior highlights.
Heading further back, the rear bench caters for two adults comfortably, and head and leg room won’t be a worry for anyone under six foot. The rear design is much better suited to children and smaller people, however. Taller passengers have to lean awkwardly to reach the rear armrests, and the flat seat bottom means taller passengers’ knees will be elevated. You tend to float around a little, although the well-bolstered seatbacks for the outer passengers do a good job of negating this. The centre seat is really only designed for children, and anyone with hips wider than a 12-year-old’s will more than likely be sitting on the seatbelt clips.
At 375 litres, boot capacity betters the BMW 1 Series (330 litres) and the Audi A3 (370 litres), and with the 60/40 split-fold rear seats down, capacity expands to 985 litres. The CT 200h’s glovebox is relatively skinny and shallow, but there are enough bins, holders and pockets throughout the cabin to swallow most of your bits and pieces.
Thin A-pillars mean forward visibility is largely uninhibited. The small rear side windows enhance head check visibility, but the large surrounding panels mean you have to spend an extra moment making sure no one has crept into your blind spots.
Safety features include eight airbags (dual front, side, curtain and driver and passenger knee) and all the standard electric systems (ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, stability control and traction control). Emergency flashing brake lights and LED daytime running lights are also included across the range.
The range-topping Sports Luxury adds Pre-Collision safety System and Pre-Collision Brake, radar-controlled Active Cruise Control, LED low-beam headlights and clearance and reversing sonar.
On our 135km test circuit, which included a combination or city, highway and winding country conditions, the two test vehicles averaged 5.4 litres/100km. This included extended stints of rather spirited Sport-mode driving, as well as some EV mode crawls. Keeping fuel consumption around 4.5 litres/100km is an effortless task in city and urban conditions with either Normal or Eco modes selected.
Furthering the CT 200h’s green credentials is the use of plant-derived bio-PET ‘ecoplastics’ in the luggage area trim, bamboo fibres in the speakers and the extensive employment of LEDs. Lexus says the CT 200h is more than 85 percent recyclable (the battery is 96 percent recyclable) and 95 percent recoverable.
Mr Cramb says Lexus Australia expects the CT 200h will become a third volume product for the brand along with the IS and RX model lines.
He says Lexus believes it will “engage owners who want a lively, efficient city car with the flexibility and features of a luxury car”, and provide a gateway for first-time luxury buyers.
The trailblazing CT 200h may not be able to match its non-hybrid competitors from a performance perspective, but that’s not what it’s designed to do.
In terms of specifications and standard equipment, it compares closely with the Germans, and from a consumption and emissions perspective, the CT is the new benchmark in the premium hatch segment, no questions asked.
2011 Lexus CT 200h Manufacturer’s list prices:
- Prestige – $39,990
- Luxury – $48,990
- F Sports – $49,990
- Sports Luxury – $55,990
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