The Lexus CT 200h makes an excellent case for a practical city car with a sense of excitement.
From the outside it's a challenge to see the Prius underpinnings with Lexus redesigning the whole look and feel of the CT 200h. The familiar Lexus face is enhanced with LED daytime running lamps and a pronounced Lexus badge proudly presented across the bonnet.
The rear end is an expression of neo-Japanese design with a very edgy and curvy look. Unlike other Japanese brands that have gone European with their design philosophy, Lexus has stuck to its heritage. The overall exterior look is made that little bit more appealing by the sporty 17-inch shadow chrome alloys found on the F Sport variant tested here.
Prices for the CT 200h start from $39,990 for the Prestige and go all the way to $55,990 for the Sports Luxury, with the popular F Sport variant coming in at $49,990. Given that the Lexus LFA supercar costs an impressive $700,000, the $40k starting point gives you access to a brand that is not exactly on the lower end of the spectrum.
Lexus portrays the CT 200h as a sports car with a green heart, which is true if outright performance isn’t on your must-have list. To be precise, the hybrid Lexus has two hearts: a 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a 60kW/207Nm electric motor. Both are connected to the front-wheels via an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) which provides a theoretically infinite gear set designed to extract the most out of the combined powerplants. Put all that together and you get a maximum power output of 100kW (it’s not a case of simply adding one to the other) and a 0-100km/h time of about 10.3 seconds, which means the CT 200h is not exactly in the running for the quickest hatch around.
Nonetheless, the technology that powers the CT200h is pretty nifty. There is a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack located underneath the rear seat stores that gathers charge from the vehicle braking and uses that energy to drive the electric motor. When the driver in complete electric mode (EV), you can get by for about two kilometres on electricity alone, which is perfect for when you’re stuck in traffic.
When in EV mode, the CT 200h emits a very tram-like high-pitched electric sound. No traditional engine noise is present which at times can become an issue as pedestrians have no idea you’re coming. With the help of an electric motor, the CT 200h uses a miniscule and class-leading 4.1 litres of fuel per 100km.
For those who know their numbers, the engine power rating or the 0-100km/h time isn’t exactly ground-breaking, which means the sporty nature of the CT 200h is heavily reliant on its ride and handling capabilities.
A small round dial in the central instrument cluster will allow you to switch between Eco, Normal and Sport mode. This not only changes the engine's responsiveness but it even changes the instrument dials. Going from Eco to Sport switches the colour scheme from blue to red with the digitally displayed electricity power meter being replaced by a tachometer.
Most importantly, Sport mode totally changes the car’s behavior. When engaged, the petrol engine is always there to help you and the accelerator pedal is not retarded for the sake of fuel consumption. The steering feels firmer and you begin to enjoy the unique suspension setup that Lexus's engineers have bestowed upon the F Sport variants.
Around the hilly and challenging roads heading up to Chenrezig, in the foothills of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland in Queensland, the CT 200h behaved more like a go-kart than a Prius. With perfectly weighted and sharp steering response aided by grippy Yokohama tyres, the sporty personality of this hatch was quickly realised.
Despite spending a week being treated like a rally car, our CT 200h F Sport returned an exceptional 5.1L/100km fuel rating. Which was well and truly below our expectations.
The interior’s modern instruments are a level above the Lexus IS range and portray a subtle yet modern luxury look. A computer mouse-like joystick is used to move the cursor around the seven-inch in-dash navigation screen which also houses a standard reversing camera.
Herein lies the CT 200h’s biggest issue. The navigation system is not only difficult to use but also generally counter-intuitive and at times very abrasive in the way it interrupts the entertainment system. Our test car also failed to engage 'night mode' automatically, which meant that when driving at night the bright white colours of the sat-nav screen became a bit of a distraction.
Although it has standard Bluetooth telephone connectivity, it misses out on Bluetooth audio streaming, which means you’ll physically have to plug your iPhone/iPod in via the provided USB port to play music. This is a shame because the 10-speaker stereo system, which includes speaker diaphragms made out of bamboo and charcoal (for environmental friendliness), is superb.
Seating comfort is also typical Lexus, comfortable and with plenty of room for both front and rear passengers. Being a hatch you can always fold the rear seats perfectly flat to gain a massive 985-litre boot space, which should be plenty for most.
As with all luxury cars these days, safety is first-class. The CT 200h has eight airbags (dual front, side, curtain and driver and passenger knee) and all the standard electric nanny controls you can think of (ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, stability control and traction control).
Overall, the Lexus CT 200h makes a very compelling case for a city runabout or a second car. Remember, the first and most important differentiator here is that unlike the Toyota Prius, which is viewed as a car determined to make a statement, the CT 200h provides nearly all the same environmental benefits while maintaining its status as a luxury car. It doesn't scream "greenie" because it simply doesn't need to.