Lexus's hybrid hatch sharpens its value and styling to take on A-Class & Co.
The Lexus CT200h continues to run its own race with the release of its first notable update since its 2011 launch.
An overhaul for the Japanese car maker’s entry-level offering sees tweaks to the interior and exterior, the addition of standard tech and safety features, and a slightly revised line-up.
However, despite the company’s announcement of a new four-cylinder turbo engine – expected to make its debut in the upcoming NX compact SUV – the Lexus CT200h hatchback remains a hybrid-only proposition. Find out more about how hybrid engines work here.
Lexus, which introduced its hybrid line to the luxury market in 2006, is aiming to have hybrid vehicles account for 50 per cent of its sales – currently at 42 per cent. The CT200h makes up about a third of that figure.
With the revised line-up, the former base model Prestige has been retired, leaving the Luxury to fill its position at the cheaper end of the spectrum. The F Sport and Sports Luxury are the mid and top spec options respectively.
Despite its direct German competitors – Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class – all starting from a single price point at $35,600, Lexus won’t join them. As the only hybrid among the luxury hatch offerings, Lexus is also banking on its reputation for customer service and the new included extras to set the CT200h apart.
Based on the Prestige, the Luxury variant remains priced at $39,990 before on road costs, but the upgrade adds a number of features as standard. The F Sport price has been dropped by $2000 to $48,990 before on-roads, while the Sports Luxury is $1000 cheaper, now $56,990.
All variants come with a new 7.0-inch display, a 10-speaker audio system replaces the old six-speaker system (13 speakers standard on the Sports Luxury), hill start assist, smart start, cruise control, leather wrapped gear lever and steering wheel, and self-healing paint.
When it comes to safety, standard features now include 8 airbags, daytime running lamps, emergency flashing brake lights and a reversing camera. The inclusion of a rear view camera across all variants marks the end of the rollout of the technology as standard on all Lexus vehicles.
After copping a bit of flack for its overly firm ride, engineers were charged with the responsibility of making significant improvements for the facelift. Changes to the suspension and damping include revised shock absorbers, coil springs and a larger front and rear stabiliser bar. As a result the ride is noticeably smoother, though still firm.
Additional body braces increase body rigidity, while to reduce NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) 94 tweaks were made, including repositioning the rear engine mount and installing the world’s first engine inlet duct silencer plate. Though hybrid cars are extremely quiet when only the electric motor is running, the CT200h is eerily quiet.
When starting it up, you may find yourself wondering if you hit the button hard enough. If the instrument panel lights up, even if you can’t hear anything, you can be assured you’re good to go. The electric-only range remains limited to about 2km at low speed, but during this period does present the problem of pedestrians finding it hard to hear you coming as well.
Around tight corners on winding bumpy roads up and down hills the steering is well weighted and responsive – the electronic power steering system and steering column have both been revised to fit changes to the suspension and chassis calibration. Body roll feels minimal and it’s light and easy to handle on both urban and country roads.
Though the F Sport in particular emits a bit of a sporty performance vibe, don’t expect it to rock your world. The combination of a 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre petrol engine and 60kW/207Nm electric motor still produce only a maximum output of 100kW, sent to the front-wheels via CVT transmission. The 0-100km/h sprint takes a relatively long 10.3 seconds, though the big plus is an official average fuel consumption figure of 4.1L/100km.
Despite being a hybrid it’s not the benchmark here, with Audi’s A3 1.6 TDI coming in at 3.9L/100km, though the Lexus boasts the cleaner emissions.
The Lexus CT200h continues to be one of the more aggressive-looking luxury hatchbacks, and the revised interior takes it further with the bold ‘spindle’ grille and a new rear bumper on all variants. There are also new LED headlamps. The F Sport gets a mesh grille and blacked-out foglamp housing, as well as a black roof to be paired with one of seven colours including the new Caliente (red). The Luxury and Sports Luxury can be dressed in one of 8 colours, with Caliente also an option.
If interior styling is high on your list of priorities, my advice would be to skip the Luxury and head straight for the F Sport. The new Dark Rose leather with wedge metal ornamentation and black roof lining is a treat. The Luxury and Sports Luxury have the option of a new colour, too – Topaz Brown – of which we’re not such a fan.
It feels spacious, and there are extra soft touch areas on the centre console and elbow rest adding a touch more luxury. Rear passengers aren’t short-changed for space, either, plus there’s 375 litres of cargo space, or 985L with the rear seats folded down.
The sunken driving position is in-sync with the console ergonomics. The cluster of buttons slopes gently down from the dash, and is nice and high through the centre. For me at the wheel, everything was at my fingertips; no need to lean forward or sideways to change things such as the air-con or radio.
Satellite navigation is standard on the F Sport and Sports Luxury, optional on the Luxury. The screen controller is effective; it works like a mouse or a joystick meaning you can move the pointer in any direction on the screen, and then click to select. Compared to dial-based control instruments, it’s quicker though sometimes a touch too sensitive.
Lexus Enform is a platform that uses your mobile phone to access apps to reduce driver distraction. Developed in partnership with Intelematics Australia, Enform currently offers five services including a call centre based assistance line, an app that compares fuel prices at nearby servos, and current weather conditions. Lexux Enform is available on vehicles with navigation. Lexus plans to add more apps and services to the system in the future via software updates.
The revamped Lexus CT200h lifts its luxury game with a quiet cabin and classy and comfortable interior touches, and it remains the obvious luxury hatch choice for buyers looking to reduce their environmental impact.
The hybrid’s performance doesn’t quite match up to the sporty styling, however, and Lexus’s rivals offer a larger range of options – including fuel-efficient diesels.