The new CT 200h looks set to dramatically increase traffic through Lexus showrooms and attract a younger clientele to the brand, but it is car that needs to be seen, experienced and pondered because it appeals to buyers’ senses of value and efficiency, not their hearts.
Being at the forefront of a new generation of premium-positioned full-hybrid vehicles is an unenviable position. Whereas previously released petrol-electric Lexus models boasted significant performance gains and excellent economy thanks to full hybrid technology, the CT 200h trades on a long list of standard specification, individualistic packaging and optimal fuel efficiency … those aren’t exactly key attributes of rival contemporary premium hatches.
But then it’s a Lexus, and the droves of urbanites who dream of trading in their volume-selling hatchbacks for products bearing luxury brand badges are likely to attracted by the Japanese marque’s reputation for quality, exclusivity and customer satisfaction.
The exterior design of the CT 200h was inspired by the distinctive lines of the LF-Ch concept and highlights include a pronounced grille and headlamps with LED running lights, steeply raked windscreen, a flowing roofline and slingshot window arrangement. Although not everyone who has seen it in pictures are bowled over by the newcomer’s design, the car looks particularly striking in the metal, especially in dark metallic colours and in F-Sport trim.
For me the highlight of the vehicle is definitely its sporty, leather-trimmed interior combining superior ergonomics with extensive use of metallic accents and dark, soft-touch surfaces. The dashboard is split into an upper display zone, with an eight-inch LCD multi-display screen, and a lower operation zone, with the facia-mounted shift lever and remote touch multi-function controller. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing interior I have ever encountered, but the initial feeling of premium quality makes a strong impression, more so than those of the CT’s ageing rivals. The rear leg- and headroom are fair by compact hatch standards, and although the boot capacity seems a bit tight, the impression is compounded by the newcomer’s high loading sill.
Standard interior equipment includes dual-zone climate control, a multi-function steering wheel, automatically activated headlamps with daytime running lights, heated seats, Bluetooth compatibility and keyless start. The F-Sport package adds, inter alia, keyless entry, 17-inch wheels, retractable side mirrors, an electrically adjustable sports driver’s seat with extra lumbar support and an electro-chromatic rear-view mirror. There is also an optional convenience package, which adds an EMV display function, HDD navigation and voice command, a 10-speaker premium sound system and reverse-view camera.
For many prospective customers, the CT 200h will tick enough boxes on its brand value and specification alone, but because most premium hatches are positioned as drivers’ cars, Lexus has had to ensure that its all-new front-wheel-drive platform is engaging. To that end, the new Lexus rides on a MacPherson front and double-wishbone rear suspension that strikes an admirable balance between ride comfort and handling agility. The driving position is very sporty, the front seats firmly supportinve and the steering is reasonably weighted and communicative.
However, Lexus’ littlest hybrid is not tremendously fleet of foot. The 1,8-litre VVT-i petrol engine and 60 kW electric motor are mated with an e-CVT transmission and produce a combined 100 kW and torque peaks of 142 and 207 N.m respectively. Drivers have the choice of three selectable drive modes: eco and normal place the emphasis on efficiency and comfort, while sport focuses on dynamic performance. Unfortunately, the CT 200h feels willing, but short of real poke and the hybrid powertrain sounds less than sonorous when driven enthusiastically. Drive it with a measured approach, and impressive fuel consumption returns can be realised, however… We achieved a figure of 6,0 litres/100 km with the CT 200h when we tested it on the standard CAR magazine fuel route recently.
Like all Lexus vehicles, the CT 200h is equipped with many standard active safety features, including a total of eight airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, and vehicle stability- and traction control systems. Prices begin at R343 300 for the S model and the F-Sport spec retails for R398 500. All models come with four-year/100 000 km service plans.
On the face of things, the CT 200h seems less than keenly priced, especially considering that its rivals come with full maintenance plans, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to look at its segment rivals and spec them to the level of the Lexus models for a clearer comparison.
Ultimately, the CT 200h represents a glimpse of our motoring future … at least until such time as alternative fuel/zero emission vehicles become commonplace. Should the price of fuel double in five years time (as it has been projected), a product such as the CT 200h should be a straightforward choice. For now, it will appeal to those who want to make a statement about their environmental-mindedness and sophisticated taste, but that should not detract from the fact that Lexus’s sojourn into the premium hatch segment shows much promise.
In fact, it should ultimately elevate Lexus from the premium fringe of the local market.
A CAR Special Report on Lexus Hybrid Drive products appears in the August 2011 issue of the magazine