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New car review

Lexus CT 200h review

Does a new package of updates make this hybrid hatchback a more viable alternative to traditional premium rivals?

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Design
7.0
Comfort
6.0
Driving experience
6.0
Value for money
7.0
Safety
8.0

Summary

The revamped Lexus CT 200h could well prove more attractive today than seven years ago when it was a brand new kid on the block.

Summary

The revamped Lexus CT 200h could well prove more attractive today than seven years ago when it was a brand new kid on the block.
 

60-second summary

What is it?
The latest Lexus CT 200h is a significant refresh of the upmarket petrol-electric hatchback.

Key features
Bolder styling, more extensive safety package, interior upgrade.

Our view
The significant revamp to the Lexus CT 200h is a generally positive package that adds extra appeal to the car, particularly its visuals.

They can’t address some of the basic issues that hold the car back against its rivals, such as the cramped interior and over-firm ride. But in an increasingly diesel-hostile market, the car’s hybrid efficiency could sway sales its way.

Similar cars
BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 Sportback, Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Lexus CT 200h on the road
The updated Lexus CT 200h brings bolder styling and an enhanced safety package

Full review

Introduction

The Lexus CT 200h is, in many ways, an exclusive choice for the upmarket hatch buyer.  Seven years on from first going on sale, the petrol-electric hybrid – effectively to Lexus what the standard-bearer Prius is to Toyota – still has no direct rivals.

The car’s primarily German competitors in the premium hatch sector have not been persuaded to go down the traditional hybrid route – only recently have we seen a significant degree of electrification, and one that requires a much bigger commitment from the buyer, in choosing the plug-in hybrid Audi A3 e-tron or the forthcoming fully-electric I-Pace from Jaguar.

Instead, the Lexus has to pitch its somewhat bespoke appeal against traditional cars that sell in big numbers – market heavyweights such as the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class. And while since the CT 200h launched 27,500 have been sold to UK buyers  – more than a third of its entire European volume – the car needs to up its game.

As a result, the 2018 CT 200h has undergone a refresh that involves significantly more than tinkering with the styling. There are styling changes, but there is also a significant boost in cabin quality, a better safety specification and a simplified trim structure.

The exterior changes are aimed at giving the traditionally innocuous Lexus a degree more visual presence, according to its chief designer to make it “more emotional and sporty”, and attract younger, planet-conscious drivers to its charms.

So the front bumper and the signature Lexus spindle grille are cleaner in design, there are single projector LED headlamps, bold ‘arrowhead’ daytime running lights now mounted above them, similar work on the rear end and new alloy wheel designs.

 
 

Our F Sport test car gains further changes – the mesh on the front grille is to a bespoke design in a black metallic finish, there are various black detailing elements, the Azure blue paint job is one of two colours reserved for F Sport, and can be combined with a contrasting black roof.

Buying and owning a Lexus CT 200h

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The Lexus CT 200h is now available in four core grades, dubbed SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier – there are also SE Plus Pack and F Sport Premier Pack variants which come with extra equipment.

The basis for them all is a five-door hatchback propelled by the latest version of the hybrid drivetrain that Toyota and Lexus have poured so much investment into. In the CT 200h, it combines a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (considering its size the fact it produces just 100hp is a surprise) with a 650-volt electric motor providing another 82 horses and rather more torque – 207Nm compared to the 142 of the engine. And of course electric torque is all available straight away, you don’t need to spin up the revs…

As is typical with hybrid cars, the transmission is automatic, a CVT driving through the front wheels.  And this all adds up to a car that is not that fast – it takes 10-plus seconds to hit 62mph, some two seconds behind similarly priced rivals. But the Lexus does score on economy and emissions – it goes around 15 miles further on average per gallon, and its sub 100g/km CO2 levels are more than 20 grams better than the competition.

The new Lexus grade structure starts with the entry-level SE model, which costs from £23,495. It comes with a good selection of equipment, including dual-zone air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, Drive Mode Select, a reversing camera, six-speaker audio and seven-inch media display screen operated by a rotary controller.

If one wants navigation then that is part of a ‘Plus Pack’ that also adds 17-inch wheels and rear parking sensors. More pertinently it includes the ‘Lexus Safety System+’, a suite of technologies encompassing the PreCollision System autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and road-sign assistance and automatic high beam headlamp controls.

Even at £2,000 more than the base model, the SE Plus Pack is a far more attractive option – the SE is the only CT 200h to not get the Safety System Plus as standard.

Our test car to F Sport specification would cost us another £2,500 on top of the SE Plus Pack. As well as the sporty elements inside and out, it gains a performance suspension upgrade.

Inside the Lexus CT 200h

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Lexus interiors have always been of high quality and the latest upgrades merely improve what is already good. The fit and finish, which on our F Sport includes a lot of leather, is to standards to compare with those German rivals.

Specific details applied to our car encompass two-tone leather including a perforated covering around the steering wheel and on the gear shift, and aluminium pedals and scuff plates.

Upgrades can’t address one issue of the interior, which is not overly generous space. Despite the hybrid system’s battery pack being neatly slotted in between the rear wheels, room in the rear seats is on the tight side, while the 375-litre boot space is average.

Lexus tells us that the cockpit is focused around the driver, with a low-set seat and instruments arranged to offer the simplest possible use. This might be true in some respects – the sweeping console between the front seats is rather attractive. But the layout looks somewhat dated compared to rivals – the sat nav screen, for example, offered on all but entry-level models, might have mushroomed from seven to ten inches in size, but it still looks stuck onto the top of the console rather than an integrated part of the layout.

This screen is also responsible for the one major irritation with the CT 200h – the rotary dial that controls all infotainment functions. You are supposed to move it up, down, left or right and then press to select functions. But it is far too sensitive and, even at the end of a week in the little Lexus, we were still jumping past the button we wanted to select.

Driving the Lexus CT 200h

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It’s easy to choose a CT 200h drivetrain as there is only one, and overall it is an efficient one. At low speeds, it runs on electric power only and is virtually silent in operation, to levels comparable to the best luxury cars. Glide through busy streets at speeds below 28mph with a fully-charged battery and you will need to watch for jaywalking pedestrians, because the petrol engine will remain redundant and they won’t hear you coming.

Out of town and at increased speed, the engine comes to life, but you scarcely notice it – the dash displays even include a graphic option to show you which bit of the drivetrain is functioning and when.

It does become louder, noticeably so, once you reach motorway speeds, and you have plenty of time to hear it because the car takes a while to get to the limit – the 10.3-second 0-62mph time is pedestrian when compared to conventional rivals.

There is a Drive Mode selector available on the dash, which offers full EV, Eco and Sport modes alongside Normal. Selecting Sport does make the car feel a little more potent, even if the watch does not really reflect it.

The instant torque of the hybrid assistance does make overtaking at speed reasonably efficient, though pick-up through the CVT transmission is not that rapid.

The CT 200h offers high levels of grip, but has always been known for an over-firm ride, and our F Sport version, with its ‘lateral performance damper system’, adjusted springs and thicker anti-roll bars, exacerbates this trait. It’s a bit too sports car for a car that is not fast enough to be a sports car.

Summary

The latest upgrade package to the Lexus CT 200h does add an extra element to the car and make it worthy of another look, but they fail to resolve some basic flaws that only an all-new model could address.

The CT200h has no real hybrid rivals in its class, competing instead with petrol-powered mainstays such as the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 Sportback and Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Audi offers electric propulsion in the Sportback, but this is a plug-in model some £10,000 more expensive than our Lexus test car.

And there is one more factor that makes this package of upgrades all the more relevant, and timely. The new Lexus comes to market just as the tide is turning against diesel – for those buyers convinced they must now buy petrol, but still wanting diesel-like economy and emissions levels, the car may be the answer. The revamped Lexus CT 200h could well prove more attractive today than seven years ago when it was a brand new kid on the block.

Have you driven the Lexus CT 200h? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.

Key specifications

Make & model Lexus CT200h BMW 1 Series Audi A3 Sportback
Specification F-Sport 118i M Sport 1.5 TFSI S line
Price (on-road) £26,995 £25,070 £27,280
Engine 1.8-litre petrol plus 650V electric motor 1.5-litre petrol 1.5-litre petrol
Power 134hp 136hp 150hp
Torque 142Nm
207Nm (motor)
220Nm 250Nm
0-62mph 10.3 sec 8.5 sec 8.2 sec
Top speed 112mph 130mph 137mph
Fuel economy (combined) 68.9mpg 52.3mpg 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions 94g/km 126g/km 118g/km
Insurance group 21E 19E 21E
Euro NCAP rating 5 stars (2011)*
*expired 2018
5 stars (2012) 5 stars (2012)
Country of manufacture Japan Germany Germany
TCE rating 6.8/10 Not yet rated 8.0/10

 

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Design
7.0
Comfort
6.0
Driving experience
6.0
Value for money
7.0
Safety
8.0

Summary

The revamped Lexus CT 200h could well prove more attractive today than seven years ago when it was a brand new kid on the block.
Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is the News and Road Test Editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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