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First drive: 2018 Lexus CT 200h. Image by Lexus.

First drive: 2018 Lexus CT 200h
Can another round of revisions for the Lexus CT hybrid hatch convince us of its merits?

 



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Lexus CT 200h

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Lexus updates its six-year-old CT premium hatch once more, throwing in a subtle exterior redesign, some additional safety equipment, a larger infotainment screen and sundry other interior tweaks in a bid to keep the car fresh in a competitive class. However, the CT's Toyota Prius-derived drivetrain is both its chief USP and its main weakness: if you're big into hybrid power, then it's an intriguing proposition; otherwise, you'd be better off with a comparable diesel or 1.0-litre petrol turbo competitor.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Lexus CT 200h F Sport
Pricing: CT range from 23,495; 200h F Sport from 26,995
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle VVT-i petrol with permanent magnet synchronous electric motor
Transmission: E-CVT, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 94g/km (VED Band A, 90 first 12 months, 130 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 68.9mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 10.3 seconds
Power: petrol 99hp at 5,200rpm, electric motor 60kW (82hp), total system peak output 136hp
Torque: petrol 142Nm at 2,800- to 4,400rpm, electric motor 207Nm, no total system peak output

What's this?

The Lexus CT 200h premium hybrid hatchback, which uses a slightly uprated version of the running gear you'll get in a Toyota Prius. It's the only series/parallel hybrid five-door in the premium hatch sector and it's been on sale since launched back in 2011. It was heavily facelifted in 2014, and now it's having another few updates to try and keep it fresh in the face of newer rivals like the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class. These revisions amount to new colour options outside and upholstery/trim inside, a set of distinctive 'arrowhead' daytime running lights with single-projector LED headlamps below, L-shaped rear light clusters, a redesigned spindle grille at the front and subtle bumper alterations all round.

The best additions to the CT's armoury are the larger 10.3-inch media screen drafted in for models with the Lexus Premium Navigation system, and Lexus Safety System+ - standard on all variants in the UK. It includes Pre-Collision System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist Alert with Sway Warning, Automatic High Beam headlights and Road Sign Assist. That's a deeply impressive bundle of semi-autonomous driver assist safety tech for a model update.

Trim lines run SE, SE Plus Pack, Luxury, F Sport, F Sport Premier Pack and then Premier at the top, with list prices spanning 23,495-30,495. That makes the CT well-equipped and good value, but the looks will divide opinion. Some people love the Lexus' appearance from the outside, whereas we tend to think it's a bit dumpy when viewed from the rear three-quarters, and its hefty backside makes the F Sport's 17-inch alloys look like trolley castors at the rear. The front-end design's better, though, so it's not all doom and gloom on the aesthetics. Inside, it's a typical Lexus interior: beautifully finished, in the main excellent wherever you look and logically laid out, but let down by a few details like the 'Casio' LCD climate control display, the weird H.R. Giger gearlever from a Toyota Prius and that 'computer mouse' controller for the infotainment that simply doesn't work very well at all. Compensation comes in the form of plenty of space for five adult passengers, although the boot is a bit shallow as a result of housing some of the hybrid system's electrical bits in hidden places.

How does it drive?

In urban conditions, it drives perfectly sweetly. Outside the congested cut and thrust of a city centre, it's not so good. Indeed, it almost serves to think of the Lexus CT 200h as a very posh city car, because it is so utterly geared towards low-speed commuting at the expense of all else. Driven slowly, with only minimal throttle inputs and careful reading of the road to conserve precious speed, the CT is admirably hushed and refined. It has excellent ride quality and a super-smooth E-CVT that almost feels like the single reduction gear you'd get on an out-and-out EV like the BMW i3. Light, accurate controls - the steering is particularly good - make placing it on the road easily enough and it's a generally convivial character within the confines of a city. You'll also make better use of its electric power in town, as the CT will imperceptibly switch its petrol engine off far more often under braking/coasting situations than you might think for a non-plug-in machine.

The problems occur as soon as you need to use anything more than about 30 per cent throttle, because the CT 200h doesn't have the most powerful hybrid drivetrain in the world. It doesn't feel particularly torquey low down, so it doesn't zip about in that eerie manner most part-electrified and full EVs would, which means you need to regularly start activating the coarse, raucous 1.8-litre engine. The four-pot's lack of refinement is exacerbated by the traditional CVT characteristic of letting it hold almost full revs for prolonged, pained periods of time, and while it's easy enough to claim you can drive in a manner that avoids full throttle, the fact of the matter is in day-to-day driving, there will be regular occasions (overtaking, pulling out into busy traffic flow from side junctions, joining a motorway) when you simply cannot avoid listening to the racket the CT 200h generates when you need to meaningfully build speed. An A3 1.0 TFSI would never sound this harsh.

And Lexus' devotion to hybrid power means there is no alternative to the 200h in the CT line-up; this is the only drivetrain you can pick. Even if you can stand the noise of moderate acceleration, the CT isn't ever what you'd call quick and it delivers a forgettable driving experience, despite what feels to be a fairly well-sorted chassis and that steering, which really shines once you're out on open roads. It's a shame the CT doesn't get the meatier 2.5-litre engine of the IS 300h saloon, as that would do a lot to rectify the hatchback's shortcomings, but as it is, the CT 200h is a difficult car to recommend in a class of tough and widely varied rivals.

Verdict

The main problem for the Lexus CT 200h is that, since we last drove it as an updated F Sport in 2014, the UK VED laws have changed and it no longer gains extremely favourable tax breaks as a result. Oh sure, there are various measures of recompense for business users as a result of its low CO2, but in essence as a private buyer you're only saving 10 per year on its VED compared to a pure petrol or diesel equivalent.

Which makes the CT's compromised drivetrain all the more crucial to the overall verdict of the car. Some people like the way the Lexus hatch looks; we're not so convinced. The interior is largely great but the infotainment controls remain infuriatingly dim-witted compared to touchscreens, rotary dials and the like, while some odd bits of 1980s-esque finishing still remain in the CT's otherwise improved cabin. And while the F Sport model appears to have a chassis that encourages a bit of back-road handling fun, the weedy 1.8-litre electrified drivetrain simply does not have the power to deliver on that promise.

All of which leaves the Lexus CT 200h as something of an outsider, a mild hybrid oddity for those who are determined, for whatever reason, not to have something German... even if said German cars are, well, just better. There's an old phrase for this: cutting off your nose to spite your face. So unless you're a purely urban animal, that's precisely what you'd be doing if you bought a Lexus CT over and above other, more talented vehicles in this class.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Driving Dynamics

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 7 Nov 2017









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2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.

2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.2018 Lexus CT 200h drive. Image by Lexus.








 

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