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First drive: Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.

First drive: Lexus CT 200h F Sport
Updated Lexus CT line-up brings improvements, but would you?

   



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| First Drive | Rome, Italy | Lexus CT 200h F Sport |

Overall rating: 3 3 3 3 3

Lexus gives its hybrid hatch sharper looks inside and out, improves both the dynamics and its green credentials, and is proud to claim it is its first car developed by a female chief engineer. But is it really enough to tempt buyers out of their Audis, BMWs and Mercs?

Key Facts

Model tested: Lexus CT 200h F Sport
Pricing: 26,745 as tested; CT 200h range starts at 20,995
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol with electric motor hybrid drive
Transmission: E-CVT (continuously variable transmission), front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
Rivals: Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class
CO2 emissions: 94g/km (F Sport, see text)
Combined economy: 68.9mpg (F Sport, see text)
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 10.3 seconds
Power: 136hp at 5,200rpm (combined hybrid system peak)
Torque: 142Nm from 2,800- to 4,400rpm (petrol); 207Nm (electric motor)

In the Metal: 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Lexus has sharpened up the front end of the CT 200h and added chrome accenting around the grille, but the more striking appearance is held by the F Sport model we drove. Sitting near the very top of the six-trim line-up (only the Premier is above it), the F Sport has the full spindle grille at the front with an 'L-pattern' mesh, which helps it stand out in rear-view mirrors. Elsewhere there are side skirts, a boot spoiler with two scoops cut out of it - to help with rear downforce - and bigger 17-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, the F Sport also benefits from unique seats with bigger side bolsters, aluminium pedals and a three-spoke steering wheel with perforated leather on the two side quarters of the rim - even non-F Sport models receive the 370mm diameter three-spoke leather item (sans perforations) from the Lexus IS saloon. F Sport buyers will also get the Lexus Premium Navigation system as standard.

However, while no CT 200h, F Sport body kit or not, is exactly ugly, there's something of a lack of cohesion to the exterior that doesn't sit well. The back has been improved, with more contours around the lower rear bumper, but it is still dumpy in relation to the leonine face. And the cabin is one of those Japanese interiors with just too much of a whiff of the '90s about it to really endear itself - also, we found a crazy 13 different material finishes in the front of the F Sport alone, which is way too busy. Comfy seats with a superb driving position and that tactile steering wheel do somewhat make up for this, though.

Driving it: 3 3 3 3 3

Lexus claims improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels and better dynamics, and the F Sport also gets its own suspension settings and beefier anti-roll bars to go with those 17-inch wheels. However, the drivetrain is the same as it always was - a 1.8-litre petrol four-cylinder unit augmented by an electric motor and driving the front wheels through a (deep breath, now) CVT gearbox.

Driving an F Sport back-to-back with a 16-inch-wheeled Advance model, the larger diameter metal at all four corners delivers some obvious outcomes; namely, that the handling is a bit sharper at the cost of some ride comfort. The steering is remarkably good, thanks to the bigger contact patches provided by the 215/45 rubber no doubt. It's direct and offers up some feel, with plenty of weight and not much dead travel around the straight-ahead.

The ride is improved over the pre-facelift car, F Sport included, but there's still some fidgeting over the worst surfaces - and if you think our roads are bad, you should try some of the lunar tarmac surrounding Rome. So while it's not totally unruffled, the Lexus is comfortable enough and probably no worse than an M Sport-kitted BMW 118d, for example. Road noise is reduced on the 16-inch wheels while the ride is even smoother again.

But what will either win fans or put potential buyers off is the motive power. The CT 200h is as serene as ever at switching between its full EV mode and using the petrol-hybrid propulsion, which makes it an easy thing to navigate through the unfettered lunacy of Italian city driving. But out on the open road, the four-pot engine has a coarse note that is not helped by the workings of the CVT 'box. Lexus has improved the latter, so it doesn't hunt as endlessly and rowdily for 'ratios', but it's still not something that encourages spirited driving of any form.

Also, despite the mammoth torque of the electric motor, the CT 200h never seems to have the same sort of shove a decent turbodiesel engine would have; this is because you don't just add the two motors' peak power/torque figures together, and indeed Lexus doesn't even quote combined peak torque. The pay-off, of course, is parsimony supreme in terms of economy and emissions, and this is the CT's USP, but the hybrid system is unspectacular otherwise.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

All CTs now get DAB digital radio, twin USB ports, a tyre pressure monitoring system, Hill Assist Control, a space-saver spare wheel and shark-fin roof antenna on top of the excellent levels of equipment - such as Bluetooth, climate control and LED lights - that they already had. F Sport, as already mentioned, adds in Premium Navigation with full connected services and an uprated ten-speaker Panasonic sound system for its 26,745, which, as a Lexus slideshow informed us, makes any CT 200h very favourable spec-for-spec versus BMW, Mercedes and Audi offerings. Plus, list prices have been slashed by up to 1,500 compared to previous models across the range.

All CT 200hs have a benefit in kind (BIK) rate of 11 per cent, and as for fuel economy and CO2 emissions, well, read on...

Worth Noting

The F Sport trim level certainly injects some visual charm into proceedings, but those 17-inch wheels hit the economy and emissions fairly hard, even over the 16-inch items most cars will be on - but it's quite an impact compared to the 15-inch items found on the S. CO2 emissions jump from 82- to 94g/km, but the combined fuel economy drops almost 10mpg, from 78.5- to 68.9mpg.

However, as no CT 200h exceeds the 100g/km CO2 level that incurs an annual VED charge, and neither does any model quite get down to the 75g/km that would allow them to enter central London for free, it's really only your own eco-conscience that will determine if you go for green-and-dowdy S or attractive-but-thirstier F Sport.

Summary

It's a pretty decent companion, the Lexus CT 200h, and the revisions have improved the package - especially in terms of exterior appearance, general ride comfort and noise. But its mixed messages of eco driving, provided by its relatively underpowered hybrid drivetrain and CVT gearbox, and supposed sporting prowess (the F Sport in particular is a tidy handler) make it difficult to unequivocally recommend the CT. It's cheaper, much cleaner and better-equipped than a conventional 1.6-litre diesel from one of the Germans, but it's also not as fully resolved a machine. And if you're a committed green motorist, maybe Toyota's own Auris and Prius hybrids would offer you the same low-cost motoring at a cheaper price than the oddball Lexus. Worthy as it is, there's no class-redefining moment to be found with the new CT 200h.


Matt Robinson - 7 Mar 2014



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2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.



2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. Image by Lexus.
 






 

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