Lexus CT review
The Lexus CT 200h has low running costs and a premium badge, but it's let down by a firm ride
The Lexus CT has always lived in the shadow of more talented and traditionally powered rivals, but a recent facelift aims to add an exciting driving experience to the car’s strong efficiency.
The ambitious brand claims to have made 94 improvements to its smallest model, which combine to achieve sharper looks, greater comfort and more responsive handling.
It's designed to compete with the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, while also providing Toyota customers looking to trade-up something to consider. With ultra low emissions, Lexus has company car buyers firmly in its sights, but it doesn’t deliver the sporty driver experience and upmarket style we were hoping for. All cars get the same 1.8-litre petrol engine, hybrid-electric motor and CVT gearbox.
Our choice: CT 200h SE-L
Lexus has attempted to give the CT 200h a sleeker and sportier look. There’s the more aggressive ‘spindle’ grille already seen on the GS and IS, while the bumpers have been tweaked. F Sport models get even racier styling courtesy of a shark-fin antenna, dynamic-looking rear spoiler and 17-inch alloys. The entry-level S can’t match this level of aggression as it’s hobbled by seemingly tiny 15-inch wheels covered in aerodynamic trims.
Happily matters improve inside. Here, the CT lives up to Lexus’ reputation for luxury, thanks to upmarket materials – apart from the dated-looking velour seat trim – and peerless build quality. However, an overcomplicated design and cluttered centre console let it down. Three screens, as well as more than 20 buttons and switches, contrast starkly with the SEAT Leon’s simple and practical layout. Still, the decent kit count includes Bluetooth, a DAB radio and dual-zone climate control.
Despite Lexus’ best attempts, the CT still isn’t as engaging to drive as its rivals. New laser-welding and body-adhesion techniques have been used to give the car greater rigidity, but it still lacks the SEAT Leon Ecomotive’s sharp responses.
There’s also plenty of roll in tight corners, the skinny tyres surrender their grip sooner and the electrically assisted steering is light and lacks feedback. Selecting Sport mode turns the dials red, transforms the charge indicator into a rev counter and sharpens the throttle response, but it’s not enough to alter the underwhelming driving experience.
While the ride of the latest CT has been softened, it still feels uncomfortable and stiff as it crashes into potholes and fidgets over motorway expansion joints. On the plus side, the hybrid synergy system allows for quiet low-speed cruising and, surprisingly, the CT’s a sprightly performer.
However, the CT 200h’s strong performance is undermined by the CVT gearbox, which causes the engine revs to soar to a thrashy red line every time you accelerate, shattering the calm of the otherwise peaceful cabin. It also makes the car feel less responsive than its rivals when overtaking or powering up a steep hill. And as with other hybrid models, the Lexus suffers from a sharp brake pedal action, making it tricky to slow the car smoothly.
Lexus is renowned for reliability, and in 2014 the CT came in fourth overall for reliability in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. The Toyota Prius, which shares many parts with the Lexus, came in second - so the car should be an excellent ownership proposition.
As with all Lexus models, the five-door carries a standard three-year warranty, while the hybrid system is covered by a five-year guarantee.
The CT boasts eight airbags and electronic stability control as standard, plus it achieved a five-star Euro NCAP rating. Crash testers praised the car’s ability to protect its occupants, although it didn’t do so well in terms of pedestrian safety, scoring only 55 per cent.
The 375-litre boot is decent, but folding the bench liberates just 985 litres – 225 less than in the SEAT Leon. Still, the boot floor is flush with the lip, making for relatively easy loading.
The location of the hybrid batteries under the rear chairs results in a high-set seating position, which affects tall occupants’ headroom. The news is better up front, with plenty of space and very comfortable seats. There’s also good storage, including an air-conditioned glovebox, various cup-holders and a handy, lidded centre console cubby.
This is where the Lexus CT 200h begins to make sense. With the same drivetrain as the Toyota Prius hybrid, the CT 200h promises strong economy and low CO2 emissions. For example, in entry-level S guise it emits only 82g/km of CO2. This puts it in the lowest bracket of company car tax, making it the most cost-effective choice for business users.
Fuel economy of 78.5mpg will also help to minimise bills. Even the entry-level SE-I comes with Bluetooth connectivity, climate control, privacy glass, auto wipers and front foglights. While the mid-spec SE-L adds leather upholstery, heated front seats and parking sensors. Servicing costs are expensive though, especially when compared to fixed-price deals offered on key rivals like the BMW 1 Series.
The price premium is offset by the strong 52.7 per cent residual prediction, though.