Lexus CT review
The world's first hybrid compact executive, the Lexus CT 200h offers low running costs and a premium badge
Lexus is committed to hybrid technology – and to increasing its market share. These twin objectives gave rise to the Lexus CT 200h, which is the smallest and lightest Lexus ever. 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
In a class that features established contenders like the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, the five-door Lexus CT 200h looks dated, with bland styling and fussy detailing. Its 17-inch alloys look lost in the wheelarches, and the wraparound rear windscreen is at odds with the rest of the design. Still, its slippery profile provides a low drag shape that aids fuel economy and there’s a choice of SE-I, SE-L and SE-L Premier trims and a wide price spread. All cars get the same blue tinted Lexus badge that adorns all of their hybrid models.
The driving experience is dominated by the hybrid drivetrain. The clever set-up permits emission-free all-electric progress at speeds of up to 30mph if there is sufficient charge in the batteries – and enjoying this eerily quiet phenomenon is key to the CT 200h’s appeal. Put your foot down and the 1.8-litre engine fires up. That said, it's mated to an unrewarding CVT gearbox, which holds the revs high under hard acceleration. The sporty billing promised by Lexus also fails to materialise, as the numb steering, limited grip levels and weak body control combine to remove driver appeal. Firm suspension also compromises comfort.
Lexus has a brilliant reputation for build quality and reliability. The CT 200h should prove to be a stress free car to own – not least because of the manufacturer's famed dealer network. Safety standards are equally high. The baby Lexus even provides knee airbags for the driver and front passenger, while stability control is standard across the range. The rest of the Lexus range is characterised by its interior quality, but the CT200h is disappointing inside. The old fashioned design, relatively low-grade materials and some fiddly switchgear come as a surprise. Although, like every Lexus, build quality feels rock solid, and the Japanese brand came an impressive second in our 2011 Driver Power survey.
Don’t be fooled by its hatchback body – while the cabin is spacious enough for four adults and there’s reasonable room in the back, the privacy glass and thick C-pillars cut out light making it feel smaller than it is. Worse than that, the boot is tiny - the firm quotes a load space of 375 litres, but this figure is measured to the roofline, rather than the roller-blind style load cover. There is an extra cubby beneath the floor, but the usable area is shallow. Fold flat seats make it possible to carry longer items though.
This is where the Lexus CT 200h begins to make sense. With CO2 emissions of only 94g/km, it falls into the lowest company car tax bracket, qualifies for free road tax and is exempt from the London Congestion Charge. Fuel economy of 68.9mpg 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.