We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the hybrid vehicle, just like the electric one, was born long before many of today’s car companies, with the man responsible for declaring an internal combustion engine with an electric motor “husband and wife” being none other than Ferdinand Porsche, the bloke who you have to thank while drifting in your 911.
As you probably know, the hybrid was killed in its infancy. Now that the global downturn has teamed-up with the low oil reserves, the world is ready to embrace this solution, at least until a hardcore eco one is found.
Less than 10 years after it created the Lexus brand, Toyota gave birth to the world’s first mass produced hybrid vehicle, the Prius That was back in 1997. The vehicle is now in its’ third generation and... wait, what does all this have to do with the CT 200h? Well, the answer is simple: under CT 200h’s evening attire, we find a powertrain (almost) shared with the third generation Prius’ hybrid. But let’s have a look at the global Lexus “h” picture for a paragraph or two.
You know that feeling you get when a 14 year-old accidentally demonstrates that he’s got more computer skills than you? Don’t laugh, teenagers really know their way around a motherboard these days.
This is the kind of feeling we’d have if we’d be an automaker and we’d look at Lexus’s hybrid offensive. Toyota’s premium division is a young brand, one that can incorporate the eco values, which are now more important than ever, in its DNA. Of course, all the tech hiding inside comes from mother Toyota, who is now so far on the road to hybridization that it should actually be called mother T... heresa. But strictly from the brand image point of view, Lexus has this opportunity to grow up together with the hybrid technology.
Lexus is on its way of completely hybridizing itself and the CT 200h is a new, important step in this process, as this is the first time when the company says the word “compact” and also the first premium compact with a hybrid badge. The vehicle was previewed by the LF-Ch concept in 2009 and has fortunately stolen many of its styling cues.
So, will Lexus manage to navigate the stormy European compact premium waters? We’ve decided to answer this question by having an affair with a CT 200h Executive. No, not a Lexus employee, this is the second highest equipment level for the vehicle.
The hatchback... after the female body, this must be the most loved shapes in Europe, a key market for the CT 200h. This means that the newcomer is stepping on a design saturated land. As we are talking about the brand with the big L, the engineers were quickly defeated by the designers. Thus, the Prius’ 0.25 drag coefficient was ditched, in a favor of a smarter design. The result? A four-wheeled creation looking like a female robot with a Cd of 0.28, which is still a respectable value.
So, if it’s a robot, then it must also be smart, right? Yes, it is, as its lighting department includes a hefty amount of LEDs, starting with the daylight running ones, which dominate the frontal area, going through the side signals integrated in the mirrors and ending with the taillights, which will unfortunately be seen on pretty rare occasions, as the vehicle’s straight line performance is its Achilles’ heel.
A blind man would probably recognize the vehicle’s frontal area as being a Lexus by just touching it and, fortunately, having a pair of functional eyes doesn’t ruin everything as the company hasn’t gone too far with the “family face” concept.
The 17-inch alloy wheels of the tested vehicle force you to take a quick and good look at them, as they offer the impression of a high dynamic potential, threatening to help the car exit your “clear focus” visual range in a matter of seconds.
If you do happen to be behind a CT 200h, you’ll definitely notice this, as the vehicle uses a discrete approach rather than a discreet one when it comes to this area. No, not everybody will applaud the car’s rear styling cues, but it does manage to make it stand out in the crowd.
Probably in an effort to show speed fans that a spoiler doesn’t necessarily mean “I get more downforce so it’s safe to floor it”, the vehicle ends with such an element, which is actually aimed at reducing drag.
This is the most Lexus-est part of this Lexus. From the first moment the sunlight enters the cabin unfiltered, you realize that there might be a justification for the vehicle’s EUR 35,000 price tag.
The cabin has a smart layout that manages to juggle ergonomics and eye candy. Our test vehicle came with a beige Alcantara finish for the seats, with the same shade being used for the door panels. And this is not your typical, dull monochrome look, as it comes with certain decorative elements. The nerd inside of you will also be pleased, as the artificial intelligence is thrown in your face via the multitude of well-placed controls linked to smart functions.
However, the interior of the CT200 h is a two-faced environment. While the upper area screams “Lexus”, the lower one shows clear signs of Toyota and not just any signs, but some indicating a certain age. This is why, a part of the elements seems to be coming from a vehicle with a lower status that was launched quite a few years ago.
It’s a mixed feeling and we’ll explain why. Let’s take the buttons that control the seat heating. These manage to please you, as they offer a larger variety of setting than the usual ones and, thanks to the fact that they use an analog layout, remain in the same position the next time you enter the car, but don’t entirely manage to raise our thumb, as they look and feel like they’ve been borrowed from the walkmans we used when we were teenagers.
This Lexus seems to have a true phobia for petrol, as it not only tries to keep its engine away from petrol, but it also manages to avoid the petroleum-based plastics, using recycled ones. And don’t think that this will upset your fingers - the interior plastics are touch-friendly.
The interior space manages to successfully cater for the needs of four (sorry smart) adults, regardless of the trip’s distance. They just need to call their mothers for a quick packing lesson before they enter the car, as the luggage space isn’t even close to generous. A bit of a headache, but this is instantly forgotten once you climb aboard, as the headroom is generous, even for the back seats.
Since we’re here, we’ll also mention that, even though it is a hybrid, the CT 200h comes with three pedals. No, of course the third one is not linked to a clutch, it is used to operate the parking brake.
All in all, the CT 200h manages to be hybrid also in terms of the interior, as it combines ergonomics with a low and sporty driving position and comfortable seats, as well as with the expected level of luxury.
If you like pronunciation play, you’ll notice that the CT, which actually stands for Compact Tourer, makes you think about... “city”, which is the vehicle’s natural environment.
The CT200 h is an excellent urban performer. We can start from any end of the car to demonstrate this, so let’s go to the rear. The boot, even though not class-topping (375 liters), is enough to swallow the amount of shopping bags a couple can carry unassisted (please don’t make “couple” jokes about our test drive editor and photographer).
The interior offers a high level of sound proofing, which, together with the low voice of the powertrain allows offers you almost total audio relaxation during city drives. You can even use the EV
mode to show-off in front of a petrol station - just make sure to use another one when you refill. However, you can’t step on the throttle too hard while in this mode, as that wakes the ICE
(internal combustion engine) up.
The steering is light, which means that it will be easy for you to avoid potholes and irregularities. This is extremely useful, as the vehicle’s sporty ride will whip your back like a Muslim policeman you if you fail to do so.
Unlike the designers of the Prius, the ones that penned the CT 200h were able to also include visibility on their list of priorities, so overall it is good. We were extremely pleased by the exterior mirrors, which manage to show you a lot of the surrounding world though a pretty face.
The parking rating for this car would’ve been an excellent one had it been fitted with sensors to accompany the rearview camera. As for the moments between leaving and re-entering a parking space, we can tell you that the fuel consumption we achieved was 33 mpg (7.1 L/100Km).
The conclusion is simple: this is one of the most urban-friendly general-purpose (please excuse the Jeep-ism) cars we’ve ever driven.
If you do the (rough) math before you set off, you’ll expect to find a decent performer under you while traveling outside the city, as the vehicle theoretically offers almost 100 hp per tonne. However, the lazy eCVT (a.k.a electric motor which is used as a transmission) and the way in which the ICE and the electric motor deliver the power and torque change the real world results.
According to Lexus, the CT 200h needs 10.3 seconds to hit 62 mph (100 km/h) from standstill, which should mean that the car offers decent straight line performance. We know that we’re talking about an eco-friendly vehicle, but it would need some extra grunt. When the battery has a proper charge status, the car offers enough muscle for overtaking maneuvers performed at under 80 mph (130 km/h), but if you exceed that, or go uphill, or need the power “NOW!”, you’ll become frustrated.
Knowing all this, you’ll enter any corner in a relaxed mood, expecting the handling to be at the same “kinda’ OK” level as the straight line performance. 1st bend: you notice that the vehicle has much more corner-tackling potential, you just need to build up speed. 2nd bend: you’ll be even more surprised by the fact that, even though you’re doing a few tenths of km/h more than you should, the car is still following your orders.
Eventually, you’ll reach the limit (the steering, which is a decent one in standard conditions, will be the first to cry), but this is a high one and you won’t be punished for crossing the line. The ESP
, which can’t be deactivated, will step in and things will return to normal.
Both on A and B roads, the CT 200h offers an engaging handling, showing you its sporty side, which is also helped by the engine-brake mode of the transmission. We can go as far as claiming that the body rigidity and suspension would turn this car into a delicious hot hatch if Lexus decided to (almost) double the power and fit a transmission that would send the power to the wheels though a mechanical connection.
However, if the road becomes a bit too “irregular”, the suspension will bring a unsettling ride, which will spoil the experience. The same agitated feeling can be experienced on certain portions of the highway. Here, the ride is much more comfortable, but not quite what you’d expect for an eco-focused Lexus. Speaking of freeway, we have to mention that, cruising at 80 mph (130 km/h) we were treated with a fuel consumption of 31 mpg (7.5 L/100km).
All in all, you can use the CT 200h as a medium and long trip companion. You just have to make sure that you play with the buttons inside your head before you set off, adjusting your expectations so that they’ll match what the car has to offer: ride comfort: -, sheer speed - -, handling + +, fuel efficiency + +.