Lexus CT 200h SE-L Premier review
by David Finlay (2 June 2011)
The CT 200h is Lexus's smallest car, and its first attempt at a premium compact. It's not cheap - over £30,000 in its ultimate form, though you can have one for less than £24,000 if you skimp on the specification - but there's no doubt that it feels very classy and well put-together for something of its size.
It's also unusual in being a hybrid, using the same petrol/electric powertrain also found in the Toyota Prius and Auris Hybrid. That means it's not very quick, though its key performance figures of 112mph flat-out and 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds are sufficient for the purpose. But like the Toyota-branded models it's quiet, and from my experience it can achieve somewhere around 55mpg even if, as in the case of this test, the majority of your driving is in urban areas.
That statistic may seem disappointing, given the official combined economy figure of 68.9mpg. Well, you know the problems with the EU economy test. In real-life motoring, a result in the mid-50s is just fine. And this discrepancy has no effect on the sub-100g/km CO2 rating, which means you don't have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty or the London congestion charge.
The publicity material provided by Lexus is not short of claims that the CT 200h is a wondrous machine to drive, and to some extent that's true. Its turning circle is remarkably tight, the steering is fabulously smooth and accurate (which seems to be a feature of hybrid cars, for reasons I can't begin to guess at) and on very smooth tarmac it handles beautifully. Over some recently resurfaced country roads the test car could be hustled along so smartly that the relatively modest straightline performance hardly seemed to matter at all.
Elsewhere it wasn't nearly as good. Large bumps and dips confuse it greatly, and suggest that the CT 200h has trouble carrying its own weight, while smaller and more abrupt irregularities make it feel as if it's running on huge wheels and impractically low-profile tyres, even though the test car actually sat on what seemed to be perfectly sensible rubber.
As Tom Stewart said in his launch review of the car, styling is "a subjective and often contentious matter", so if you happen to like the looks of the little Lexus you're welcome to disagree with my own view that it's clumsy and - at the rear - looks suspiciously like a copy of the Mazda3.
But I will argue from now until the end of days that the use of glass at the tail end is thoroughly ridiculous. Visibility back there is every bit as bad as it is in the Prius, though for quite different reasons. Perhaps the Lexus designers wanted to make as much of a dog's dinner of the window layout as their Toyota colleagues had done without copying any of their methods.
This isn't all that's wrong with the back of the car. For a start, there isn't much room for passengers there (Lexus says there is, but I can get into the rear of smaller models with greater ease). And you may be alarmed at how little luggage space there appears to be when you open the tailgate, though you can access more of it by removing the false floor and revealing a large square compartment.
Of course, you can improve matters by folding down the rear seats, but even then the maximum capacity is 965 litres. Both the Audi A3 and the BMW 1-Series - important rivals in the premium compact class - offer significantly more.
For all that, I like the CT 200h better than many of my colleagues seem to. There were times during this test when I enjoyed it a lot, and they greatly outnumbered the times when it irritated me. Still, if I'd picked the range-topping Premium model and thereby blasted a more than £30,000 hole in my bank account, I can't help thinking that I would wonder if I'd got the best value for my money.