Tim O'Brien | Jan 4, 2012 | 10 Comments

LEXUS CT 200H REVIEW

I didn’t ‘get’ the CT 200h when I first drove it, and certainly didn’t warm to it quickly. The opposite. I couldn’t get past the feeling it was dragging an anchor.

The problem was that I believed the badge, Lexus F Sport, and began by assessing the car as a sporting drive – which it really is not. (And it’s a mistake for Lexus to badge it that way.)

While the CT 200h is reasonably sharp at the wheel, and looks seductively pumped on the Luxury model’s wide charcoal-grey alloys, its hybrid drivetrain has none of the heart-pumping urgency of a hot-hatch.

So forget the pretensions; better instead to focus on what it is. Because then you’ll discover a superbly-constructed, intriguing and, in fact, superior hybrid.

But the CT 200h is not for everyone; the question is, of course: “Is it for you?”

Take a close look and you'll see that it’s superbly engineered – it has a finish and feel that absolutely befits a premium badge.

The quality of the coachwork, panel fit, paint and chrome highlighting is simply exquisite. The longer you look at it, and the more attention to detail you discover, the better it gets.

The Luxury model we had on long-term test, like other Lexus interiors, was beautifully trimmed and fastidiously appointed.

It is also serene at the wheel; the seats are comfortable, and it’s snug and quiet on road - it feels absolutely rock-solid, like it’s carved from a single billet.

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Our only complaint with the interior and features is that the audio is not up to the standard we would have expected. It’s a little woolly in the midrange and lacking in imaging and separation.

But we like the ergonomics, the quality feel to the switchgear, the look of the instruments and centre stack, and the feel of the metal shift-lever.

The sort of quality inside and out that you find in the CT 200h range, particularly at a sub-$40k entry point (the Prestige sits at $39,990), is very hard to find.

Coming to terms with the CT 200h’s hybrid drivetrain though is where the deal may be won or lost.

It is incredibly fuel efficient – like a small diesel - and is kinda fun to slink in and out of car parks and around town in electric mode only.

Most of the time, you can forget you’re driving a hybrid. It’s just a car – but a classy one.

It’s certainly not powerful, though it’s reasonably swift away from the line. For most situations in around-town driving, the linear way the CT 200h gathers speed is quite adequate.

It’s only when you have to quickly jump into a hole in traffic that you might be looking for more urgency.

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Doing mostly highway driving, I drove exclusively in ‘sport’ mode over the two weeks. ‘Eco’ and ‘normal’ modes I would happily use in heavy traffic – where the CT 200h shines – but are otherwise too unresponsive out on the road.

‘Sport’ instantly sharpens steering and throttle response, immediately providing a more lively feel when accelerating or stretching things out.

Mated to a 1.8 litre petrol engine producing 73kW and 142Nm of torque (redlined, incidentally, at a low and unstressed 5300rpm), plus a 60kW electric motor, its combined numbers aren’t too bad.

On a country run, the CT 200h can be quite an agile point-to-point tourer and will swallow kilometers in a very un-hybrid-like way. It is quite effortless over long distances, which was a real surprise.

Importantly, rolling acceleration between 90km/h and 110km/h is ok for overtaking. And, as I found, you can wring its neck day after day and it refuses to develop a thirst.

I returned 5.6 l/100km against a claimed 4.1 l/100km. But that was driving it as hard as I dared and ‘pushing’ it at every opportunity.

As far as hybrids go, this one is a good as you’ll find.

Its only obvious Achilles heel, and an important one, is that you can’t kick the step-less CVT down. Flooring the accelerator has the revs leaping to near the 5300rpm redline, but it won’t give an instant burst of acceleration no matter how hard the right foot is mashed to the floor.

Even an old auto could be dragged back a cog if you needed to quickly get out of a hole.

It’s the doughy way the CVT transmission works that kills any pretensions the Lexus CT 200h F Sport may have to that ‘Sport’ badge. (Surely it can’t have been too hard for Lexus to give us a ‘stepped’ CVT like in Honda’s CR-Z.)

But, despite those shortcomings, the CT 200h manages to get under the skin. The more you drive this interesting and capable car it, the more you’ll like it.

After two weeks I was convinced. Importantly, the women in my life were smitten by it.

The CT 200h’s interior, and coachwork, is exquisite in detail and quality; it has the room of a sedan but the sharp modern lines of a hatch; you can wring its neck mercilessly and it refuses to develop a thirst. And, given time, you’ll enjoy driving it – its electric stuff will get you in.

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For me, it became a two week trip to Damascus. I enjoyed the CT 200h more with each day at the wheel. It became a car I could happily buy and equally happily recommend.

The nub of driving a hybrid, and why they and electric cars will grow in sales and acceptance, it is that they draw you into ‘hybrid-world’, to a new way of thinking about cars and personal transport.

After a while, you learn to accommodate and enjoy the foibles, and also to enjoy the technology and the way it delivers its solution to a fossil-fuel dependent planet.

And you’ll love it each time you drive past a petrol pump.

For me, the acceptance of part-electric and full-electric vehicles is part of a longer journey. I accept the proposition that it’s time we acted forthrightly to modify the things we do and to reduce our consumption of scarce resources.

I love a howling V8 at full throttle, but its time has passed as a daily driver. And yes, I can live my life less wastefully… it’s no big deal.

So, the next car for my family will be the most fuel-efficient I can find to serve its transport needs.

With the Lexus CT 200h, it’s not so much a matter of understanding the car; it’s a matter of allowing the thought in that the things we do as individuals are collectively part of a larger thing.

The Lexus CT 200h is, on any measure, a very fine piece of machinery. It’s no sports car, but one of the finest iterations of a hybrid you’ll find.

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