"The Lexus CT200h frugal petrol-electric car that delivers on its promise of low running costs but falls some way short of the comfort normally offered by Lexus models."
The Lexus CT200h is a bit of a mixed bag. There are plenty of positives in its favour, including ultra-low running costs and a well-built interior, but it also underperforms in a few key areas, especially given how Lexus has positioned it in the marketplace. Part of Lexus’ main appeal has always been its high levels of comfort, but engineers appeared to have sacrificed that in the pursuit of more agile, sporty handling when the car doesn’t actually feel suited to that, nor does it really fulfil that expectation. Plus, when you compare the CT to efficient diesel rivals such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, it becomes apparent that it doesn’t actually good enough fuel economy to really make it stand out in what is now a very competitive sector. It's not a bad car, it just promises more than it can deliver. The Lexus CT200h comes in six main specifications – entry-level S, SE, Advance, Luxury, F-Sport and top-of-the-range Premier.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The entry-level CT200h S model is the most efficient, returning 74.3mpg in fuel economy and emitting 87g/km of CO2. The rest of the range all return a slightly lower 68.9mpg and emit a slightly higher 94g/km. That means all are exempt from road tax and should prove to cheap to run, but it's worth noting that are other non-hybrid cars on the market that can both return more mpg and emit less without having to pay for the hybrid technology as well. The landscape is changing rapidly and the CT may need to be revamped fairly soon to keep pace.
Interior & comfort
The CT certainly lives up to Lexus’ reputation for quiet, calm and luxurious interior, with the hybrid truly excelling by proving virtually silent when driving at slower speeds. However, it bucks the Lexus trend for comfortable rides somewhat, with a stiff suspension set up that tends to jolt passengers around a bit, especially on rough roads. Plus, once you start pushing the engine harder, it can get a bit noisy - the CVT automatic gearbox pushes the engine a bit too much, resulting in loud revs.
Practicality & boot space
Alas, the CT's exterior is deceptive – that hatchback dimensions conceal a small interior that feels even smaller than it actually is thanks to big pillars and tinted windows making it pretty dark inside. There is enough room for four adults to sit reasonably comfortably, even in the back, but the boot offers a pathetic 375 litres of luggage capacity with the rear seats in place. This is partly because the car's batteries are stored underneath the seats, which limits headroom in the back and also impacts on boot space. But if you fold the rear seats down flat, boot space does increase to 985 litres - but that is still short of rivals such as the Audi A3 Sportback. There is an extra storage cubby beneath the floor, but it isn’t very deep so has limited usability.
Reliability & safety
Lexus already has a good reputation for reliability, but 2013 was something of a banner year, with it finally taking the top spot in the manufacturers ranking in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, overtaking Skoda. This is an even greater achievement because Skoda's quality didn’t dip at all, so Lexus has pulled off quite a coup. The CT itself doesn’t feature – probably because it's a hybrid – but if you want to gauge how reliable its set-up is, you only have to look at the exemplary reliability record of the Toyota Prius. Basically, owners should find that very little goes wrong and if it does, Lexus is quick and to respond and sort it out. The CT hasn’t been put through the official Euro NCAP crash safety tests yet, so there's no rubber stamp on its safety, but with eight airbags and electronic stability control on offer as standard equipment it's likely to prove very safe indeed. As with all Lexus models, interior quality is top-notch, but could use a bit of refresh to replace some poor switches and buttons and generally make it feel as up-to-date as possible.
Engines, drive & performance
Lexus make some bold statements about the CT200h, claiming that it is a sporty small car that boasts excellent economy and low running costs. While the latter is true – what more would you expect from a car based on the Toyota Prius? – the performance leaves a lot to be desired. It does offer an output of 134bhp, but it feels surprisingly slow, going from 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds. However, it does drive well through corners with virtually no body roll thanks to the stiff suspension. If the promise of sportiness is what drew you to the car, you may also find the steering a bit disappointing, as it doesn’t provide enough feedback to really connect you to the road. It's certainly easy to drive around town, but it's not a fun car to drive fast. A 'Sport' setting weights up the steering, but it really doesn't improve the amount of information passed through it to the driver, so it doesn’t add more fun.
Price, value for money & options
The good news is that the CT200h is actually fairly competitive in terms of list price compared to other premium hatchbacks. The bad news is that regardless of that, it's still pretty expensive. All models in the range come with alloy wheels, air-conditioning, electric windows, Bluetooth connectivity, tinted windows, automatic windscreen wipers and fog lights fitted as standard. Moving up the range to the Advance adds leather seats, while the most expensive cars get sat-nav and an upgraded stereo as standard. Resale values on the used car market are variable for both Lexus and hybrids, so it may be a bit of a roll of the dice when you do decide to sell it on.