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Lexus CT 200h SE-L E-CVT

Click to view picture galleryThe Lexus CT 200h is the first full
  hybrid to be introduced into the heart
  of the small luxury car segment:
CT stands for Creative Tourer;
200 tells you that the performance
  is equal to that of a conventional
  2.0-litre petrol engine; and ‘h’ means
  hybrid. So now you know...”

THE CT 200H five-door becomes the new 'gateway' model to the Lexus brand in Britain and will compete against the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 in particular, but also offers an alternative to upper level Focus and Astra models as well as Citroen's C4.

Three trim levels are available SE-I, SE-L and SE-L Premier priced at 23,485, 25,200 and 30,635 respectively but they all share the same 1.8-litre petrol engine/electric motor Lexus Hybrid Drive system. A power-split device automatically combines and reallocates power from the engine, electric motor and generator as driving conditions demand. The electric motor works in tandem with the petrol engine to boost acceleration, or drives the wheels on its own when EV mode is selected. A continuously variable transmission offers four selectable on-demand driving modes: Normal, EV (full electric), Eco and Sport.

The CT 200h is part of
plan to offer
a full hybrid version in
every sector — the
system uses a
modified version of the
powertrain that
originated in the Toyota
Prius hatchback
The 200h is brimming with technology including stop-start and regenerative braking but it also features low-consumption air conditioning integrated with seat heaters, low-power audio amplifiers and even LEDs front and back to minimise power drain. Staying with the 'green' theme, some trim components are made from bio-materials.

SE-I standard features include dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, 17-inch alloys, push button start and LED daytime running lights; SE-L standard features include leather upholstery, heated front seats and front and rear parking sensors.

The SE-L Premier gains LED headlamps (first in segment), cruise control, smart entry system, electrically-adjustable front seats, 13-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, HDD satellite navigation, Lexus Remote Touch multi-function control and rear parking monitor. Customers can even specify special dampers cross-linking the suspension's left and right sides to reduce flexing and improve stability and handling response to the standard electric power steering.

The CT 200h is part of Lexus' plan to offer a full hybrid version in every sector and the system uses a modified version of the powertrain that originated in the Toyota Prius hatchback the Prius has been on sale in the UK for eleven years and to date seen 45,000 registrations. So it's a proven system with very good reliability, and has also been adopted for the Toyota Auris and forthcoming Yaris hybrid due in 2012.

Since launching their first hybrid model in August 1997, Toyota has sold over three million hybrid vehicles under the Toyota and Lexus brands. To date, Toyota calculates that its hybrid sales have led to approximately 18 million fewer tonnes of CO2 emissions than would have been produced by petrol-powered vehicles of comparable size and performance.

Lexus has adapted the hybrid system for its GS and RX models but with much bigger engines the significant point about the 200h is that it is the smallest Lexus to use the system with its Atkinson cycle 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine and electric motor.

In real-life driving,
Lexus has found there
is very little demand
for the pure electric
mode and that at least
half of the time it
is running alongside the
petrol engine.
Lexus claim it will
average 68.9mpg — my
best was 54mpg

The CT 200h's tailpipe emissions are just 94g/km and the combined 134bhp output gives a 0-62mph time of 10.3 seconds and a 112mph top speed. The electric mode alone takes it to 25mph for a mile.

Lexus has established that in real-world situations there is very little demand for the pure electric mode and that at least half of the time it is running alongside the petrol engine. Lexus claim it will average 68.9mpg in my hands it managed a useful 54mpg.

Running costs are also kept down with a CAP predicted residual value of 39% over three years for the SE-I, matching the current best in segment.

This, combined with its low financial penalties, will help it with company car registrations, especially the 10% BIK tax and first-year 100% write-down against corporation tax. The zero cost road tax, and being exempt from the London Congestion charge, will also appeal to many as will the 15E to 17E insurance group rating.

The Lexus brand has been a powerful attraction in the UK premium sector for over two decades now, intensifying with the arrival of the hybrid saloon and SUV models a few years ago to back up the petrol saloon and sports car models.

But for many buyers these 'green' models were still very expensive, albeit well equipped and boasting cutting-edge technology. Now, with the arrival of the new entry-level hybrid CT 200h firmly aimed at company car user-choosers who need to cut their tax and fuel bills, Lexus has moved the goalposts.

The new range is heavy on equipment and features but light on emissions and economy plus Lexus has taken a clear decision to give the 200h a dynamic chassis tuned for a more dynamic feel, it is intended to tempt UK and European BMW and Audi drivers.

While I could not fault the engineering and mechanical refinement of the 200h powertrain and its effortless ability to switch power delivery as well as eke out the fuel, I was far less impressed by its jiggly and noisy ride in what is supposed to be a premium level saloon.

It is rough-riding over
some bad surfaces
and continuously hard
over everything else
and never
shows a ‘soft
side to
its firm nature
It is rough-riding over some bad surfaces and is continuously hard over everything else, never showing a 'soft' side to its firm nature.

That noted, the 200h does turn and slow very well and stability is impressive at all times but it's badly let down by the over-firm springs and dampers and big wheels and tyres furthermore, there's no adaptable or selectable switching system to modify the ride to personal taste or road conditions.

The seats, though, do a very good job at holding occupants securely and comfortably and the driver benefits from good visibility for placing the car through corners and parking.

It will take four in comfort; a fifth in the back but at a squeeze. The boot-floor is higher than you might expect due to the battery pack below but the nominal capacity is fair and quickly tripled (from 375 to 985 litres) with the back seat folded flat.

Reasons to buy include the refined powertrain, steering, brakes and handling, figure-hugging seats and low taxes. But the plusses come at the expense of a dark interior, jiggly ride and too much road noise intrusion.

I can see how the Lexus 200h might attract premium sector buyers who value technology-led engineering and design backed up by second-to-none quality and dealer service, but I do wonder how many will be put off by the ride issues after an initial test drive and how many will try, buy but then fly after time behind the wheel. Robin Roberts

Lexus CT 200h SE-L E-CVT
| 25,200
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 10.3 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 54mpg
Power: 134bhp | Torque: 105
lb ft | CO2 94g/km