Test drive: Lexus CT 200h SE-I

The TotallyMotor Verdict


With a £23,485 base price, the CT 200h SE-I gives many more of us mere mortals the chance to access Toyota’s premium brand; Lexus. And, with its tax and congestion charge dodging 94g/km petrol/electric hybrid drivetrain and claimed 68.9mpg combined mpg figure, the CT 200h also potentially widens the eco-doorway – opened by the world-recognised Toyota Prius – to an extra set of efficiency-focused customers looking for a little more luxury with every stretched-out tank of fuel.

We’re looking of course for economy, but also that Lexus edge of technology; smooth cruising comfort, unmistakably sharp 21st century Japanese styling, and a healthy dash of brand badge pride. 

Does our metallic blue TotallyMotor test car deliver this complicated mixture of automotive- and eco-delights? Several hundred miles of motorway, back lanes and bustling commuting in the world’s first full hybrid premium compact hatchback tells the road test story.

Test drive: Lexus CT 200h SE-I

First impressions:
Styling is, of course, a matter for personal taste, and on a sunny afternoon TotallyMotor took our time to shoot the littlest Lexus; the good old photogenic test – and you can make up your own mind from every angle photographed. 

The metallic blue paint – a £510 optional extra on this car – hit the mark with this photographer, with its techno-hue suiting the CT 200’s sharp and modern lines. 

A premium brand must deliver a premium look and feel, even with their more entry-level models, and while this 5-door hatchback is more edgy than it is pretty, it does exude that functional form of aero-edges and ultra-modernity that this tester has grown to love from certain Japanese cars. Lexus call it “L-finesse”, by the way. 

Accusing headlights with LED underscores, jet fighter-styled front bumper with large, look-at-me brand badge, and deeply sculptured door details converge into a look that’s all its own, and it’s defined enough not to let you sit on the fence; much like that savoury foodstuff some of us – including me – spread on our toast.

The Lexus CT 200h is only a 5-door hatchback and not one of their top-dollar, full-size GS or LS cruise liners, but that unmistakable style, striking paint colour and – shame on me – big badge of Lexus pride did leave me with a self-satisfied smile every time I pulled up in public. And there’s nothing wrong with that, right? 

Into the interior:
The driver’s door carries some weight and a smooth pull reveals the expectedly well-appointed Lexus interior. 

No leather in this entry-level CT 200h SE-I but you will find the soft skin in the SE-L next trim level up; priced at £25,200 against the £23,485 base price of this test car. And I’m not sure that you’d need that extra leather, unless you really love the stuff. 

The suede-like upholstery is super-soft to the touch and I could imagine it being welcomingly warm in winter months compared to chilly leather, and it covers a driver’s seat that adjusts to a low and engaged driving position; particularly comfortable – and preferred – for this taller tester who likes to sit low in the chassis. The soft, leather-bound steering wheel slides and tilts to meet the driver. 

In general there’s the right amount of room inside the CT 200 cabin; front and back, when compared to the price range competition, but I did find the wide centre console starting to encroach on my left leg space on longer journeys. However, I’d tend to forgive this slight left-knee-rub for a console that’s so neatly packaged.

The sat-nav (£1850 extra on trim) control “mouse” is very easy to use and sits comfortably under the left hand, and the sculptured chrome gear selector is as pleasant to look at and uncomplicated to operate as any shifter you’ll find.

Just above the control mouse is the ECO/SPORT dial that smooths or sharpens the CT’s driving styling as you like it, and that large metal dial is impossible to miss even when the going gets quicker. 

Above the shifter is a good quality, clear and loud audio system that had me searching out favourite road trip CDs, and just over that are the (thankfully) reservedly-buttoned and concise heater controls.

All in all, the CT 200’s interior is at the premium Lexus-level we’ve come to expect; a well-built, cosseting and driver-focused space in which to burn many a motorway mile.

The drive:
So what do we expect from a Lexus hybrid driving experience? The Kylie-fronted TV ad whispers of a “quiet revolution” and in electric vehicle mode with twin electric motors powering the front wheels instead of the 1.8-litre, 98bhp 4-cylinder petrol engine, we do indeed get what the advert leads us to expect. 

The merest hint of motion-induced thrum is barely detectable under battery power alone, and with the under-boot-floor-mounted batteries charged and with a gentle power request via the accelerator pedal, the CT 200h will seamlessly progress forward in eco-friendly electric stealth mode. 

In heavy traffic situations when forward movement is limited and quick acceleration not needed, I found this Lexus made good use of its “free” electricity. But, when anything more than waft of power is called for the petrol powerplant very quickly and almost unnoticeably must jump into life. 

Work with the car in these low-power situations and make best use of the battery-only option, but these situations during our week-long test were relatively few and far between and anything more than a quite light demand on the power-pedal engaged the petrol engine. But here it’s about petrol-range extension with hybrid tech, and not all-electric motoring. 

Use the electric and petrol power together and the CT 200h musters 134bhp for your disposal, but it’s the petrol engine that covers the big demands, spinning hard and quite loudly during maximum performance manoeuvres, and this, coupled with the automatic gearbox left the driving experience a little disjointed for this driver; with power being made but not always being readily available via the accelerator. 

Waft around in the CT and the car is the epitome of the calm, quiet and collected, but power past a bus and there’ll be more audible under-bonnet activity. It’s as if the electric motors could do with a bit more shove. However, full-bore acceleration delivers 62mph in 10.3secs and a top speed of 112mph.

The ride is firm and planted which makes for good cornering poise and grip, and while I personally prefer a firmer ride, some may find the suspension a more choppy affair than they’d expect from a brand that's achieved quietly confident greatness when it comes to calm driving. 

However, into all of this we must factor-in this car’s 94g/km CO2 rating, excusing it from road tax and congestion charging. That sub-100g/km CO2 figure will be distinctly attractive to fleet drivers, and retail consumers looking to save on these motoring extras long-term, and perhaps this is the car's forte over and above a more electrifying driving experience. 

Yes, you’d be right to demand a calm and luxurious drive from your CT 200h, and your own test drive will likely satisfy those demands, but perhaps first put your driving frame of mind more into a zone of wafting range extension than the quick and sharp back lane buzz that the razor-handsome exterior styling suggests.

And while Lexus claim a combined economy figure of 68.9mpg, during our test drive mix of (a lot) of motorway, some back lane point and shoot, and several bumper-to-bumper commutes, this CT 200h returned more like 48mpg. However, I'd expect that with more time spent with the CT learning to best exploit its fuel-saving characteristics would see that figure climb in the right direction. 

Ten second sum up:
The Lexus CT 200h carves its own little motoring niche with distinctive and premium looks, a first-rate interior and that Lexus rock-solid build quality, while the sub-£25k price tag certainly opens the door to Lexus ownership to a wider audience. With around 48mpg on the eco-clock there are premium diesels out there that go further, but should new Lexus-lovers approach this car more as an affordable, luxury petrol-range extender than an out-and-out miles-per-gallon machine, the CT 200h shouldn’t disappoint. 

Prices and availability:
The Lexus CT 200h SE-I Hybrid Drive is priced at £23,485 OTR, at entry-level. Options on this test car include, and at extra cost, metallic paint (£510) and Full Mapp Navigation (£1850). Price as tested £25,845. Available now. 


Words & pics: Daniel Anslow

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