A flicker of the switch
Prius hybrid’s luxury sibling is tweaked for the better and comes cheaper
YES, you might get into a luxury marque for under $40K. In the case of Lexus, odds-on you won’t.
The Lexus CT200h, vaunted as the world’s first and only hybrid luxury hatch and zhooshed for this week’s “midcycle renewal”, starts at $39,990. The maker reckons there’s $3000 worth of extra spec over the outgoing model.
It doesn’t expect too many prestige punters to go for the entry Luxury (the previous starter spec, Prestige, doesn’t carry over in the refreshed nine variant range). Nor does it reckon the full-of-fruit Sports Luxury (at $56,990 it is $1000 off the predecessor) will take sales honours.
That puts the F Sport — $48,990 or $2000 off — in the sweet spot, positioned and styled to steal some lunch from Audi’s A3 Sportback, Benz’s A-Class and BMW 125i. VALUE Lexus boss Sean Hanley maintains some of the standard items on the CT — reversing camera, auto wipers, smart start, LED lights and 10-speaker audio — are options on rivals.
He also reckons the average CT buyer will spend $45,000$55,000, adding the so-called “enhancement packs” to their Luxury or F Sport.
These range from $2500 to $9750, bringing the likes of leather trim, digital radio, 17inch alloys, Lexus’s Enform apps and info service, active cruise control, Mark Levinson audio and moonroof. And satnav, which is standard on, say, the $40K Camry Atara SL. TECHNOLOGY It’s a Prius underneath, don’t forget. The hybrid setup runs the staple 1.8-litre and 650-volt electric motor for a combined 10kW output, propelling the 1370kg hatch via a constantly variable transmission.
It needs 95 RON petrol, but not a lot. Lexus claims 4.1L/100km and, on a combined city traffic and open road loop, we got into mid to high 5L.
Lexus cites 94 revisions in the midlife makeover to counter noise, vibration and harshness, not that the outgoing job was a boom-box. A reworked inlet duct cuts down on induction roar, for example, though under vigorous acceleration the petrol engine gets intrusive, thank you CVT.
Spring rates and suspension valving have been tweaked and the F Sport gets its own damping and spring rates. DESIGN The CT adopts the “family look”; trainspotters will pick the difference.
On goes the spindle grille from the senior models, along with a rear bumper and spoiler update. The F Sport gets a tasty mesh grille insert, black roof and unique alloys.
Inside there are new switches and display functions, again familiar from the GS and, the donor of the steering wheel and dash-mount display, IS.
The Lexus Remote Touch control set up puts the joy in joystick.
Trim options are numerous, some almost lurid for the Lexus palette. Luggage capacity is a weekend shopping 375L’s worth; seats down it expands to 985L.
Not too sure about the footoperated park brake, a tiny black pedal in a stygian footwell SAFETY Five stars are a given and there are eight airbags, ample use of high-tensile steel, more rigid body bracing and extra welds and bonding. All-round vision is good, even past the windscreen pillars and exterior mirrors and via the shallow-ish rear window.
On the avoidance side are the usual nannies and acronyms. The top-line Sports Luxury model has as standard the pre-collision safety setup and radar active cruise control. DRIVING Hanley says the hybrid is bought less for reasons of economy than for performance and he longs for something from the Lexus portfolio with more oomph. He describes the CT’s dynamics as “enjoyable”.
The benefits of the suspension tweaks and stiffer body are quickly evident, however. On a brisk and winding downhill run, the CT turns in and holds on firmly, the nose pushing out barely at all. The CVT maintains road speed if at extravagant engine revs.
On rougher surfaces, the F Sport’s suspension registers the blemishes but passes on little via the steering wheel, a CT trait. It doesn’t take long to get used to the braking regime: initial regeneration phase, short pause, then retardation.
The suspension work apart, there is still a distinct slap-thunk on freeway expansion joints, most likely a function of its short wheelbase. Pottering along in traffic, the CT is a comfortable, nippy conveyance. If it lacks one green credential, it’s austerity. VERDICT A lot like your local groovy bar: safe, familiar but switched-on.