A flicker of the switch

Prius hy­brid’s lux­ury sib­ling is tweaked for the bet­ter and comes cheaper

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - TIM VAUGHAN CARS­GUIDE DEPUTY EDI­TOR

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.

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