Lexus was years ahead of the curve when it launched the CT 200h in 2011 - launching well before any other premium carmaker jumped on the hybrid-hatchback trend. Facelifted in 2014 and 2017 to keep it (reasonably) fresh, the CT’s 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid powertrain offers an intriguing alternative to the massively popular posh diesel hatch market – particularly lower-powered versions of the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
A rich hunting ground, ripe with company car drivers, it quickly translated this alternative approach into sales, and the small Lexus hatchback soon became the firm's bestselling car.
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The CT challenges those rivals in a typically Lexus way, even beyond the dual-fuel setup under the bonnet. You get striking styling and a well-built interior crammed with equipment, albeit with lots of love/hate touches that owners will need to get used to. Early examples were harshly criticised for their firm ride, too, as if Lexus was trying too hard (and failing) to compete with BMW for dynamics.
The CT 200h is still on sale - now known as the CT Hybrid - but at nearly a decade old it seems even more of an outside choice now than it did, especially as it's been sidelined by the UX compact SUV. Is this smallest of all the Lexus hybrid models still worth considering? Let's find out.
What’s the engine like?
The CT Hybrid uses a Prius-inspired 1.8-litre, Atkinson cycle petrol paired up to an electric motor as its only engine option. Total system output is 134bhp – unlike newer Lexus models, including the UX, there’s no option for the more powerful 2.0-litre hybrid system. As such, all versions are badged CT 200h.
It’s the usual Lexus self-charging hybrid system, so unlike the Mercedes A 250 e or Golf GTE you can’t plug it in to extend its range or hit headline fuel economy figures. In fact, under WLTP regulations, the CT Hybrid hits a not-too impressive maximum economy figure of 55.3mpg – bested by even the most powerful Mercedes A-Class diesel. A low 97g/km CO2 figure is useful for company car drivers, though.
Sounds pretty dull…
As for driving the thing, it’s pleasant enough around town – the electric motor fills in the torque gaps, giving a decent turn of pace off the line. Drive the CT 200h gently and you’ll enjoy smooth, quiet progress courtesy of a pretty seamless transition from petrol to electric power and the trademark CVT.
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The issues come when you try to go a bit faster. The petrol engine moos like a stuck cow if you ask for acceleration, making overtakes or motorway sliproads a raucous affair. Attempt to trouble the 0-62mph time of 10.3 seconds and you'll need ear defenders. That's the fault of the CVT, of course, which has to work with a fairly meagre power band - not a problem at low speeds where the electric motor can help out.
It’s a better cruiser than it was at launch but we’d still rather a diesel for long-distance motorway work.
Sadly, comfort levels are none too impressive. The CT’s stiff springs and 1,400kg+ weight mean you feel every bump in the road, even though the 17-inch wheels standard on all three trim levels are small by modern standards.
What about inside?
Inside it’s a mixed bag, too. First, the good – this is a Lexus, and as such every control, switch and surface feels rock-solid and built to last. The materials are of superb quality, and leather, chrome and soft-touch plastics abound.
The seats are also wonderful, another typical Lexus highlight – and audiophiles will love the impressive Mark Levinson sound system on top-spec models.
The build is beyond reproach, then, but what about the CT Hybrid’s other qualities? Unfortunately there’s a rather pervading sense of the CT 200h trying to be too clever for its own good. The dials and climate control interface are pleasingly designed and intuitive, but lower down the immaturely finished console, it’s not so clever. The pop-up seat-heater knobs are fiddly, as are the twin knobs for controlling the audio system.
Worse, Lexus has chosen to use a heavily sprung, cool metal knob for the driving mode selector – though how many fleet market drivers are going to be switching out of Eco into Normal or Sport regularly? The worst feature has to be the infotainment controller, though. It’s the same floating mouse-style control that’s thankfully been ditched from the rest of the Lexus range – it’s damn near impossible to use on the move and makes controlling the otherwise fully-featured infotainment system a battle.
As for space, it’s limited. The back seat’s tight, the middle perch virtually unusable and the boot is incredibly shallow.
Even two facelifts can’t address this car’s age – it suffers problems that have been weeded out in more modern Lexuses, such as the ghastly infotainment interface and the whiny powertrain. You’d have to be a real Lexus fanboy to pass this up in favour of a BMW 1 Series or a Mercedes A-Class.
If it’s Toyota reliability you want, the CT 200h is flanked in price on one side by the UX – a thoroughly respectable small crossover – and on the other by the Toyota Corolla, which is larger, better to drive and with the choice of a higher-powered 2.0-litre engine.