Lexus claims to have made hundreds of changes to the facelifted CT200h, distinguished by its gurning ‘spindle grille’ and new alloy wheels. Not one of those tweaks heralds the arrival of something that’d make the CT more relevant to many UK buyers in one fell swoop: a turbodiesel engine.
The range stretches from the £20,995 ‘S’ to the £29,495 ‘Premier’, but we’re driving the mid-spec CT200h Advance, priced at £23,995. Regardless of which trim level you go for, there’s a one-size-fits-all hybrid powertrain. No pressure…
What’s the biggest change I’ll notice while driving the new Lexus CT200h?
It now has refinement befitting of the noises Lexus makes about its ‘premium’ status. By adding more than 20 new spot welds to the body, the facelifted CT200h is considerably more rigid than the old car. That’s attention to detail for you. In turn, Lexus has softened the notoriously brittle dampers of the old car, knowing the stronger body won’t wilt like overcooked veg.
The net result is the CT200h is now far from uncomfortable, albeit not as agile as a Mercedes A-class, Audi A3 or BMW 1-series. The battery-laden CT200h feels heavier than its actual 1410kg; the car can squat hard on undulating A-roads as it struggles to carry the hefty ballast. That square-jawed new bumper never quite kisses the blacktop, but it’s still not a keyed-in, engaging drive. The unnervingly numb steering (controlled by a smaller new steering wheel from the IS saloon, shorn of paddleshifters) is a big culprit.
However, the CT200h gains ground back by being quieter than just about all its rivals, perhaps bar the new Mk7 VW Golf. That’s not just a virtue of its hybrid powertrain, which tools around on electric power in urban areas. Even at an 80mph motorway cruise (when the 1.8-litre petrol engine is doing all the work) there’s only a ripple of wind noise around the LF-A supercar-like mirrors to spoil the ambience.
Speaking of interior ambience – another first-class Lexus interior?
The build quality is beyond reproach, but there’s a pervading sense of the CT200h trying to be too clever for its own good inside. 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? Meanwhile, the new rotary knob for working the main infotainment screen (which you’ll be using several times every journey) is a cheap-feeling plastic wheel that’s way off the pace of Merc’s Comand, BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI controllers.
Switchgear niggles aside, the CT200h has a low-set, comfortable driving position, supportive seats and doesn’t feel as cramped up front as the high-tunnelled IS saloon. Rear space beats a BMW 1-series, if not an Audi A3 Sportback, but visibility is poor due to the fussy rear styling. The thick pillars conspire to make the car feel more claustrophobic than in actually is, despite the refreshingly light tones inside our mid-spec test car.
How about that choice-of-one powertrain then?
On paper, it’s a fleet manager’s dream: a Green Party company car in fact. In its most basic spec, CT200h CO2 emissions are as little as 82g/km – though who wants a car this dumpy looking on 15in wheels? Our test car rode on 16in footwear, giving it an 88g/km rating – 6g/km better than the pre-facelift car. Combined mpg is a predictably ambitious 74.3mpg – our test car just about topped 40mpg when driven with light-footed consideration.
Frankly, you wouldn’t want to take the CT200h by the scruff and chase its tardy 10.3sec 0-62mph time. Thanks to the CVT slipping the engine like a dodgy derailleur on a mountain bike, you’re short-changed out of the drivetrain’s combined outputs of 179bhp and 257lb ft. It also sounds strained – and with no paddles to force the CVT to calm down, as in the IS, the CT200h’s four-pot drones at high revs like a learner driver scared to attempt an upshift across the gate.
Granted, the engine’s Atkinson cycle and high compression ratio mean this is the most efficient way of twinning petrol power with the e-motor, but it certainly isn’t the most subdued. Lexus claims the facelifted car has a more linear build in revs to match the road speed, and that the engine’s new inlet duct transmits less noise toward occupants. Let’s simply say these purported improvements aren’t as conspicuous as the ones to ride and refinement.
In fairness to the CT200h, the drivetrain issues it’s hamstrung by aren’t unique to it. The Lexus IS300h has a similarly dissatisfying powertrain unbefitting of a true sport saloon. It’s the bigger, more relaxed models in the Lexus range, like the GS saloon and RX 4x4, which make a better fist of the CVT e-hybrid caboodle.
There’s no doubt the CT200h is palpably improved in terms of ride of cruising speed NVH. Yet its facelift hasn’t addressed the fundamental issues we had with the car back at its launch in 2009: awkward rear-end styling, a breathless, sometimes thirsty powertrain, and a numb driving experience way off the pace of the cars the CT200h is priced to compete with.
We’re all for some variety in the posh hatch market, and chasing ever-lower carbon emissions. However, for a UK buyer a VW Golf Bluemotion with some options to offset the hair-shirt spec makes more sense (and less noise) and is more agile, more of the time.