The new Lexus CT200h hybrid is here to challenge big German players like BMW, Audi and VW. Too bad it’s not even enough to get them out of bed, writes The Wheel Deal
Lexus. Now here’s a company that’s always had something of a peculiar brand dynamic. On one hand they seem steadfast on bringing out excellent, but incredibly dull, products for obedient men with neat side partings and a Queenspark account. But then on the other they’ve got two tyre-smoking dark horses in the form of their utterly insane LFA supercar and bonkers IS-F saloon. Can anybody say bipolar personality?
Well now these two extreme peaks are being bridged by a brand new offering; something that Lexus hopes will do a lot to increase their mass market appeal and, more importantly, attract the money of those people who don’t have graying hair and one of those Johannesburg Country Club stickers on their windscreen. Yep, much to everybody’s surprise Japan’s Big L is launching a premium hatchback to take on the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. It’s called the CT200h and it has just landed in SA.
So how does it stack up? Well in the metal the CT200h looks promising with its aggressive nose, high shoulder line and angular derriere reminiscent of a Samurai helmet. There may be flashes of Mazda 3 from some angles but on the whole this machine offers a silhouette that should appeal to those hunting for individuality.
The entry-level ‘S’ model is admittedly rather bland with its diminutive 16-inch alloys – this hatch has big arches to fill – but shell out an extra R55 200 for the ‘F-Sport’ range-topper and you’ll score more of that all-important tinsel that younger buyers hunger after: 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, and a rear boot spoiler.
Get over some evidence of Toyota parts bin poaching and you’ll discover that the inside of the CT200h is equally pleasant, sporting a level of finish that Lexus has become renowned for. Able to rival the quality of most cars harking from the land of bratwurst, this hatch is also equipped with a generous amount of standard equipment: something that makes its high starting price of R343 300 a little more palatable.
Indeed, even in the ‘S’ you get wall-to-wall leather; dual zone climate control; heated front seats; electric mirrors; keyless start; automatic headlights with daytime running lights; USB and Bluetooth with full voice command fitted as standard. Try speccing all this in a German rival and you’ll see that the Lexus is actually pretty competitive.
And just as in the visual department, opting for the ‘F-Sport’ treatment further pimps out the innards of the CT200h with electrically adjustable sports seats, cruise control and performance dampers. Want more? Well then there’s the Convenience Package that, for a further R35 700, gives you additional bragging rights thanks to a meatier sound system; rain sensitive wipers; a reverse camera and HDD satellite navigation.
Now all this extra gadgetry sounds good on paper but shooting the final price tag to R434 200, well, it seems like an inordinate amount of money to spend on a hatchback. But enough of these spec-list semantics – how does the CT200h behave on asphalt?
Well I’m afraid this is where the story of the baby Lexus all starts to unravel rather quickly. Why? Well for starters it feels unacceptably slow for a car commanding such a hefty premium. And the problem, you see, lies in the hybrid drivetrain that has been lifted from the Toyota Prius. Of course branded with a Lexus badge it gains some extra sporting credentials – the electric motor offers up to 60kW of power – but that’s not enough to put the CT200h into the same performance league inhabited by Audi and BMW. 0-100km/h in 10.3-seconds? Come on guys, a Fiat Panda 100HP is faster.
And don’t be fooled by that in-vogue driving control unit either. Yes it may allow you to choose Sport mode over Eco or Normal – the difference between these two hardly distinguishable – or full EV (pure electric at speeds of up to 45km/h for roughly three kilometers) but this does little than firm up the steering and sharpen throttle response. The engineers claim a slight increase in power but to be honest I didn’t feel it much.
Heightening all this lethargy is the CVT gearbox that drones away like a speedboat whenever you decide to get frisky with the throttle pedal. I can understand why Lexus installed it – great for economy – but it does nothing to inspire any driver appeal. Honda got by this by installing a slick six-speed manual into their CR-Z hybrid coupé and I can’t help but think that this would have been a better match for the CT200h.
Decidingly lukewarm in a straight line the Lexus hybrid hatch could redeem itself, like the aforementioned Honda, by being brilliant through the corners but, alas, it continues to disappoint in this arena too. For although the steering is pleasantly direct there’s a wooden, superficial feel to it that makes spirited driving a rather disjointed affair. The same goes for that chassis. You can sense it’s capable of handling more power but the way it’s been setup makes it seem more enthralled with the prospect of highway cruising rather than attacking some challenging mountain pass at high-speed.
So what we have here then is a vehicle that seems blinkered by the pursuit of being overtly green; one box it easily checks. Indeed, huffing out less CO2 than a Fiat 500, the CT200h will also return diesel-rivaling fuel consumption levels when driven with consideration. The only real problem is that the people who’re most likely to buy this luxury hatchback – read status-conscious up-and-comings with petrol in their veins – will probably be looking for something that focuses more on sport than sensibility.
They’ll be after a package with dynamic X-Factor: something that will deliver some comparable efficiency figures but with a lot more muscle and an emphasis on driver reward. That’s why, despite Japan’s best efforts, I doubt whether the German players from Wolfsburg, Ingolstadt of Munich will be losing much sleep. At least not yet.
Lexus CT200h at a Glance:
Engine: 1798cc four-cylinder petrol + 60kW electric motor
Power: 73kW @ 5200rpm + 60kW (100kW combined)
Torque: 142Nm @ 2800 – 4400rpm + 207Nm
0-100km/h: 10.3-seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 180km/h (claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 4.1l/100km (combined), 5.6l/100km (achieved)
Pricing: CT 200h S R343 300; CT 200h F-Sport R398 500; CT 200h F-Sport with Convenience Package R434 200
Offers something new, shape wise
Lots of standard features
Well built and screwed together
Seriously unexciting performance
Lacks dynamic flair
That droning CVT gearbox
You must be nuts to compare a hybrid with BMW, Volvo and others performance cars. No one interested in performance will even look at a hybrid. And people who want a hybrid won’t look at stick shift runboy. Get real.
Clyde. Face the facts. Lexus want this car to steal market share away from the A3, 1-Series, Golf and C30 – all of which are better to drive and, when equipped with a diesel engine, can deliver similar eco-credentials. There’s just no contest in my humble opinion. What’s more, the CT200h is being marketed as a ‘sporty’ hybrid – something that it certainly isn’t. If you want a sensible hybrid in the traditional then you’re better off with the more affordable Toyota Prius…
i like it, can i get one know
Yip, way too under powered.
An 1800 VVTi engine should be delivering in excess of 100kW on it’s own. Combined then with a 60kW electric motor and CVT box, this car should be propeled (using 160kW) from 0 to 100 in around 7s.
Then this car would be of interest.
What a waste.