THOSE Brits can be a hard mob to please.
They haven’t been tainted by the whinging tag for little reason.
So, Lexus can take a lengthy bow for topping in the J.D Power and Associates satisfaction survey of passenger car brands in the United Kingdom for the 11th consecutive year.
Reliability and quality played a major role in securing the number one position.
Those attributes combine with the best of environmentally friendliness in the CT200h. Lexus has taken the gawky Toyota Prius and given it a suave makeover.
And this premium green machine, that blends petrol and electric power, is within reach of most households, with a starting price of just under $40 grand.
Things are pretty groovy up front in the CT200h. The transmission shifter is just plain weird on first introduction, sitting high on the dash with an unusual change configuration.
Get past that and it really takes only a few drives to become commonplace – and it’s a functional, as well as appealing, cabin.
The dials and gauges are easily read and the main menu is controlled by mouse in the centre console, with buttons on the side. It can be a little challenging to get the cursor to hit the right spot while driving so it’s best to wait until you’re stationary before flicking through menus.
Like many others in this genre, you can choose from various internal colours and trim (something Lexus hasn’t done much of in the past, but is a sign they are moving with the times).
Our test machine was in F-Sport guise, which gave it some athletic touches. The sports steering wheel feels great in your hands, while the snug seats hug you into place and encourage you to find some challenging curves.
The back seat offers reasonable head and leg room – but two adults are about as far as you would push it. If the front passenger is tall, it quickly encroaches into the back footwell.
While it wears the Lexus badge, the CT200h doesn’t quite have the ride finesse of others in the stable. There is still some road rumble and the sporting set-up can provide a firm ride, yet it’s never bad on either count.
On the road
Who would have thought, a hybrid with flair? This is the first petrol-electric machine we’ve driven that inspires hard driving.
The F-Sport comes with more athletic suspension, firmer shock absorbers for sharper dynamics and we appreciated its enthusiasm to push the limits.
Not that first impressions will set boy-racer hearts aflutter. Hit the start button and the only reaction you get is a “ready” signal on the dash.
It can run for about two kilometres on electric power alone. Eerily quiet, the petrol engine only kicks in when you call for rapid acceleration or when the battery gets low.
There are three driving options which control steering feedback, throttle response, overall engine and motor operation and tuning of the stability control via a centre console dial.
Eco mode is a waste of time for those who want rapid response. Its acceleration is lacklustre, relying primarily on the electric power – but you reap the rewards with low fuel consumption and it’s particularly good in heavy traffic.
Normal mode is slightly better but Sport is where you will find the most enjoyment.
It’s no firecracker, yet it is vibrant enough to give you deliver an impressive shunt when you need it.
Get high into the rev range and the CT200h runs out of puff and starts to sound thrashy.
Grip levels are good and the hatchback leans toward typical oversteer when you push the envelope.
What do you get?
Equipment level across the range is solid, including push-button start, USB input and six-speaker CD sound system, cruise and climate controlled air-conditioning.
This F-Sport model costs an extra $10K over the Prestige model but gains grey 17-inch alloys, leather trim, sat nav, side skirts and unique bumpers, sports seats and steering wheel. All CT200h variants have eight airbags (dual front, front-side, side curtain and knee airbags for front seats), electronic stability control and associated technologies – as well as automatic headlights with LED daytime running lights.
It’s a difficult genre for competition, with no others in the premium segment offering hybrid power. Among the offerings with hybrid drivetrains are the Toyota Prius i-Tech ($44,590) and Honda Insight ($33,490). When it comes to fuel-frugal luxury marques, there’s the Audi A3 1.8 Sportback ($45,400), BMW 118d ($42,300) or Volkswagen Golf GTD ($41,790).
Achieving the official figure of 4.1 litres/100km seems to be a pretty tough task. We averaged in the sixes during our test, which is still thrifty stuff, even on premium unleaded.
The hybrid setup shouldn’t cost any more to maintain than a normal car, with the battery expected to last about a decade.
Being a Lexus owner, you also get entry into the Encore program, which has a host of benefits such as loan cars, premium tickets to events and roadside assist.
With a shallow boot, due to the battery space, the F-Sport model is limited in the rear. The back seats have a split-fold setup and access to the child seat anchor points is good.
This is one groovy piece of gear. Bolstered by the sporting touches, such as side skirts and lower bumpers, it doesn’t look like a hybrid.
Finally we have a hybrid that blends drivability and environmental awareness, and it doesn’t shout its green credentials via ungainly design. It suits a variety of conditions but is especially impressive in metropolitan areas.
Model: Lexus CT200h.
Details: Five-door premium hybrid compact hatchback.
Engine: 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid generating maximum power of 100kW @ 5200rpm (combined) and peak torque of 142Nm @ 4400rpm (petrol engine), 207Nm (electric motor).
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 4.1L/100km (requires premium unleaded).
Bottom line: $49,990.
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