ON THE SURFACE R400 000 for a front-wheel driven hybrid hatchback seems like an absolute fortune. The reality is that Lexus’ new entry-level player retains all the perks of its hugely successful Toyota Prius sibling, but at a mere R14 000 premium boasts a far more athletic demeanour with luxury and quality oozing from every angle. Sort of Jason Statham in a posh Gucci suit, ‘know waddai mean?’ It also debuts the marque’s new styling signature and represents its fourth hybrid entrant in our market. Let’s scrape beneath that sculpted tin.
When early images of the new premium C-segment hatch from Lexus surfaced on the internet, most were appalled by its overly chiselled visage. I blame the MacDonald’s mustard paint scheme of the concept car more than those spindly jowls bookending its grille. In fact, I really like those jowls which remind me of a shiny rendition of the Predator’s chops. It’s one of the tough styling cues in the new Lexus ‘L-finesse’ design language and you’ll see it echoed through their emerging range of cars. Our test unit is an F-Sport, essentially a cosmetic and comfort package with bonus perks such as LED lighting, distinguished by ‘F’ badges and sexy all-black17-inch alloy wheels decorating each muscular arch. The profile is equally sinewy, while the rear hatch features a broad window sill faintly reminiscent of the Dodge Caliber, supporting a very upright rear windscreen that is almost completely flat. This conspires with thick B pillars (similar to what you’d expect to find on an SUV) to reduce rearward visibility, which is immediately apparent when climbing into the cabin.
Ooh, it’s nice in here, if somewhat dark. CT 200h gets a sophisticated blend of modern materials and surfaces with clever ergonomics, but retains some old world Lexus charm thanks to the choice of switchgear. Just look, for example, at those ‘pop, twist and push’ buttons for the seat warmers. You’d almost expect an oak-trimmed cassette player ahead of it; instead you have an 8in LCD multimedia screen navigable via Lexus’ intuitive haptic device system dubbed Remote Touch. It’s rather like an old trackball mouse, except here it really works. It’s a pity then that the GUI (Graphical User Interface) Lexus has opted for feels clunky and old fashioned. Another ‘F’ badge lives on the leather clad steering wheel, and yet more on the (leather, 8-way electrically adjustable) front sports seats. Extensive NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) damping material adds to the refinement of an excellent cabin.
The CT 200h employs a 1.8-litre VVT-i Atkinson cycle petrol engine (73kW) and an electric motor (60kW) powered by a nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery, with gearing via an ECVT (Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission). Calculating combined output in a hybrid is akin to alchemy, so think of 100kW as its performance ceiling with power coming from these two power sources. Lexus Hybrid Drive is efficient, as you’d expect, with a combined claimed fuel index of just 4.1ℓ/100km (we achieved 5.5ℓ/100km on our test route) and a rather green carbon emissions penalty of 94g/km.
Unfortunately this means that despite athletic looks, the CT is by no means a quick car. A sprint to 100kph in 12.95 seconds confirms it, but a more appropriate measure is its breadth of talents. Lexus claims the car has two moods – Relaxing and Dynamic – with four selectable modes: Normal, EV, Eco and Sport. Confused? Essentially Eco and Normal modes prompt a lank chilled driving experience which means great fuel consumption and some calming blue instrument lighting, whereas the Sport setting means you’re chugging through unleaded at pace, and getting told about it as a red electronic mist descends on the digital rev counter. I much prefer my Ninja setting, also known as ‘Full EV Mode’, which sees me sneaking silently into parking bays with zero assistance or sound from that combustion engine.
A low centre of gravity and deep-set seating position means you’re placed right in the CT’s belly. Despite sharing drivetrain hardware with Prius, the CT’s electronic brain receives more aggressive mapping to help you get it on the boil. You’ll be grateful for its wide track and firm suspension (MacPherson front, double wishbone rear) coupled to performance oriented shocks (on the F-Sport), in addition to high-pressure hydraulic dampers front and rear which replace the function of lateral links – reducing vibration and endowing the CT with a more linear steer. A highly rigid, low-weight body shell with aluminium tailgate and bonnet means that when pitched into your favourite corner the car feels lithe in your palms. That’s the Statham bit sorted then.
Lexus has committed huge spend to its hybrid vehicles, and why shouldn’t they? They sell more hybrids in this country than any other manufacturer. So if you’re struggling to make sense of the CT 200h it helps to think of it as a competent hybrid with a healthy helping of sex appeal – the stuff sorely lacking in Toyota’s Prius. Ours came with the Convenience Package which adds R35 700 to the sticker price of R398500 and includes a moon roof, premium sound system, rain-sensing wipers, satnav and a reversing camera. But if we’re honest the regular F-Sport is all the premium hybrid hatch you’ll ever need. Add that five-star Euro NCAP rating plus a four-year/100000km warranty and service plan, and it rates high on the sensible index too.