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Lexus CT200h 2014 review

The big change for the CT is the new Lexus spindle grille which gives the nose a much more aggressive look.
EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Lexus CT200h, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

The Lexus CT200h had a good start in the Australian market, landing as it did in a blaze of publicity by being crashed by a number of celebrities at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix. After strong start in the sales race, helped along by a price very close to that of its Prius cousin, the CT 200h has since faded.

Late last year local Lexus chief Sean Hanley wryly observed that the car remains the luxury brand's greatest opportunity and acknowledged there was a facelift on the way. And here it is, complete with a new signature spindle grille and a long list of detailed changes to improve the hybrid hatch's lot and find its lost success.

Value

The CT200h is available in one body style with a single engine and transmission option. There are three trim levels - Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury, with the Prestige trim level disappearing. The Luxury replaces Prestige at the bottom of the range and holds the outgoing model's $39,990 price. The new model picks up a reversing camera, four more stereo speakers for a total of ten, the new Lexus Remote Touch controller and rain-sensing wipers.

There's also a new steering wheel that looks like the IS sedan's and a new fixed-in-dash screen measuring seven inches. You can also add enhancement packs ranging from the $3250 Number 1 pack which includes leather, seat heaters and 17-inch wheels. Another $2500 adds a moonroof and for an extra $4000 over the Enhancement 1 package Lexus will add the internet connectivity pack known as Enform, sat-nav and self-dimming rear vision mirror.

There's a big jump to the F Sport, which is now $2000 cheaper at $48,990. Among the features list is a new black roof, bigger rear wing and Enform as standard. Enhancement packs for the F Sport include a $2500 sunroof and the $6500 pack which includes the aforementioned sunroof, Mark Levinson stereo, active cruise and pre-collision safety system. Another jump again to $56,990 for the Sports Luxury brings LED headlights and fog lights, new Shimamoku trim and tinted windows.

Design

The big change for the CT is the new Lexus spindle grille. It gives the nose a much more aggressive look, especially in F Sport trim with the blacked out honeycomb mesh replacing the horizontal slats. The range also has new wheels all the way through and re-profiled rear bumpers. There's also a few little aero devices to help reduce wind noise.

Inside is basically the same, with a new screen, controller and steering wheel but some minor changes to trim to improve the look and some extra padding to help fix bashed elbows.

The boot is still tiny, however, even by class standards. The seats fold to a flat loading area but the boot will just hold a week's grocery shopping, no more. The battery pack and hybrid gear eat all the space but given the car's likely owners, this isn't going to be problem.

Nor is the tight rear space going to be too much of an issue. A six-footer can sit comfortably behind another, but with legs akimbo which isn't something you'd want to be doing for too long.

Safety

The CT200h comes standard with 8 airbags, ABS, traction and stability control, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, daytime running lights and with the new screen, reversing camera standard across the range. The CT200h scored a five star ANCAP safety rating.

Technology

As before, the CT200h is a hybrid, with a combined output of 100kW and 207Nm of torque. The engine is the same 73kW 1.8 litre and the 60kW electric motor and generator are mounted astern. The front wheels are driven by a continuously variable transmission. Its modest outputs won't trouble the front tyres, but you can switch off the traction control if you like.

Driving

Our launch drive played to the strengths of the CT. Quiet and refined, more so than the pre-facelift model, the baby Lexus is a terrific town car. The ride is firm but composed and the newfound rigidity of the updated car - courtesy of almost a hundred detail changes - means a better feel through the wheel.

As a hybrid it does a good job of switching seamlessly between driving modes. You can select three modes - Eco, Comfort and Sport, with the extra option of setting the transmission level to B mode which uses the generator to maximum effect by creating a sort of engine braking effect and harvesting more energy.

Once you've driven in the mode for a few miles, it's hard to see why you'd disable it, there's nothing scary about it. The dash will tell you all about what the powertrain is doing or you can ignore it and get on with your life.

The F Sport model is our pick - slightly firmer suspension and a good level of standard equipment delivers pretty good value in the CT range. All models have decent grip, but the F Sport means a little but more involvement but without destroying the ride.

It's not a drag racer, not even with the instant torque supplied by the electric engine - it's just not that kind of car and there isn't nearly enough torque to overcome the weight of the batteries and biggish 1.8 litre engine.

That said, the F Sport is enough fun through the bends, the seats holding you in well and the steering providing just enough feedback. It is disappointingly slow, however. The powertrain never feels like it gets going and the lack of torque just adds to that disappointment. It is perfectly fine on the freeways as long as you're not ambitious with the overtaking and around town you might lose a parking space every now and again to a 1.0 litre hatchback.

Verdict

The CT200h is Lexus' 1 Series or A Class, the car to grab new buyers and hold on to them. With Lexus, that's only half the story as the company's after-sales service is rather better than that offered by its European rivals.

It's frugal if not fast, efficient if not exciting. The new look is a change-up in image though, with a bit more aggro and a bit less bowls club. But, one has to remember, the CT200h isn't a sports car, it's a luxury hatch and so far it's the only hybrid luxury hatch on the market. Couple that with Lexus' legendary build quality and after-sales service, this might be the car for you if you're not interested in dynamics.

Lexus is promising more for the future, even obliquely hinting there will be a more powerful version. We hope so too, because the fundamentals are there, but as BMW found with the first 1 Series, the slow ones don't sell. Lexus says its buyers don't care. We'll soon see.

Pricing Guides

$28,439
Based on 12 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$22,880
Highest Price
$32,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CT200h F Sport 1.8L, PULP, CVT AUTO $29,888 – 31,800 2014 Lexus CT 2014 CT200h F Sport Pricing and Specs
CT200h Luxury 1.8L, PULP, CVT AUTO $22,880 – 22,980 2014 Lexus CT 2014 CT200h Luxury Pricing and Specs
CT200h Prestige 1.8L, PULP, CVT AUTO $21,230 – 26,840 2014 Lexus CT 2014 CT200h Prestige Pricing and Specs
CT200h Sports Luxury 1.8L, PULP, CVT AUTO $29,990 – 32,990 2014 Lexus CT 2014 CT200h Sports Luxury Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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