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Lexus CT 200h 2012 Review

EXPERT RATING
8

While it comes from the basis of the car everybody thinks of when they think hybrid - the Toyota Prius - the Lexus CT200h is a slightly different prospect. Hybrids have moved a fair way from their world-saving worthiness platform. These days they're starting to tout style, status and even sporty aspirations. They rarely live up to that last claim, but if you want something that makes you look good on the street -- and at dinner parties -- the CT200h ticks the boxes.

DESIGN

This is the first hatch to wear a Lexus badge, and while it stays within the fairly conservative styling boundaries of the brand, it's been given more street presence -- unmistakeably aimed at getting a more style-conscious buyer into the showroom. The hatch lines are lifted by the rakes of the front and rear screens, and on the tested F-Sport spec, darkened alloys play up to the mesh grille and lower fascia detailing.

Inside is a snug cabin - supposedly five-seater but really only four - with a premium feel to fit-out and features, among which the antiquated foot-operated park brake seems glaringly out of place.

TECHNOLOGY

The CT200h uses the Prius's drivetrain, with a 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a 60kW/207Nm electric motor, with a continuously-variable transmission driving the front wheels. A regenerative system captures brake energy to feed charge to the battery - also the older, heavier (and cheaper) technology of a nickel-metal hydride unit rather than lighter and more efficient lithium-ion.

But it's not all Prius underpinnings, with the CT200h giving you four switchable driving modes: EV on electric motor solely, Eco using both petrol and electric but limiting power and the drains of airconditioning, Normal with both petrol and electric but less restrictions and Sport with higher engine revs and motor power plus sharper steering.

It logs a 0-100km/h time of 10.3 seconds and a top speed of 180km/h - hardly startling, but that's not the point. It's the fuel figure that's the main game: a claimed 4.1L/100km in mixed driving, and a 5.2L/100km finish on testing over several days combined highway, urban and CBD trips.

VALUE

The CT200h starts at $39,990, but the F-Sport asks another $10,000 for those wheels, leather sports seats, 10-speaker audio, sat nav, reversing camera, body kit and sports suspension.

So what else is around at the compact end of the green-tinted field? Well, the Prius of course, and in top i-Tech spec for $45,990 -- $4000 cheaper than the CT200h F-Sport - with two extra doors. But the Lexus beats it for fit-out and finish, not to forget badge status. Long-gone are the days when A-listers would step onto the red carpet from the hybrid Toyota.

The newest rival is the Honda CR-Z, which draws about level with the Lexus on styling and driving, slips back on the luxury scale - and also on petrol economy at 4.5L/100km -- but at $40,790 in top spec will put a sizeable amount of cash back in your pocket.

But there's a lot of promise if you're up for a diesel, with the BMW 118d five-door hatch at just over $46,000 with an eight-speed auto and 4.5L/100km economy, while the $36,990 manual Volvo C30 DRIVe with stop-start returns 3.9L/100km.

SAFETY

It gets a full five-star crash rating, with active headrests, eight airbags (including knee bags for driver and front passenger), anti-skid brakes with brakeforce distribution to compensate for uneven loading and brake assist for panic stops, plus traction and stability control.

DRIVING

When it gets on the road, the CT200h's driving modes give it something of a split personality. While it's the most frugal, the electric-only Eco setting is teeth-grittingly tedious anywhere except crawling traffic snarls, but the 2km range means you'll get through most of them without having idled away a tank of fuel.

The power-nannied Normal setting is fine for city traffic, but frustrating once you get into free-flowing lane-changes or motorway speeds. For those who actually want to get a bit of response from their car in those conditions, the Power setting is the only place to be. It's not exactly in the spirit of hybrid motoring to just think of the electric motor as a handy way to add torque when you want to go harder. But, well, whatever works, we say.

Under those conditions you could ask for more feel from the steering, and perhaps also a better sense of connection with the CVT transmission. But most buyers should have little complaint about the ride and handling, with the little hybrid hatch turning out to be both comfortable and confident, with deft cornering abilities.

The downside is that if you drive like that all the time, it's going to destroy the fuel economy that is supposedly one of the key reasons for buying it. We finished with 5.9L/100km for an unscientific mix of driving - which is not bad, but it's not the 4.1L official figure either.

VERDICT

It has sporty looks and accessories, but that alone won't add up to sporty performance. However by offering the combination of appealing hatch styling, prestige fit-out and hybrid drivetrain, it's going to appeal to those for whom a Prius is no longer enough. And to those who just want prestige looks without the prestige price tag.

RATING

LEXUS CT200h

Price: from $39,990
Warranty: 4-years/unlimited km
Resale: 51%
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety: 5-star Euro NCAP
Engine: 1.8-litre, 4-cyl petrol engine, 73kW/142Nm; electric motor, 60kW/207Nm
Body: 5-door hatch
Weight: from 1370kg
Transmission: CVT, front drive
Thirst: 4.1L/100km, 91 RON, CO2 95g/km
Affordable luxury with a green tint.

Pricing Guides

$19,880
Based on 16 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$15,888
Highest Price
$22,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CT200h F Sport 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $18,888 – 19,998 2012 Lexus CT 2012 CT200h F Sport Pricing and Specs
CT200h Luxury 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $15,888 – 22,990 2012 Lexus CT 2012 CT200h Luxury Pricing and Specs
CT200h Prestige 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $12,650 – 16,830 2012 Lexus CT 2012 CT200h Prestige Pricing and Specs
CT200h Sports Luxury 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $18,480 – 23,430 2012 Lexus CT 2012 CT200h Sports Luxury Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8