Lexus CT VS Abarth 595
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
There are two ways to look at the Lexus CT200h; as either the cheapest model in the Japanese company’s range, or as a planet-saving hybrid.
Either way, the four-door, five-seat CT200h hatch – which has been updated for 2018 – differs from the rest of the Japanese luxury brand’s lineup for a number of different reasons.
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.
More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The cheapest Lexus of them all isn’t chasing badge snobs with the CT200h as blatantly as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi do with their entry level cars… but it’s perhaps not quite the Lexus you’d expect it to be.
It has a lovely front-of-cabin, for example, but there’s a lot of last-gen Prius in plain sight in the rear of the cabin.
The hybrid powertrain, too, is noble in concept, but the day-to-day reality is that it’s not as nice to drive, especially town to town, as a regular petrol-powered car of similar size.
The foot brake, silly multimedia joystick and odd gearshifter also spoilt the party a bit.
Empty nesters who are looking for a nice city runaround with a tinge of greenwash about it will love it… and if the current Prius is anything to go by, the next CT will be a very good thing indeed.
Is the Lexus CT200h the sort of hatchback you'd like to drive? Let us know in the comments section below.
It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.
The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.
Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.
There are some light external revisions for the latest update of the compact Lexus CT200h. New grey 17-inch alloys are unique to the Sport Luxury, along with a black roof treatment, new L-shaped LED driving lamps that match new-design LED tail-lamps, while Lexus designers have also added its new spindle grille to the brand’s smallest model.
Inside, a couple of new leather colour options are available for the CT200h, while the addition of the wide-format 10.3-inch screen to the top of the centre console is the single largest change. Interestingly, the steering wheel controls appear to have regressed a little from the previous model, no doubt brought about by the addition of the new driver aids.
Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.
The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.
The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.
Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.
It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.
The CT200h basically replicates a small hatchback in terms of interior size. It'll seat five, but if you try to put three adults across the back, they won't be particularly happy about it.
The roofline is quite low and the car’s waistline is high, which makes the glasshouse feel small. Room in the front is adequate, but only just for taller drivers; the sunroof, as fitted to our test example, takes away a good chunk of headroom, despite the CT200h standing just 5mm lower than a Corolla overall.
The seats themselves, too, are mounted just a touch high to be comfortable for taller drivers, while rear seaters will complain bitterly about being stuck behind my (184cm) driving position. However, my more diminutive wife pronounced herself very comfortable behind the wheel and in the passenger seat.
A nice, small steering wheel sits in front of a single-dial dash that sports two digital screens either side. The left-hand screen changes when you change the drive mode dial between Eco, Normal, and Sport. And there's also a full EV mode button in handy reach.
Two cupholders are line astern between driver and passenger, although storage is at a premium thanks to the size of the car. Climate and multimedia controls - and even an old-school CD player – flow right through underneath the centre console, which steals away valuable space. There are no extras like wireless charging bays, nor is there Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
There are bottle holders in the door, but don't try and stash anything that's over one litre in size because it just won't fit.
It's quite an austere proposition for rear-seat passengers, with no bottle holders in the doors, no cup-holders and no charging points. There are fixed vents under the front seats and on the right side of the rear area, so it's not a complete desert, and there are ISOFIX mounts for two child seats in the rear.
Another practicality issue that's unique to the CT200h is the gear shifter. It operates as a spring-loaded joystick, and unless you're watching the dash indicator, it can be tricky to know which gear you're in. Other car makers have actually recalled cars with this style of transmission stick, and it's certainly something that you have to get used to.
Likewise, the old-school foot brake is certainly an anachronism in something like a Lexus.
Based on the previous generation Prius, the nickel-metal hydride battery for the CT is hidden underneath the rear seat, so it doesn't steal away too much boot room. However, the boot floor is still quite high, and the area is rather small at 375 litres with the seats up. There is 985 litres available when you drop the seats, but the aperture is short and narrow, so larger items will be a squeeze. There is a space-saver spare nestled away underneath the boot floor, too.
Another practicality note in the negative column is Lexus's insistence on the odd joystick control for its multimedia system. It's simply not very good. It’s imprecise when compared to a touchscreen, the action and feel of our test unit was very much less than premium, and it’s just awkward and clumsy to use. The CT is not the only Lexus to use it, but we wish the company would just see the light and ditch it all together.
This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.
The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.
The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.
The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front.
There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.
Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.
The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.
In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.
Price and features
The 1.8-litre petrol-electric CT200h comes in three different flavours – the Luxury, the F-Sport as tested here, and the Sport Luxury. The range now kicks off at $40,900 (up $2150) and peaks at $56,900 with the Sport Luxury (up $810).
The F-Sport may be a little lacking in the actual ‘sport’ department, but it’s is pretty flush with flash kit, including not one but three motors (one petrol and two electric), auto lights and wipers, a wide 10.3-inch multimedia system, leather seats, dual-zone climate control and new 17-inch alloys.
At $50,400 plus on-roads, the F-Sport has jumped in price by $1960, but it’s gained a host of new gear, including a new driver aid system that adds auto emergency braking (AEB), pedestrian-detecting pre-collision warning system, lane departure warning with steering assistance and adaptive cruise control.
There are also LED headlights and taillights, as well as revised styling for the front and rear bumpers.
The CT will be cross-shopped against other premium tiddlers like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Audi’s A3 and the BMW 1 series. Comparing it like-for-like in the hybrid category, there’s the top spec Toyota Prius i-Tech, while Nissan’s Leaf could theoretically be lumped in both on price and on environmental grounds.
The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs.
A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.
A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.
The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.
Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.
What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.
Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.
Engine & trans
The 1.8-litre twin-cam petrol engine makes a relatively low 73kW and 142Nm, while a 60kW, 207Nm electric motor that’s also connected to the front wheels chips in its share.
Combined, the system produces 100kW, while the torque figure translates to around the 150Nm mark. That juicy 207Nm doesn’t come into play, sadly, given that the petrol engine – which is built to run cooler than a traditional Otto cycle engine, and therefore more efficiently – does most of the work.
Throw in a transaxle for the electric motor and a power inverter, and things are getting complex. However, if the Prius is any indication, the CT200h’s drivetrain is durable and relatively serviceable, with batteries estimated to last ten years or longer.
The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.
The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.
Here’s the odd thing – over 220km of largely highway driving, I couldn’t get the CT200h under a dash-indicated 10.4 litres/100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 4.4L/100km.
I topped the tank off with 18 litres of fuel, which works out at a closer 8.8L/100km… but it still ain’t anything like 4.4.
Another owner I spoke to, though, said he regularly records high fives with his CT200h in mixed conditions.
It runs a 45-litre tank that’ll happily take 95 RON fuel.
Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.
The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.
If you've ever driven a Prius, then you'll be very familiar with the way that the CT drives. Based around a 73kW Atkinson cycle petrol engine which focuses on fuel efficiency rather than outright power, a 60kW electric motor (the pair combine to produce 100kW in total), a nickel-metal hydride battery array and a CVT gearbox, the CT200h – like the Prius – is a bit different to a regular hatch.
Under light throttle, the CT is quiet and moves along quite well, and you can even use full Electric Vehicle mode at speeds under 45km/h for a brief amount of time, (slightly less than two kilometres), and with a very gentle right foot.
The battery array is recharged via the petrol motor as well as regenerative braking (where heat energy is captured and directed back to the electric system) – but unlike a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, there’s no way to stick a 240v cable into the CT to top up the battery.
It has the unusual whines and odd noises that you would associate with a partly electric car, but the petrol motor sounds just like a regular old four-pot petrol unit, and it’s running most of the time.
One issue with the drive of a hybrid is its ability, or the lack thereof, to get off the line in any sort of hurry. You really have to mash the throttle to get going, which takes some getting used to. There’s also some hesitation and un-Lexus like thumps from the drivetrain if you confuse it by almost stopping then taking off again.
The CT200h’s biggest bugbear is that the fourth generation Prius exists. Built on a more sophisticated newer-generation platform and with a more refined drivetrain, the new Prius is a great insight into how good the next CT will be – and what the shortcomings of the current one currently are.
The CT works well in high-traffic city environs, where a light throttle foot helps get the best out of the unusual drivetrain. Lots of lag from rest is an annoyance, as is an excess of CVT whine under hard efforts, but the CT200h pootles around town very well.
Its small size does play against it when it comes to keeping out road noise at freeway speeds, though the CT is superior to most other similarly sized cars in this regard. As an aside, its build quality is nothing short of amazing, with minimalist panel gaps, a tight interior and lashings of paint on every surface.
Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.
There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.
It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel.
That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.
Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one.
The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.
The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.
Part of the update for 2018 is the addition of several driver aid systems, including AEB across the range, lane departure control with steering and adaptive cruise control.
Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength.
It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.
Lexus sells the CT with an unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which includes roadside service coverage. The battery pack has an eight-year/160,000km warranty, while Lexus would like to see you back for a service every 12,500km or 12 months.
It’s not just about a warranty or a service interval with Lexus, though. For decades now, its customer service record has topped all industry measures, and everyone we know who has bought a Lexus with their own money has raved about the quality of the service received.
As well, it’s a level of service that’s provided across the range. It’s a tangible benefit of buying a CT200h.
A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.
Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.