Lexus CT VS Audi S3
- Virtual cockpit
- Accessible performance
- Handsome styling
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat headroom
- Engine runs out of huff at top end
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|
Audi was the first to market with a premium small performance sedan in 2014, with its four-door S3 combining luxury appointments with a punchy engine.
The German brand has largely enjoyed free air in the somewhat niche segment, but now Mercedes-AMG has launched its A35 sedan and BMW's 2 Series Gran Coupe-based M235i is set for a 2020 introduction to try and steal some of the S3's thunder.
With a new-generation version expected around the corner, Audi has updated its S3 with more kit to keep things fresh against its new rivals.
Now priced at $65,800 in sedan form, and $64,200 for the five-door Sportback hatch, does the S3 still have what it takes to stave off the competition?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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.
Despite being close to the end of its lifecycle, the Audi S3 sedan remains a solid choice for those looking for punchy performance wrapped in a premium package.
There is a bit of a trade-off in comfort for the extra performance, but it never strays towards being too unbearable or unliveable.
If you can survive with just using the rear seats occasionally, the S3 sedan also serves up one of the best front-seat interiors on the market, even after all this time.
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.
While you might struggle to fit something like a full-sized bike into the boot of the sedan, the extra cargo capacity would easily accommodate extra grocery bags or a stroller.
We actually think the sedan looks better than the hatch, as the styling is a little more mature and grown up. It actually looks like a shrunk down A4!
The 19-inch wheels fitted to the S3 also help fill its slightly blistered wheelarches, while subtle nods to its sportiness can be seen in the red brake callipers and quad exhaust tips.
The rest of the S3 sedan is unmistakably Audi thanks to its singleframe front grille, strong shoulder line and contrasting side mirrors.
Inside, sports seats with Audi's unique diamond-quilting are fitted for the front occupants, while the rear bench seats also feature the bespoke finish – at least on the outboard pews.
Between the driver and front passenger sits a small storage cubby, the gear shifter, multimedia controls and two cupholders.
In the centre stack, you will see climate controls, the drive mode selector and a small screen above circular air vents.
Everything in the cabin is laid out in a clever, ergonomic fashion, though we will note the central cupholders won't be much use for anything bigger than a small coffee cup.
The best part of the interior is easily the virtual cockpit, which lays out all the information you need right in front of you. It's even customisable, so you can adjust the sizing of the satellite navigation maps or media system.
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.
Being a small sedan, the S3 doesn't exactly boast heaps of interior space, but there is enough for a young family or a group of four adults over short distances.
Our head can just about fit in the rear outboard pews, but our necks were a bit sore after trying the middle seat. For reference, this writer measures about 186cm.
Leg room was pretty good though, even with the front seats set-up for someone our size, though again, we'd only recommend small children for the middle seat.
Amenities in the rear are sparse, with just a 12-volt socket to charge devices and rear air vents to keep passengers entertained.
The door cards will swallow small bottles, but not much else, while there is no fold down centre armrest or cupholders.
The front fares a little bitter, with larger door pockets, a glove box and central storage cubby, but don't expect to be moving houses in the S3 sedan.
As for the boot, its deep and wide with a cargo net to keep things tumbling round, and is generous enough to swallow 390 litres of volume with the seats in place – that's about 50L more than the Sportback.
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.
Priced at $65,800 before on-road costs, the S3 sedan is about $6500 cheaper than its $72,500 Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan rival, but still comes loaded with what you'd expect in a premium small car.
Close to the end of its life, Audi bundled nearly $9000 worth of extras in the S3 sedan at no extra cost late last year, which includes the aforementioned 19-inch wheels, metallic paint, Nappa leather sports seats, wireless smartphone charger, magnetic suspension, and Bang & Olufsen 13-speaker sound system.
A sports bodykit is also fitted as standard, while LED headlights, keyless entry, push-button start, electronically folding side-view mirrors and heated front seats also feature.
Inside, passengers will find dual-zone climate control, LED interior lighting, flat-bottom steering wheel, and 7.0-inch multimedia system with digital radio, satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity.
Our favourite feature though, is the 12.3-inch all-digital virtual cockpit instrument panel, which is easily customisable and clear to read.
Audi set the benchmark for digital displays when it first introduced virtual cockpit in its third-generation TT sports car, and it still remains the benchmark to this day.
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.
Power in the S3 sedan comes from a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, which outputs 213kW at 6500rpm and 380Nm from 1850-5300rpm.
Engine outputs are impressive for a small car, though the powerplant does run out of go when the needle approaches redline.
The engine is also down on power and torque when compared to its newer rivals, such as the 225kW/400Nm Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan and 225kW/450Nm BMW M135i xDrive – though the latter is a hatchback.
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.
Official fuel consumption figures are pegged at 6.5 litres per 100km, while carbon dioxide emissions are 151 grams per kilometre.
The S3 sedan sips premium unleaded fuel and the engine is Euro 6 compliant.
With a 55-litre fuel tank, the S3 should average about 846km of driving range per fill-up, but this is obviously dependent on driving conditions and the urgency of the driver's right foot.
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.
Audi has probably perfected the easy-to-drive-fast formula with its S3 sedan, deftly balancing approachable limits with an engaging drive.
The exhaust just pops, rather than crackles, but again, that characteristic lends itself more to the mature and grown-up status of the S3 rather than the ‘boy racer' image of other cars in the same class.
The quattro all-wheel-drive system means the S3 sedan just grips, but leans towards understeer if you really come into a corner red hot.
It's no bad thing though, as steering is communicative and the chassis feels neutral for the most part.
If you want a small luxury sedan that will make you feel like a hero, the S3 is it.
With peak torque available so early in the rev range, the S3 is also a gem when just cruising around at inner-city speeds and when getting off the line briskly.
The transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, but if you'd prefer, you can always put it in manual mode and shift with the gear stick or steering wheel mounted paddles.
The S3 then, is suitable for pulling double duty as a weekday commuter and weekend canyon carver, and while there are other options that will do each respective thing better, there isn't much out there that can balance both aspects.
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.
ANCAP awarded the entire A3 line-up a full five-star safety rating when it was originally tested in 2013.
We'd love to see something like a surround view-camera added to the next-generation S3, but with its diminutive size, it's not a deal breaker.
Some sort of autonomous self-parking technology would also be appreciated to get the car into those tight spaces.
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.
Audi's S3 sedan, like all new Audis, come with a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty alongside three years of roadside assist and 12 months of anti-corrosion cover.
Service intervals are ever 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
Both three- and five-year service plans are available for $1850 and $2390 respectively.