Lexus CT VS Hyundai i30
- Well-equipped, even in cheapest trim
- Plenty of tech in top-spec cars
- Ride and handling balance on point
- Engine can feel lethargic...
- ...and harsh in the cabin
- Cheaper cars feel... cheaper
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|
The Hyundai i30 Sedan is the artist formerly known as the Elantra, with the brand renaming its small-car sedan to make a little more sense in its line-up.
But it's more than an Elantra with a new name. The all-new i30 Sedan rides on a new platform, wears a new design, carries new technology and new safety equipment, and falls under a new - and more expensive - price structure.
Is that enough to put sedans back on the small-car map? Or is it destined to play second fiddle the i30 hatch? Let's find out.
|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.
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.
The i30 Sedan continues Hyundai's adventurous Sensuous Sportiness design language, though CarsGuide opinions are a little split on how successfully it's been applied here.
The front-end looks sharp and shapely, with a cat-clawed bonnet split by two swept-back headlights. The bonnet points down towards the tarmac, with these angular inverts on either side that, in Elite models, house deep-set fog lights.
The body, too, is a collection of sharp lines and angles, but both it and the front-on view look accomplished and premium, in our humble opinion.
It's the rear, though, that raises the questions, with the lip of the boot jutting out dramatically before angling in sharply before jutting back out again, a little little a pyramid laying on its side. It's adventurous, no doubt, but it might not be to everyone's taste.
The ambience in the cabin of the i30 Sedan depends on which one you're sitting in. The Elite models are lovely - all quality-feeling materials (save the hard plastics on the upper doors), including a vaguely denim-feeling fabric that trims the inner door panels, and those big twin screens that feel plenty tech savvy.
The Active model makes do without the niceties, though, feeling decidedly cheaper inside - a feeling not helped by the fact the smaller 8.0-inch touchscreen is housed in the same surround as the bigger 10.25-inch screen, meaning you're suddenly confronted by a lot of flat, black plastic.
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.
It's a small sedan, but it doesn't feel small. It's longer and more practical than the hatch, for example - at least in terms of seats-up boot space - and there's a surprising amount of room for rear-seat passengers, too.
This is a seriously spacious backseat - at least for those in the window seats - with a heap of room between my knees and my own 175cm driving position, and plenty of headroom, too. Yes, three adults across the back will prove a squeeze - this is a small car, after all - but two can ride in comfort.
The rear seat is split by a pulldown divider that's home to two cupholders, there's bottle storage in the doors, and two ISOFIX attachment points, too.
Upfront, the cabin feels plenty spacious, and the light-coloured, denim-look materials used in the Elite models add a sense of airiness not found in the cheaper, more plasticky Active models. Up front riders get cupholders, bottle holders in the doors, twin USB connection points, a power outlet, and wireless charging for phones.
Cubbies abound, too, including one at knee height under the dash, and more in the doors and centre console.
Hyundai says the i30 Sedan will swallow some 474 litres (VDA) of luggage, up from 395 litres in the hatch - with the rear seats in place - and around 1350L with the seats folded flat.
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 i30 Sedan range kicks off with the Active trim, available as a six-speed manual ($24,790) or a six-speed automatic ($26,790), before stepping up to the auto-only Elite trim at $30,790 - all about $3000 more than the hatch.
Before the end of the year they'll be joined by the sporty-flavoured N Line models, available in manual ($30,290) or seven-speed DCT automatic ($32,390), or the fancy-feeling N Line Premium, for $37,290.
Active cars get 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-appointed interior, wireless smartphone charging, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a comprehensive safety suite - which we'll circle back to under the Safety sub heading.
Elite cars add dual-zone climate control, twin 10.25-inch screens - one in the centre of the dash, the other in front of the driver - with satellite navigation, a BOSE eight-speaker stereo and DAB+ digital radio.
Finally, N Line cars will add a sportier engine, unique bodykit with new-look front and rear bumpers, and a new mesh grille. There's also twin exhaust tips, LED headlights and taillights, and 18-inch alloys, while the N Line Premium adds a sunroof, front parking sensors, 10-way power adjustable, heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
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.
It's a pretty tried and true powertrain this, with the i30 Sedan Active and Elite both fitted with Hyundai's 2.0-litre petrol engine producing 117kW and 191Nm, pairing with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic.
The combo feels dependable, rather than exhilarating, but does produce enough grunt to get you humming along easily enough. Frustratingly, there are some super-clever hybrid-assisted powertrains available internationally, but we don't get them in Australia. At least, not yet.
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.
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.
It's not an excitement machine, the i30 Sedan (the incoming N Line models with their turbocharged engines should better fulfil that role) but what it lacks in outright speed it makes up for with its road manners.
We came away impressed with its ride and handling balance, with the newest Hyundai feeling genuinely competent in corners - so much so that we were longing for more grunt - yet comfortable on the dodgy road surfaces of the city, too.
Part of that is likely down to Hyundai's local chassis tuning, but could also be down to the fact the Sedan rides on a new and different platform (the K3) to its hatch sibling. Either way, this i30 balances the dual roles of comfort and connection to the road below with aplomb.
There are some downsides, though. The engine, though providing enough shove to move you around fairly easily, lacks the urgency required for overtaking or for spirited take-offs. Instead, planting your right foot makes things get louder and more gruff in the cabin, without producing much in the way of extra performance. You're far better off treating it gently, and letting it do its thing without asking too much of it.
It's an easy, breezy, largely care-free drive. It won't get your heart beating any faster, but nor will it have you kung-fu-gripping the steering wheel in frustration. But we do wish Hyundai could have gotten its hands on those European mild-hybrid engines.
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.
Safety is an interesting one, given Hyundai won't be submitting this vehicle for ANCAP testing. Recent changes to the testing regime require the addition of a central airbag to qualify for a full five-star rating, and the i30 Sedan doesn't have one, meaning it would likely max out at four stars.
Does that mean it's unsafe? Nope. Just that ANCAP's testing requirements are moving quickly, and not all cars have managed to keep up.
You'll find six airbags, along with the usual braking and traction aids, before the tech steps up to the active safety stuff, like AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, as well as junction detection, plus lane keep assist, lane following assist and active cruise - all in the Active model. The Elite trim then adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors.
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.