Lexus CT VS Renault Zoe
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|
Renault chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn may look like a Bond villain, but rather than threatening to end the world he's intent on saving it.
In October last year he launched Groupe Renault's 'Drive the Future 2022' strategic plan, which included a commitment to "eight pure electric and 12 electrified models as part of the [Renault] range" within five years.
But he didn't mention the head start, because Renault already had several pure electric vehicles in its line-up at that point, including the subject of this review.
In fact, the Renault Zoe has been on sale in France since 2012, and stands as Europe's best-selling electric vehicle.
In late 2017, Renault Australia dipped its toe in the electrified waters (risky...) by bringing the Zoe here within a "business-to-business and business-to-government framework."
And in July this year, due to allegedly popular demand, it was made available to private buyers through "selected dealerships"; currently two in Melbourne, and one each in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane.
Just under $50,000 for a city-sized hatch is hardly cheap, but it's entry-level territory for electric vehicles in this market. And what price can you put on helping to save civilisation as we know it?
Let's find out.
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.
The Renault Zoe is a fun to drive, ultra-efficient, practical little hatch. But the dollar-shaped elephant in the room is its price. Without the government ZEV subsidies offered in other markets, it's wickedly expensive, and with fresh competition in the shape of a new 'normalised' Nissan Leaf coming soon it'll have to work hard to wean more than a handful of small-car buyers off their fossil-fuel addiction.
Are you ready to make an investment in planet Earth's future? Tell us what you think 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.
Renault claims no less than 60 patents came out of the Zoe's development, but while BMW's i3 is as hip as Kendrick Lamar on his third encore, and even Toyota's long-serving Prius hybrid still looks ready to roll onto the set of the next Avengers movie, this little hatch isn't shouty at all.
It seamlessly merges into the automotive landscape. A cute, small car with a few flashy blue bits in its head and tail-lights giving the only clue to its distinctly unusual internals.
Underpinned by the same platform as the Clio (with an identical wheelbase) the Zoe is slightly longer (+21mm), fractionally thinner (-2mm) and quite a bit taller (+114mm) than its conventionally powered sibling.
Lead exterior designer Jean Sémériva has literally left his mark on the car, with a full-size thumb print applied in low-relief to the rear door handles. Nice touch.
And monsieur Sémériva has shown admirable restraint in a cool design combining soft curves around the nose, front guards and rear end, with sharp character lines top and tailing the car's flanks.
Vaguely diamond-shaped tail-lights mix a clear lens cover with those nifty blue highlights and brilliant LEDs for an arresting brake and indicator display.
Open the door and a similar blend of tech and tradition creates a clean and simple interior, with strategically placed bright-metal finishes highlighting key elements.
A broad TFT digital instrument screen sits under a minimalist hood, with the 7.0-inch 'R-Link' multimedia screen dominating a central stack lifted by a shiny black face and an illuminated blue keyline around the heating and ventilation controls.
A printed circuit pictogram on the front headrests and left-hand side of the dash is a creative reminder of the Zoe's means of propulsion. And the front seats feature a decorative curved panel, defined by dark piping on each side of the backrest.
Tech highlights include the TomTom Live nav system's ability to describe a circle showing the car's operational radius on current charge, determining whether you can reach a nominated destination. It also taps you into weather updates, traffic danger zones and Renault Assistance.
Plus, the drive-management system can report on energy usage and assess driving behaviour, so lead foots have nowhere to hide.
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.
Like most compact hatches the Zoe offers plenty of space up front and gets a bit squeezy in the back. Although the first surprise is that there's no height adjustment for either front seat.
Happily that wasn't a big issue. At 183cm I was still able to find a good driving position, with storage running to two cupholders (one small, one laughably tiny), plus a pen slot and two oddments trays in the centre console. The second of those trays houses a 12-volt outlet, SD card slot, 'aux-in' jack and USB port.
There are small bottleholders and storage pockets in each front door, a medium-size (7.0-litre) glove box with an open tray above it, and a small tray on the lower part of the dash on the driver's side.
Rear head and legroom is passable for a car of this size, but storage is limited to modest door bins and a single cupholder at the back of the centre console.
However, it's cargo space where the Zoe really raises eyebrows, with 338 litres available (to the parcel shelf) with the single piece rear seatback (as in, it doesn't split-fold) upright.
That's enough to easily swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres), or the CarsGuide pram. In fact, we were able to fit the largest suitcase and the pram at the same time, which is mighty impressive for a city-sized hatch. Push the rear seat flat and space grows to 1225 litres (to the roof), which is heaps.
Carpeting for the boot has been sourced from the cheap 'n' cheerful bin, but there are D-shaped anchor shackles, decent lighting and handy bag hooks back there.
The boot's unlikely volume is partly due to the absence of a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit being your only option. And in case you were wondering, towing is "prohibited" (Renault's word, not mine).
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.
Built at Renault's Flins plant, 40km west of Paris, on the same line as the Clio, the Zoe's offered in two grades; Life ($47,490, before on-road costs), and Intens ($49,490 BOC) as tested here.
That's big bucks for a little car. At just under $50,000 you're looking at internal-combustion competitors like the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, and Merc A-Class. And while the Zoe's a long way from spartan, it's an equal distance away from luxurious.
That said, the standard features list includes, climate control (with remote 'pre conditioning' activation), 16-inch 'Black Shadow' alloy rims, cruise control, 3D Arkamys audio (with DAB radio, voice recognition, two 'boomer' speakers, two rear bi-cone speakers, and two tweeters), 'Renault Smartkey' keyless entry and start, auto headlights, and rain-sensing wipers.
Plus, you also get rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, the 7.0-inch 'R-Link' multimedia system (with 'Text to Speech' function), one-touch driver's window (the base Life grade misses this), a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob plus black and grey cloth trim (with snazzy contrast stitching).
The DRLs may be LED but the headlights are halogen (a sure sign of this car's age), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are MIA, and metallic paint, as per 'our' car's 'Zircon Blue' finish is $550 extra. 'Glacier White' is the only no-cost option from six available shades.
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 Zoe is powered by Renault's R90 synchronous electric motor, producing 68kW from 3000-5000rpm and 225Nm from step-off. Drive goes to the front wheels through a single reduction gear auto transmission.
Claimed acceleration for the city-specific 0-50km/h run is a handy 4.0sec, with the more grown-up 0-100km/h sprint taking a leisurely 13.2sec. Flat biscuit is 135km/h.
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.
None. Next question...
You can have the argument about fuel consumed and source emissions produced in generating the energy required to charge the Zoe's battery, but the fact is this car doesn't consume any fossil fuel and produces zero tailpipe emissions. Helped by the fact it doesn't have a tailpipe.
When launched in 2016, the Zoe's upgraded 41kWh 'Z.E. 40' high-energy lithium-ion battery ranked as the highest energy density automotive unit available.
Developed in collaboration with LG Chem in South Korea, it houses 12 modules (of 16 cells each) for a total of 912 individual cells and weighs in at 305kg.
Renault lists a driving range of 403km for the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), with a real-world number of 300km a more realistic estimate. And that's almost exactly the range we achieved over a mix of city, suburban and freeway running in seven days with the car. Using overnight electricity rates, a full charge should average less than $8.00.
The Zoe's on-board 'Chameleon' charger allows it to be charged using different power levels (single or three-phase) through the same socket, from 3kW up to 22kW. A Type 2 charging cable (6.5m) for wall box and public charging points (in a natty canvas Z.E. bag) is included with the car.
According to Renault, a wall-box charger (not included with the car) is typically $1600 to $2000 for a residential installation and a mid-range 11kW unit will allow you to charge up in around four hours. High-powered 'Fast' and even juicier 'Rapid' charging points would reduce that time appreciably.
The dash indicator displays charge level and remaining range calculated over the last 200km of driving. A reset function can drop that to an average of the last 30km.
We'll touch on it further in the Driving section but regenerative braking, low-rolling resistance tyres, and 'Eco' mode (reducing air-con load and motor output) are big contributors to maximum range.
And while cabin cooling comes courtesy of a conventional a/c unit, heating is far more exotic. The Zoe's 'Heat Pump' system traps calories in the ambient air outside the car, with a pump compressing and heating them, then directing the heated air into the car, with no impact on range. Super clever.
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.
Some believe cars have a soul, but the Renault Zoe expresses its feelings with a distinctive accent, the car's 'Z.E. Voice' function giving an audible warning to pedestrians up to 30km/h (when wind and tyre noise take over).
The whirring hum sounds like The Beach Boys warming up the theremin for a rendition of 'Good Vibrations'. Spooky and fun in equal measure.
Like all electric cars the Renault Zoe accelerates quickly from rest, thanks to the motor's ability to deliver maximum torque (225kW) from step off.
At 1480kg (battery 305kg) the Zoe is 177kg lighter than an equivalent Clio, so it's snappy in its natural city habitat, but thrust begins to taper off markedly around the 55-60km/h mark.
The single-speed, reduction gear automatic transmission combines with the motor's sewing-machine smoothness to provide close to perfect drive delivery.
Ride comfort is surprisingly good for such a small hatch, and the battery's location under the floor sets up a centre of gravity 35mm lower than the Clio's, so despite a 59 per cent front/41 per cent rear weight distribution, the car feels well planted in corners.
The standard 16-inch alloy wheels are shod with Michelin Energy E-V low-rolling-resistance tyres (195/55), which won't win you pole on a qualifying lap, but are commendably quiet.
There are three driving modes, with the dash graphics aligning to each – Eco (green), Neutral (blue), and Dynamic (violet).
But ECO mode should be reserved for hardcore environmental warriors only. Press the console-mounted button and power from the motor is reduced and air-con output is limited.
It may increase range by a claimed 10 per cent, but what price your sanity? This setting sucks out the car's will to live, and thankfully a second press of the button or pinning the throttle pedal to the floor sees full-strength service resumed. Phew.
The regenerative deceleration and braking system distributes braking force between the clamping of the brake pads and the engine on over-run to maximise battery charge.
While the BMW i3's regen system will have you head-butting the steering wheel (not really) when you get off the throttle, the Zoe's system is more subtle, and watching the dash graphic – a blue AA-style battery surrounded by rising rings of energy – is reminiscent of 'the machine man' animating in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
Speaking of brakes, the fronts are relatively delicate 258mm vented discs and the 9.0-inch rear drums look like miniature versions of the elaborately fluted units found on 1920s Grand Prix racers. They're beautiful and work well.
Some niggles. The wipers skip and stutter in light rain, the lightweight doors feel clangy when you close them, and the R-Link multimedia system is annoyingly flaky when recognising content (or not) via Bluetooth or USB from a mobile device.
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.
The Zoe hasn't been assessed by ANCAP but was awarded a maximum five-star ranking by EuroNCAP in 2013, with annual reviews allowing it to maintain that score through to April this year.
Active crash prevention tech includes ABS, EBD, EBA, ESC, traction control, tyre-pressure-loss sensors, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
Interestingly, the Zoe continuously monitors the state of each cell in the battery pack and will switch off current immediately if it senses an overheating-style abnormality.
If an impact is unavoidable the airbag count runs to six - driver and passenger front, front side (head and thorax), and full-length side curtain.
There are three top tethers and two ISOFIX positions for child seats/baby capsules across the back row, and all seats feature Renault's 'Fix4Sure' anti-submarining design.
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.
According to Renault, the R90 motor is "maintenance-free", waterproof and requires no lubrication, with servicing costs "20 per cent lower than an equivalent ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle."
Despite that, servicing is recommended every 12 months/30,000km for an estimated cost of $231 each time.
Warranty is three years/unlimited km with 24-hour roadside assist included for the first year, and three after that if you have your car serviced at an authorised Renault dealer.
The battery is covered by a separate five year/100,000km warranty.