Sunday 23 July 2017

New Lexus goes heavy on hybrid

One the face of it, the new CT 200h should substantially increase Lexus sales, but Shane O'Donoghue wonders if the limits in the line-up will put prospective buyers off

These days, car buyers are used to a lot of choice. Lines between the various classes and categories of car have become blurred thanks to the proliferation of crossovers, while a jostling for position is ongoing within even the traditional segments.

That's how we've come to accept it when a car maker describes a sector as something along the lines of "Premium C-Segment".

That's what Lexus calls the VIP area of the hatchback C-segment. It's dominated at the moment by the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, though the latest Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Alfa Romeo Giulietta are arguably eligible for entry too.

And now joining the fray is the shiny new Lexus CT 200h.

That's not the sexiest name ever thought up for a car, is it? "CT" stands for Compact Tourer, while the little "h" means it's a hybrid. So under the bonnet there's a 1.8-litre petrol engine, an electric motor and a sophisticated "E-CVT" transmission. What all that means is that the CT can be propelled solely by the electric motor, on petrol-power alone, or any combination of the two. The cynical amongst you may call it a posh Prius -- though it's not based on the Toyota.

At the heart of how the CT drives are its multi-mode options. The driver selects between Normal, Sport, Eco and EV. The latter stands for Electric Vehicle and, assuming the battery is in good condition, it allows the CT to be driven with zero emissions at speeds up to 45km/h.

Eco and Normal modes aren't too disparate, where the throttle response is 'softened' to reduce fuel consumption. Power output is pegged back too for the same reason. Sport mode features the most obvious changes. The electric motor outputs its maximum power to help the engine along, which itself runs at a higher speed for quick responses out of a corner.

In this guise, the CT's electric power steering reduces assistance for a sportier feel and the traction control system's parameters are reset for "more enthusiastic" driving. Finally, the eco meter ahead of the driver magically transforms into a rev counter and the instruments glow red.

It may all sound a bit too much like science fiction -- but actually the CT is dead easy to drive without knowing anything about what's going on underneath.

Jump in, press start, slot the unusual gear lever into 'drive' and away you go. The first time you do this it's a strange sensation -- smoothly rolling away making no noise. That is, of course, unless you mash the accelerator pedal.

This causes the petrol engine to kick in quickly, but even when it's being extended it's far quieter than the same set-up in the Toyota Prius. On the move that's the case too. It doesn't take long to realise that Lexus' famous in-car serenity and isolation from the outside world is present and correct.

LexuS CT200h

Starting price: €28,450

Tax band: A

0-100km/h: 10.3 seconds

Fuel: 3.8 litres/100km

Power output: 136bhp

Rivals: BMW 1 Series, Audi

A3

We like: Low emissions, high

quality interior

We don't like: Limited to

hybrid power

Indeed, despite the value-for-money price tag, the CT immediately strikes you as being of very high quality. It helps that the cabin is trimmed in top-notch materials and the switchgear is well-damped. It all feels like it'll last forever. On the road, the CT 200h is pleasingly quick without feeling fast. Lexus quotes a 0-100km/h time of 10.3 seconds, which is acceptable enough for the class.

The driving experience does feel more detached than with the average conventional car, but the Lexus is quite competent in most situations.

The headline starting price of €28,450 is for the Eco grade. Included is a set of unflattering 15-inch alloys with aerodynamic wheel trims, a bespoke rear spoiler and a humidity sensor to help the power control unit make decisions in favour of fuel economy.

All versions of the CT 200h feature dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and locking, LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth telephony, a CD stereo with USB and aux-in ports, an alarm, a leather steering wheel, electric one-touch windows all-round and auto wipers. That's quite a lot of equipment by any standards.

The CT S-design adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a bamboo dashboard insert, and fog lights to the mix. Lexus expects it to be the top seller, as it starts at €29,450. Next up is the Dynamic grade, with larger alloys, privacy glass, cruise control, reversing camera and more extrovert interior colour choices.

Topping the line-up is the Executive model, which you'll need if you want the full Lexus experience. Starting at €32,450, this version comes with leather upholstery in a choice of three colours, heated front seats, ash wood detailing, cruise control and a reversing camera.

At this stage there are no plans to release conventionally powered versions of the CT hatchback. Nor will there be a four-door saloon version for the Irish market.

The new Lexus is undeniably efficient and of very high quality.

To that it adds value and equipment, but we can't help but feel that the lack of choice in the line-up goes against what buyers have become accustomed to.

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