Belfast Telegraph

Green Pioneer

Eco motoring and prestige cars rarely mix well. Jim McCauley sets out to discover if the Lexus CT 200h is an exception

For a company whose majority sales are for hybrid vehicles, it comes as little surprise that Lexus are the first to introduce the dual power unit choice into the premium compact segment.

The CT 200h is in response to the dilemma facing the company for customers who want to progress beyond the Toyota brand but for whom there is no comparable step into the Lexus line-up. Introduced as a competitor to the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series, the newcomer not only offers an alternative within the Toyota empire, but also a car with environmental credentials backed by a proven heritage.

With more than 50% of their sales now accounted for by hybrid vehicles, Lexus has an unenviable lead in the engineering of dual-power units and the CT 200h is able to run on either or both of its motive sources. In this case the engine is a 1.8-litre petrol unit outputting 98bhp while the 650-volt electric motor brings total output to 134bhp.

Because the units can operate together or individually, the car is classified as a series/parallel full hybrid and performance-wise covers the benchmark sprint from 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds with the potential to top 112mph. But the driver can select performance alternatives and direct the set-up from its ‘Normal’ default setting to a more economical ‘Eco’ choice or a sharper ‘Sport’ response. An electric ‘EV’ mode is also available which allows the vehicle to drive for about one mile at lower speeds on its electric motor only.

On-road, the car slips off its starting position silently and when the petrol engine cuts in there is no obvious sound intrusion into the cabin with a generally quiet interior, disturbed only by tyre noise on coarser road surfaces. Power unit switching is unnoticed and only the instrumentation confirms the balance of power.

In its ‘Normal’ drive mode the car provides adequate response comfortably progressing through its continuously variable transmission (CVT). Accelerate quickly and the response is more controlled than in other CVT cars with minimal over-revving and brisk uptake. In contrast, response in ‘Eco’ mode is anaesthetised with the emphasis on economy rather than performance, while ‘Sport’ increases the available voltage to the motor by 30%, holds the engine at higher revs and sharpens throttle and steering responses.

Driving mostly in ‘Normal’ mode on winding rural roads and easing into ‘Eco’ for motorway use, fuel economy improved at a steady 70mph, taking the average on a lengthy journey to just over 50mpg at a recorded 50.3mpg, leaving a considerable gap between that and the official figure of 68.9mpg for mixed driving. The gap could be narrowed by driving in ‘EV’ and ‘Eco’ modes, but the excitement of the drive would certainly be lessened.

While official fuel consumption figures might be something to be aimed at rather than achieved, the quality of Lexus permeates the new addition both in build quality and finish from control layout to the touch of the switchgear and the detailing of the edge stitching on the leather trim.

The styling is restrained and dignified. And while Audi and BMW can offer a range of body, engine and transmission options, the CT 200h is a one-model range, but with the alternative hybrid technology.

As such it will appeal to those who wish to progress within the Toyota fold as well as those who appreciate the potential in the new technology. It will no doubt increase the percentage of hybrid sales for the company. UK targets are 4,100 units for this year, ramping up to 6,000 for 2012. The model is available in three trim levels and prices range from £23,485 to £30,635.

A comprehensive specification list on the SE-I model sees eight airbags as standard, including knee units for the front-seat occupants, vehicle stability and traction control systems, dual-zone climate control and rain-sensing wipers. The SE-L adds leather upholstery as well as parking sensors, while SE-L Premier further adds satellite navigation and luxury upgrades.

With low CO2 emissions of 94gms/km the car is exempt annual road tax and enjoys the lowest 10% rating for benefit-in-kind company car tax.

Lexus CT200h

Petrol engine: 1.8 litre, 98bhp @ 5,200rpm; 142Nm torque @ 2,800-4,400

Electric motor: 650 volts, max 81bhp, max 207Nm torque

Combined maximum output: 134 bhp

Drive: Series/parallel, full hybrid to front wheels

Performance: 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds; max, 112mph

Fuel on combined cycle: 68.9mpg (4.1 l/100km)

CO2: 94 gms/km; VED Band A for zero annual car tax

Trim: SE-I

Price: £23,485

Insurance: 15E (ABI 50 group classification)

Warranty: Three-year/60,000 miles; five-year/60,000 miles on hybrid electrics

Benefit-in-Kind: 10%

Available extras: Convenience pack, comprising cruise control, auto-dipping rear-view mirror and rear parking monitor; lateral damping system (for greater cabin quietness); pre-crash safety system with adaptive cruise control. (Note: combined power output is less than total of individual figures for operational considerations)

Belfast Telegraph