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Lexus CT review: premium hybrid hatch falls short

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Small, premium hatchbacks with hybrid powertrains are a lot more common now than they were a few years ago, but Lexus was years ahead of this curve with the CT. Released in 2011 and facelifted in 2014 and 2017, the CT’s 1.8-litre petrol hybrid powertrain took square aim at the relatively low-powered but massively popular diesel premium hatch market – think BMW 116d or Mercedes A 180 d. The company car driver’s hunting ground, in other words.

Of course it did so in a typically Lexus way, even aside from the dual-fuel setup under the bonnet. You get striking styling and a rock-solid interior crammed with equipment, albeit with lots of love/hate touches that owners will need to get used to.

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The CT is still on sale, despite being firmly sidelined by the UX compact SUV. But does it make any sense to buy this luxurious compact in 2020, nearly a decade on from introduction?

What’s the engine like?

The CT uses a Prius-inspired 1.8-litre, Atkinson cycle petrol paired up to an electric motor as its only engine option. Total system output is 134bhp – unlike newer Lexus models, including the UX, there’s no option for the more powerful 2.0-litre hybrid model. As such, all models are badged CT 200h.

It’s the usual Lexus self-charging hybrid system, so unlike the Mercedes A 250 e or Golf GTE you can’t plug it in to extend its range or hit headline fuel economy figures. In fact, under WLTP regulations, the CT hits a not-too impressive maximum economy figure of 55.3mpg – a figure bested by even the most powerful Mercedes A-Class diesel. A super-low 97g/km CO2 figure is useful for company car drivers, though.

Sounds pretty dull…

As for driving the thing, it’s pleasant enough around town – the electric motor fills in the torque gaps, giving a decent turn of pace off the line. Drive the CT gently and you’ll enjoy smooth, quiet progress courtesy of a pretty seamless transition from petrol to electric power and the trademark CVT.

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The issues come when you try to go a bit faster. The petrol engine moos like a stuck cow if you ask for acceleration, making overtakes or motorway sliproads a raucous affair. Attempt to trouble the 10.3-second 0-60mph time of 10.3 seconds and you’ll need ear defenders. That’s the fault of the CVT, of course, which has to work with a fairly meagre power band – not a problem at low speeds where the electric motor can help out.

It’s a better cruiser than it was at launch but we’d still rather a diesel for long-distance motorway work.

Sadly, comfort levels are none too impressive. The CT’s stiff springs and 1,600kg+ weight mean you feel every bump in the road, made worse by standard 17-inch wheels on all three trim levels.

What about inside?

Inside it’s a mixed bag, too. First, the good – this is a Lexus, and as such every control, switch and surface feels rock-solid and built to last. The materials are of superb quality, and leather, chrome and soft-touch plastics abound.

The seats are also wonderful, another typical Lexus highlight – and audiophiles will love the impressive Mark Levinson sound system on top-spec models.

The build is beyond reproach, then, but what about the CT’s other qualities? Unfortunately there’s a rather pervading sense of the CT trying to be too clever for its own good. The dials and climate control interface are pleasingly designed and intuitive, but lower down the immaturely finished console, it’s not so clever. The pop-up seat-heater knobs are fiddly, as are the twin knobs for controlling the audio system.

Worse, Lexus has chosen to use a heavily sprung, cool metal knob for the driving mode selector – though how many fleet market drivers are going to be switching out of Eco into Normal or Sport regularly? The worst feature has to be the infotainment controller, though. It’s the same floating mouse-style control that’s thankfully been ditched from the rest of the Lexus range – it’s damn near impossible to use on the move and makes controlling the otherwise fully-featured infotainment system a battle.

As for space, it’s limited. The back seat’s tight, the middle perch virtually unusable and the boot is incredibly shallow.

Verdict

Even two facelifts can’t address this car’s age – it suffers problems that have been weeded out in more modern Lexuses, such as the ghastly infotainment interface and the whiny powertrain. You’d have to be a real Lexus fanboy to pass this up in favour of a BMW 1 Series or a Mercedes A-Class.

If it’s Toyota quality you want, the CT 200h is flanked in price on one side by the UX – a thoroughly respectable small crossover – and on the other by the Toyota Corolla, which is larger, better to drive and with the choice of a higher-powered 2.0-litre engine.

Specs

Price when new:£26,275
On sale in the UK:Now
Engine:4cyl, 1.8-litre petrol/electric hybrid, 134bhp, 142Nm
Transmission:Automatic planetary gear set, front-wheel drive
Performance:10.3sec 0-62mph, 112mph, 55.3mpg, 97g/km
Weight / material:1,410kg
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):4350/1754/1445

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