Ryan Bubear puts the Lexus CT 200h F-Sport through its paces.
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Let's not beat about the bush. The Lexus CT 200h is a Toyota Prius in a swanky suit.
But what a wonderfully swanky suit it is.
The folks at Lexus are well versed in the building of premium sedans and SUVs. But then — with a beady eye on the younger crowd — they tried their collective hands at hatchbackery too. And, no, not hot hatchbackery, but hybrid hatchbackery.
The CT 200h swipes its hybrid drivetrain from the Prius (just like the Auris HSD), which means it is powered by the familiar 1.8-litre petrol/electric hybrid. A maximum combined power output of 100kW is the result, while the petrol engine brings 142Nm to the table, and the electric motor weighs in with an instantly-on-tap 207Nm.
And while the CT 200h may have a deliciously sporty appearance, its performance on the tarmac is not going to worry the local GTI owners at all. It tops out at just 180km/h and takes over 10 seconds to hit the magical three-figure mark from standstill. A boy-racer it clearly is not.
All about the miles
But, despite its racy trimmings, it's not trying to be a boy-racer in the slightest. With a CO2 emissions figure of just 94g per kilometre, and a claimed fuel economy figure of 4.1 litres per 100km, efficiency is favoured over outright performance. Granted, despite our best efforts, we couldn't quite match the claimed economy, but our real-world figure of 5.1 wasn't too far off the mark. Especially considering the fact that we didn't take it on a long, open-road trip.
The CT 200h is available only with an electronic constantly variable transmission (e-CVT), which while arguably detracting from the overall driving experience, does at least do its job with fuel-sipping efficiency. Drive it civilly in Eco or Normal mode, and it's aurally unobtrusive. But give it the beans in Sport mode and it sounds a bit like an angry hairdryer.
But back to that suit...
From the outside, the CT 200h is a thing of beauty. It's one of those cars that look far better in the metal than on a computer screen, and our Morello Red test unit turned more heads in traffic than a bikini-clad supermodel at a science convention, despite the fact that it was launched a good few months back. It's a hatch alright, but at over 4.3 metres, it's a pretty long one. This elongated impression — aided by a wraparound effect on the rear screen — gives it a unique shape.
The fact that we had the range-topping F-Sport obviously helped with the head-turning, but even the standard S looks good enough to ask for its hand in marriage. Unfortunately, the F-Sport badge doesn't translate into more power, but it does add a handful of tasty extras as standard. LED daytime running lights are joined by LED headlights on the F-Sport (a staggering 89 LEDs are used on this model's exterior), and the lamps also benefit from automatic levelling and washers. Mouth-watering dark-effect 17-inch alloys and a larger rear spoiler complete the exterior package.
Inside, the F-Sport gains sports pedals and a pair of sports seats, with the driver's featuring an eight-way electric adjustment function. Electric lumbar adjustment and front seat memory are included too. Keyless start (and that all-important power button), cruise control and an electro-chromatic rear-view mirror add a measure of convenience.
The seat-heating function — standard on both models — is a one of the better efforts we've experienced. It features a number of settings and warms up extremely quickly. Cold, early-morning Cape Town drives have never been this toasty.
The F-Sport can also be ordered with something Lexus terms the "Convenience Package", which includes an upgraded sound system, a full-colour HDD navigation system (with voice command and a unique yet highly effective "remote touch" control), a reversing camera, and automatic windscreen wipers. A sunroof is also optional.
The interior has a distinct "cockpit" feel about it, with the driver and front passenger separated by a raised centre console. The fact that the small gear lever is mounted on the lower dash and that there is no conventional handbrake (a parking brake is instead situated where the clutch would normally reside) frees up this area. There is premium leather everywhere, and the switchgear is typically well put together. In short, it is a place of luxury and comfort.
However, tall passengers would not enjoy long trips on the back bench. But boot space is still a more than reasonable 375 litres, despite the presence of a chunky Ni-MH battery beneath the luggage compartment floor. The loading area is rather shallow, but overall capacity increases to a useful 985 litres with the back seats folded down.
To further the CT 200h's green theme, a number of bio-sourced materials are used in the cabin. Chief among them? The bamboo charcoal-based resin diaphragm speakers. If that doesn't impress your vegan buddies, nothing will.
Just like the Prius and Auris HSD, the CT 200h can be driven in full electric mode for up to three kilometres at speeds of up to 45km/h, provided that the battery is fully charged. This stealth mode allows the driver to sneak up on unsuspecting pedestrians in parking lots, although this was probably not the manufacturer's intention. We even managed to position the car for a quick photoshoot with a group of sleeping homeless folk just metres away remaining completely oblivious.
The seating position is low-slung and the car's centre of gravity is refreshingly close to the ground. In combination with the F-Sport's uprated dampers, this means that the Lexus hatch performs better in the bends that its hybrid drivetrain would suggest. The steering is positively direct, and sharpens up even more when in Sport mode. Over most road surfaces, the ride is relatively comfortable, but badly rutted tarmac results in plenty of spinal jarring.
The CT 200h is not as fun to drive as a Honda CR-Z, for example, but that's at least partly down to its lack of a manual gearbox. Besides, it's far more grown-up than that, and is actually rather relaxing to operate.
It takes the Prius's best features and adds a whacking great dollop of visual drama, and plenty of luxury and comfort. And, of course, there's the premium badge as well.
It's sometimes been said — mostly outside of automotive circles, admittedly — that it's cool to be green. And in motoring terms, the CT 200h rivals the CR-Z as the closest to cool a hybrid has yet to come.
So, yes, it's a Prius in a swanky suit. But as they say, the clothes maketh the man.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.