The original version of this car needed a little perfecting but it’s now a far more credible choice that’s classy to own, efficient to run and kinder to the environment.
It is perhaps appropriate for a car that offers something different to look a little different. That was always Lexus’ perspective when discussion turned to the quirky design of the original version of this model. The problem for them is though, that users in the premium segment are a notoriously conservative bunch – hence the need for aesthetic changes made to this revised first generation CT200h offering a much stronger visual link to pricier, more established offerings in the Lexus line-up. Primarily, that means the adoption of the brand’s now familiar spindle-shaped grille at the front, with smart mesh inserts in this more purposeful-looking F Sport version.
Otherwise, the so-called ‘L-Finesse’ design language remains much as before, with the five-door hatchback bodystyle necessary to differentiate this car from Lexus’ sharp, shapely IS saloon still offering the same distinctive silhouette thanks to its steeply-raked windscreen and long, flowing roofline. with smaller, sleeker door mirrors, nicer alloy wheel designs for the 16 or 17-inch wheels, a smart shark fin-style roof antenna, a revised rear bumper that’s been set 20mm lower and a more prominent rear spoiler for the F Sport variant. You’d be pleased to have it in your driveway but without the badgework.
Once you take a seat behind the wheel you’ll find that Lexus does interiors exceptionally well if choosing leather which is tactile and beautifully finished, complemented by aluminium inserts, satin wood trim finishing and carefully-crafted soft-touch plastics. I love the brilliantly supportive six or eight-way adjustable seat, the cockpit-like feel of the low-set, perfectly-sited driving position and the way all the controls fall neatly to hand and operate with a quality click.
As before, the dashboard is divided into two sections – an upper display zone with an eight-inch LCD multi-display screen and a lower operation zone where you’ll find the gearstick and the various system controls. I personally quite like this ‘mouse’-style controller that operates the infotainment system functions but for those objecting to it, Lexus has now designed a replacement BMW iDrive-style circular dial. Either way, the controller sits exactly where the handbrake would be had it not been replaced by a dashboard button and a rather awkward foot pedal.
Ahead of you, there’s a much nicer grippy leather-stitched steering wheel borrowed from the latest generation IS series model, through which you view high-visibility dials that change in background colour from blue to red should you choose to switch the centre console Driving Mode controller into ‘Sport’. Do that and the neat hybrid dial to the left of the speedo with its ‘Charge’, ‘Eco’ and ‘Power’ segments changes seamlessly to a more conventional rev counter. It’s one of a whole series of lovely touches around this cabin that you only begin to appreciate after you’ve used the car for a bit. The way, for example, that the electric windows slow for the last part of their travel to minimise the sound of closure. If it’s raining, you might also notice that the glass used repels water. And if it’s cold and you crank up the heating, you’ll find that the seat heaters are automatically activated too.
But I haven’t yet touched upon practicality, something you’d expect to be compromised by the need to find somewhere to stow the hybrid system’s nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. As it turns out, clever packaging of this unit between the rear wheels means that it takes up relatively little bootspace – or at least it does before you fold down the 60/40 split-folding rear bench. Once you do that, the 985-litre total cargo area provided is the smallest in the segment. The space occupied by that nickel metal hydride battery has to tell somewhere. Fortunately for Lexus though, it doesn’t significantly impinge on the main boot area. Indeed, this 375-litre luggage bay is pretty large.
You can’t fault the way that Lexus has listened to criticism of the original version of this car and responded by ruthlessly sorting through its issues. The old rock-hard ride is now softened thanks to the way that the chassis stiffening process has freed up the spring rates.
Attention to detail has at last made the car as refined as the engine that drives it. Essentially, a CT200h offers extra qualityand a more involving drive.