If someone had tole me 10 years ago that Australia would embrace Diesel power I’d have laughed. If they had said cars with batteries would be commonplace, I’d have said they were mad. While it’s true that Australia is far behind its European sisters in the take-up of alternate fuels, we are now snorting up every alternately powered vehicle we can get out mitts on. No longer is it just for Hollywood stars who want to feel good about themselves or greenies who look like they need a jolly good wash. The public were whipped into a frenzy by fuel at $1.70 a litre and we all thought the world would stop turning and our air would leak into space. But none of that happened. Many of us flocked to graffiti-covered public transport despite the fact that it’s unreliable, crowded and expensive. If you would sooner stick a stiletto in your neck than subject yourself to the punishing ordeal of travelling with the sweaty masses, what about a car with batteries?
When you think hybrid, you think Toyota Prius. It’s the world’s most popular hybrid vehicle. They’ve been mad about Prius in the USA for years. It is the car you buy when you want to show the world that you care about the environment, even if you don’t care about the environment, and your other car is a Hummer! Its no surprise then that Toyota’s posh daughter, Lexus, got all the technology they could possibly have wished for. They have shoved the proven Hybrid drive into a purpose built medium sized hatch.
I confess to being an early sceptic as the press-released photos showed a that car looked a trifle cumbersome in some angles. The back looked as though it had been designed for another car and the whole thing looked to have been designed by a committee which rarely met. In the flesh the car is much nicer. The back, while still looking just a bit strange, is much less confronting than it appeared in print.
The Fsport shares the LED headlight inserts with the bigger Lexus models. It has lowered suspension and bigger wheels. The tyres are low profile to match and has a sexy boy-racer look.
The interior is much more successful. The cabin is sprinkled liberally with Lexus fairy-dust throughout. There are lashings leather and metal everywhere, and button and knobs galore. Like other Fsports, the seats are cosy and comfy with just enough firmness for the deep contours to hug you warmly when you decide to throw the CT into a tight coner. On the subject of quirks, you’ll either love or hate the console mounted mouse. The big knob is a joystick with computer-style buttons for confirmation etc, and controls the major functions of the infotainment system. It makes using the satnav particularly easy. Lexus has a strict 3-click policy so unlike some of Lexus’ competitors, you don’t need 4 degrees to fathom how to do something easy.
To make the CT go, and with your key in your pocket, you just press the big friendly button on the dash and jiggle the lever into drive, release the foot-parking-brake bobs-your-uncle. There is also a position for regenerative braking but that’s far too technical. To stop, you just do everything in reverse but putting the system into “park” is via the big button above the mouse and to the right of the “eco” knob. Everything else is normal and straightforward including the bluetooth. My only reservation is the LCD display which rises from the dash when you turn the car on. Yes it makes it adjustable, but bits that move like that always wind up broken before you can say “expensive repair bill”..
Over all, the cabin has a warm and homey atmosphere with everything well laid out and easy to use.
If look is a sporty one, it should be matched by zippy performance and I’m not sure I’d call the performance zippy. There is a lot of kafuffle if you stick the boot in at the traffic lights. The CVT transmission has the petrol engine screaming for mercy. The speed increases but the revs don’t seem to change once they have reached their crescendo. It has to be said there is a bit of a din at high revs. When you finally return to your senses and lift your foot a little you find the petrol engine dies leaving just the batteries going and the Lexus descends into cruising speed with Zen-like elegance. The CT200h is the first front wheel drive Lexus and in my opinion doesn’t feel quite as nice to drive as the IS 350 Fsport for example. There is no doubt the batteries, which are shoehorned into the boot, affect the handling. When you dial “sport” on the mode dial, the dash goes red and the system changes its parameters but the difference isn’t that noticeable. I was rather hoping it had a shiatsu setting but alas no.
From the outside it looks like you have a veritable glasshouse view through the rear but the truth is the rear view is pretty dreadful. The pillars are enormous and coupled with the rear head rests there are what real-estate agents call “glimpses” rearward. You get used to it but I can’t help but think that if they had a little less fuss around the oddly shaped rear windows, they might have been able fit something bigger than a porthole.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, you can keep yourself entertained for hours watching the little diagram on the dash tell you whether the batteries are being charged and which power source is being used.
Over all the CT is a decent little car, but I think Lexus is missing a trick with the marketing. Rather than promoting the supposed sporty features, it might be better to push the CT200h as a luxury hybrid for those who think the looks of the Insight and Prius are too frumpy. I enjoyed the week with the CT and would seriously consider it were I to find myself in the market for a “look how much I care” car. I could then happily cruise about the CBD all day and all night, without belching vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. There is a certain smugness to be had methinks!
* we tested the F Sport version @ $55<500
** We used more than the above fuel figures might suggest according to the on-board computer.