First drive: Lexus CT200h

You may not have noticed this car yet, but you might have noticed its brand ambassador. The Australian songstress Kylie Minogue has been at the front of the publicity campaign for the Lexus CT200h, and while the parallels between a pop singer and a compact premium hybrid might be limited there’s no doubting that this particular car has the potential to become just as well known as Ms Minogue.

Let’s not forget that Lexus and its parent company have been producing hybrids for almost 15 years, considerably longer than any of its rivals. That knowledge is comforting and the experience in fine tuning what is a complex drivetrain is apparent from the first few moments behind the wheel. Even if you’ve never driven a hybrid before, the CT200h presents no additional challenges – simply get in, sit down and start it up. Like any Lexus there’s no need to slot a key, just push a button, and all that follows is a quiet murmur and movement in the dials to indicate that it’s ready to go.

Underneath the bonnet lies a 1.8-litre petrol engine producing 98bhp alongside an electric motor, to give a total output of 134bhp. That might not seem like a huge output, but all of its rivals that are designed to emit as little carbon dioxide as possible do so by keeping power outputs reigned in. But when out on the road, the numbers become meaningless and the ease of progress becomes the most prominent factor.

Just as with other Lexus hybrids, the clever electronics determine whether you need pure electric power, just petrol or a combination of both based on your inputs on the accelerator. A gentle squeeze will have it gliding silently forward running just on the battery, up to a maximum speed 25mph. Push a little harder and the petrol motor takes over, but even then the cabin remains a hushed, comfortable place to be. Extract the maximum performance on offer and the CT200h is more than acceptably quick; 0-62mph takes 10.3 seconds and the top speed of 112mph should be sufficient for any circumstances. It also uses the same regenerative braking system found on other Lexus models, so the battery is charged when slowing down and hence never needs to be plugged in. This is a hybrid that doesn’t require forward planning to use on a regular basis.

The CT200h also has a prominent control on the centre console that allows the driver to switch between three additional modes of operation. In EV mode it runs on battery only for as long as possible, and although the quoted range is 1.2 miles in practice a greater range is possible when driven with care – all the while producing zero emissions. Eco mode puts the emphasis on minimal fuel consumption by softening the response of the accelerator pedal and reducing the power consumed by the air conditioning system. Small changes they may be but it puts the driver in the right frame of mind as a result.

Then there’s Sport mode, and although the overall performance figures might seem modest, the CT200h is clearly set up to respond in a way not synonymous with an economy car. Lexus has gone to great lengths to save weight, produce a stiff bodyshell and create a car that is well-balanced, with a great deal of success. Press on and although not razor sharp the CT200h grips well, corners in a flat fashion and has the kind of sporty feeling that is clearly an asset in the premium sector. Even the larger 17-inch wheels don’t sacrifice ride comfort for the sake of handling. And yet when the traffic forms in front of you again, you can roll along in silent EV mode and enjoy the premium sound system – and even that uses a lightweight digital amplifier that uses less power than an analogue version.

You can also take for granted the quality of the cabin and the space on offer. It certainly makes the most of the exterior dimensions with comfortable for those front and back, while the generous specification and good quality materials are all pleasing to the touch.

All that comes before you get to the headline figures. At 94g/km and a combined fuel consumption figure of 68.9mpg, the CT200h offers an eye-wideningly efficient way of getting into a compact premium car. That it does so without any significant compromises in terms of the driving experience, comfort or luxury will put it near the top of the list for a lot of buyers – with or without the endorsement of Kylie.

Lexus CT200h SE-I, £25,300
Engine: 1.8-litre petrol and electric motor producing combined 134bhp
Transmission: CVT automatic transmission driving the front wheels
Performance: 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds, top speed 112mph
Economy: 68.3mpg combined
Emissions: 94g/km of CO2

By Matt Joy

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