Lexus, a division of the manufacturer, Toyota , was known for making luxury vehicles. Despite their models such as the LS, GS and RX being successful the brand seemed to attract the ‘older’ driver. But in 2011, a car to change all that was launched. The CT200h.
As part of their ‘Quiet Revolution’ branding, the CT200h was the world’s first full hybrid in the premium compact segment. To appeal to a younger buyer, the diminutive popstar, Kylie Minogue was even drafted in to front their campaign.
The five-door ‘baby’ Lexus has sleek aerodynamic lines in a sporty design that reminds me of the current Subaru Impreza. With low slung windows and an angular rear, the front is not dominated by an enormous grille against the wide-track stance. It’s as if the designers have taken a LS and shrunken it, even the LED daytime running lights are small in comparison.
The colour blue is part and parcel of the Hybrid technology and with the front and rear badging taking on an iridescent blue, this also moves into the interior of the car through the instrument panel illumination.
Lexus equates to luxury and the interior has a quality finish with leather seats and trim and a detailed stitching throughout.
The black interior incorporates sweeping lines, a simple centre console and refined materials screaming sophistication.
The SE-L Premier also has electronically adjustable heated front seats with lumber support and features a low, ergonomically ideal driving position. This makes it extremely comfortable to drive, exactly what you expect from Lexus.
This model also benefits from a full map HDD navigation, but to be honest wasn’t the easiest to use and a few times I found myself on the wrong route. Back to a map I go.
With a USB port and bluetooth connectivity, techies can hook up their phones to the in-car system. Another downside is the Remote Touch Controller for the screen.
To be used like a mouse, it is quite fiddly and being on my left side (when I’m not left-handed), made it difficult to use.
The 13-speaker audio system is built by the high-end music performance designer, Mark Levinson so it will be music to your ears.
Unlocking the car on the fob, the door mirrors electronically open and the car starts at the push of a button.
The Lexus Hybrid Drive uses an advanced 1.8-litre 4 cylinder engine and electric battery to run, but can still produce 134 bhp. The electric motor works in tandem with the petrol engine to boost acceleration. During deceleration and under braking, the electric motor acts as a generator to effect regenerative braking.
A graphic on the dash shows how the wheels are being powered and at the twist of a button you can alternate between EV, ECO and Sport mode, dependant on your type of journey. When operating in EV mode, the full hybrid generates zero emissions and travelling below 30 mph, it will operate on electric alone powering the driven wheels.
ECO worked well driving around town and in traffic, but struggled on motorway driving, where it also seemed very noisy. Ironic considering it’s supposed to be quiet.
It’s ideal when you’re pottering about on normal roads, but driving down a lane packed with pedestrians, I had to switch into Sport mode just so they could hear me and move out of the way.
If the car has been a bit too sedate up until now, it takes on another dimension when Sport mode is turned on.
The dash turns red, the hybrid power indicator becomes a rev-counter, steering becomes more responsive and the dynamics change as the car burbles as you put your foot down.
Throughout the duration of having the car I did often spend it driving in sport mode. Some might say it defeats the full hybrid aspect, but for those loyal Lexus owners that are looking for a more leisurely ride, then the ECO mode works well.
Combining the lowest possible centre of gravity with a high-rigidity bodyshell you are rewarded with high speed stability, smooth, precise handling, and the ride comfort expected of any Lexus.
With just 94 g/km of CO2 emissions and a leader in its class, with a combined fuel mpg of 68.9, it also benefits from being exempt from road tax.
With a price of £30,986 and an extra £510 for metallic paint, the SE-L Premier certainly isn’t cheap for a small Lexus. Rivals include the Volvo C30, BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. But if you’re really looking into buying into the brand, a standard SE-I starts at £23,485.
I urge any potential premium hatchback buyers who have avoided Lexus to take a look. It is synonymous with quality, elegance and refinement and although it may still be not be considered a cool, young brand, their development over the years is slowly changing this.
By Olivia Gauch
Tue, 17 Jul 2012