I recently returned from the launch of the Lexus CT200h in Cape Town (no puns around CT and Cape Town please). The CT200h not only opens up the Lexus brand into a new market segment, but opens up the market segment to the first small luxury hybrid hatchback.
Lexus has South Africa’s widest hybrid model line up on offer, with hybrid derivatives of the GS, Rx, luxury LS, and now the CT200h. Toyota (motherbrand) was recently voted the Greenest brand by the Interbrand Survey 2011 and Lexus boasts over 150 hybrid units sold in SA per year, which is the highest of any brand in SA. This all said, Lexus owners are also the most satisfied, as voted by the owners themselves (JD Power 2011) and scored a Goldmedal from Synovate (SA) for after sales service. Premium owner experience and customer satisfaction is key, and this translates from the owners of the cars themselves. A good start for a new model indeed.
The CT200h is a small luxury hybrid hatchback that seats 5 passengers, with a modest amount of boot space and an extremely high quality premium interior. Immediate competitors that come to mind are the BMW 1 series and Audi A3. None of which have a hybrid model on offer. It’s a first in the South African landscape, and a first I came to thoroughly enjoy on the 160km route in and around the Cape peninsula on launch. Two model variants are on offer, the CT200h S and CT200h F-Sport with the option of a Convenience package for either. (see here for more detail – http://www.lexus.co.za/model/CT200h/product-information)
Let’s start with the Lexus Hybrid drive system. “Combining a 1.8-litre VVT-i Atkinson cycle petrol engine and a powerful electric motor, the CT 200h delivers 100kW of total system output. The sophisticated petrol engine delivers 73kW at 5 200 rpm and 142Nm between 2 800 and 4 400 rpm. But the real performance benefits are arrived at courtesy of the 60kW of electric power on board and additional 207Nm that allow 2,0-litre petrol performance and competitive turbodiesel torque.” On this point, why not a turbodiesel engine? Well, the noxious gasses that get released by a diesel motor are often overlooked, and as stated at the launch, the petrol engine still has a way to go before full economical and efficiency benefits from it are completely realised.
On the road, the engine is no slouch, but it’s no pocket rocket either. It takes some serious getting used to when accelerating off the mark. As stated at the launch, it’s best to put pedal down, get it up to the speed you’d like, and then let the electric engine take over and “maintain” the speed you need to, maximizing efficiency. Now there’s a couple things to segment here, the fact that there are different driving modes available, as well as different models that significantly alters driving experience.
Starting with the moods, there is a choice of two distinct driving moods – Dynamic, or Relaxing – in conjunction with the full hybrid’s EV, ECO, NORMAL and SPORT, ‘on-demand’ drive modes. Basically this goes from EV (only electric motor, in certain driving conditions) all the way up to full electric and engine thrust for sportier driving. We drove most the way in ECO mode and found that it did just fine in most conditions except when wanting to overtake or pushing through the twisties.
The Eco mode does take some getting used to as the CVT gearbox (hate hate hate) does make for an interesting sound that gets emitted. The problem here is that the sound of the revs VS speed at which you are increasing in speed is not natural. We are used the common relationship that lots of noise from the engine means lots of speed, which is not the case. Unfortunately the CVT gearbox makes it sound like the gearbox is slipping (natural) yet you don’t gather speed that rapidly. This is probably the only deterrent from this vehicle for me, as it’s something you’d have to get used to, as it’s fairly unnatural and unnerving at first.
That said the various modes work beautifully, with a turn dial centre on the dash to switch between the different modes for different driving moods. EV (only electric motor – thus very silent) mode is particularly effective when sneaking up behind cyclists on Chapman’s Peak and then scaring them with the horn. Sport mode does give some extra shove as well as stiffen up pedal response and steering feel. A very nice touch is the way the dials light up red when sport is engaged, and also switches the drive train indicator to a revcounter. On that, there is no shortage of places to watch how and what is happening under the skin with regards to the drive train.
Dynamically the car is superb. I drove the F-Sport model and it handled exceptionally considering the big lump of battery in the back. There’s near no body lean or roll and the car handled impeccably over the various different driving situations we demanded of it. I read some horror reviews overseas about the handling but can honestly say that they must be comparing it to something like a Ferrari FF.
In true Lexus style, the interior is… to be frank, amazing. The model we drove came with the convenience pack, which added every bell and whistle. In F-Sport guise, it’s differentiated by 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, and a larger boot spoiler. The luxury specification also gets enhanced by sports seats, the driver’s eight-way electrically adjustable with lumbar support, and cruise control. It also benefits from the addition of front and rear performance dampers.
As an option, the CT 200h F-Sport can be ordered with a Convenience Package that includes an upgraded sound system with four additional speakers and an amplifier, Smart Entry, rain sensing wipers, a full colour monitor with HDD navigation and voice command with Remote Touch, and a reverse camera with back-guide monitor. The interior is a place of class and elegantly hand stitched leather. Novel touches on a hatchback included the padded armrest in the doors, something many manufacturers only offer in their very premium sedans. I have no complaints about the interior as everything including the Remote touch system (which you drive exactly like a stationary computer mouse…something we can do very well) was incredibly easy to use at first glance. Another great touch is how the sound system integrated the music from the iPhone and allowed full discovery of the iPhone music listing on the Remote touch system. Not so cool, the fact that you can’t do anything on there once the car is moving. Bleh. Rear seat passengers can definitely find more room than in the 1Series, and seating for both front and rear passengers are supremely comfortable.
On the looks front, I’d say that it’s not bad looking at all. The darker colours seemed to do the car more justice in my view. It’s nothing massively out of the box, but it doesn’t happen to insult or stand out as “I’m DRIVING A HYBRID” which is so 2005.
Overall, I was genuinely surprised at how easy to drive the vehicle was, and most importantly, we returned a 5.5litre/100km on our 160km trip. This is seriously and I mean SERIOUSLY impressive considering the inclines, speeding and mountain passes we traversed in our drive. We at no point were puttering around keeping traffic backlogged for hours. There seems to be a huge case for a car that can actual return these real world figures and return below 94grams of emissions (no emissions tax). Emissions is something that I don’t think South African’s truly care about yet, and that’s why it’s be interesting to see how this vehicle fairs.
The great bit about the car is that it is the first Lexus into the premium hatch category, and it just happens to be a hybrid. It doesn’t shout about it, it just goes about it, hoping to make the transition as unnoticeable to the way you drive as possible.
The CT200h S model retails for R343,300, with the F-Sport model coming in at R398,500. Add the Convenience package to the F-Sport and you’re up at R434,200.The Lexus CT 200h is backed by a four years/100 000km manufacturer warranty and full four years/100 000km service plan. There is unfortunately nothing one can compare it to, as it’s a first in market segment category. This car will hopefully attract a younger audience, and mark on the success of the 1series and A3 to BMW and Audi respectively, by securing buyers into the nameplate to upsell to them at a later stage.