If you super-sized a computer mouse, then designed a car to fit around it, the result might be Lexus’ CT200h petrol-electric hybrid.
A mouse-like device on the centre console sets up and controls important functions including sat-nav, phone and sound.
Controls for working all sorts of other stuff are grouped a finger’s jab away, rather like Function keys on a computer keyboard.
These all reinforce the future-is-now character of hybrid cars seen by some as the clean-burning, low consumption way of the future.
The just-landed CT200h (CT stands for Compact Tourer) is notable in several ways. It’s Lexus’ smallest, cheapest and most economical car. The company also claims it as the world’s first full hybrid luxury compact. It should do well for Toyota’s luxury brand, partly because it’s better than the parent’s popular Prius, and for not a lot more money. Pricing starts at $51,500, although the tested Sport model costs $69,000 – the dearest of the range. Prius starts at $49,690 with a high-spec i-Tech at $63,690.
Underneath, the Prius and CT200h are similar, sharing a 1798cc 73kW engine, the CVT transmission, electric system and so on.
But the Toyota’s slightly strange hatch body, the one that’s became graphic shorthand for hybrid cars everywhere, has been tossed aside for a completely different and possibly polarising high-waisted design with comic-book superhero overtones. If Robin followed Batman to fight villains in his own car, it might look like a CT200h.
Inside, the dashboard design and layout are well ahead of the Prius: it’s more functional, intuitive even for Luddites, and possibly the most worthy of all Lexus dashboards.
Well-bolstered leather seats are goodlooking, super-comfortable and in the back there’s more of the same, along with reasonable legroom. Cargo area with the seats up is 365 litres – 40 fewer than Prius.
There’s no doubt as to the purpose of the Sport version, with racy bits of trim in the cabin and the body colour-matched 17-inch alloys on the outside, wearing 45-series low-profile tyres. A stiffer suspension than on the Limited or base models rides slightly more harshly.
The powertrain has a Sports mode and you know when it’s engaged because the instrument binnacle glows red (or blue in Eco mode), and the economy meter on the instrument panel vanishes in favour of a tachometer.
You also know that it’s in Sport mode because the car’s demeanour becomes livelier, though still not properly sporting. The trouble is, there’s just not enough power for it to be sporting, not enough control over the transmission, nor enough steering feel, or help from the suspension.
However, overtaking can be impressive when another 200Nm of torque and 60kW from the MG2 electric motor kick in to help the overworked engine.
Lexus claims overall fuel economy of just 4.1 litres per 100km, yet despite running it in the Eco mode for much of the time, the dash readout refused to better 5.8, a figure achievable by some conventionally powered cars.
Can’t complain about emissions though. The Hybrid Drive generates only 94 grams of CO2 per km; none at all when running only on electricity.
Audi A1 1.4 Sport $44,300
BMW 118d Sports Hatch $50,500
Honda Insight E $38,800
Toyota Prius i-Tech $63.690
Volkswagen Golf BMT $44,500
Lexus now has a range of hybrids all the way to large luxury, topping out at $280,300 for the LS600hL. Overall, the modest CT200h is the most sensible and practical of the lot.
By Phil Hanson
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