The CT200h is Lexus' first premium C-sector rival to the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series. However, it is more than that, as this Lexus is also the world's first compact premium hybrid.
The new Lexus might be good enough for Kylie Minogue, has the same petrol-electrical drivetrain as the Toyota Prius and Auris HSD, but is there more to this car – or is it just a classy Prius? I spent a week with the £30,950, 1.8 SE-L Premier to find out.
Lexus is new to this market sector, of which looks are an important part of the package. I'd describe the CT200h's styling as distinctive rather than attractive. I'm sure that there is a hint of the BMW 1-Series and current Subaru Impreza in the CT200h's hatchback styling.
Overall, I liked the front and rear styling best, although I'm not too sure about the fussy headlight detailing with LED driving lights. Still, along with the trademark grille, this Lexus couldn't be mistaken for the Audi and BMW opposition.
At the back, the abrupt back end and wraparound rear window are the standout features.
Our test car was fitted with the only engine available for the CT200h, the 98bhp 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol. This engine is mated to the hybrid drivetrain, which includes an 81bhp electric motor. Total bhp for the CT200h with both powerplants is 134bhp.
This along with other green features such as a Start & Stop system, equals emissions of just 94g/km and a 68.9mpg fuel consumption figure. So this Lexus is surely the cheapest car in this class to run and is already proving popular with company drivers.
The Lexus CT200h's rear roof pillars mean rear visibility is poor, but I found the rear camera that is fitted as part of the HDD system necessary for tight spaces. However, I do wonder if parking sensors on their own would have done as good a job? The car's light electric power is well-weighted and feels sporty.
The CT200h continues the sporty feel with the handling, as there is very little body roll in corners.
This SE-L specification test car was on 17-inch alloy wheels, which equals a hard and fidgety ride. This CT200h felt more at home on the motorway, but having driven another CT on the smaller 16-inch alloys the ride is definitely more comfortable.
The interior finish and build quality feels up to usual Lexus standards. I particularly liked the stitched leather top for the instruments, the quality leather-trimmed steering wheel and the soft ivory leather trim of the test car.
All the switchgear is good quality and logically placed, but the tall central console is cluttered and it doesn't look as classy as the German competition. I'm not a fan of the over-complicated computer mouse-like sat-nav controls either.
The wheels really come off the CT200h package in the engine department; like the Prius and Auris HSD before it, the 1.8-litre engine/electric motor package feels fairly uninspiring to drive. The baby Lexus always feels hard work to drive fast. Sport mode is probably the most satisfying, but the CVT gearbox means it's a noisy, thrashy experience. Good thing the stereo is loud enough to drown out most of the nasty engine note.
The CVT automatic gearbox is slow to respond, dulling the car's responses. Performance is laboured; 60mph comes up in 10.3 seconds and the top speed is 112mph.
The CT200h's five-door access is good and the driving position is comfortable and the front seats supportive. Space in the back is fine for two adults on short journeys or children. I think however, that adults might complain on longer journeys as it can feel cramped and claustrophobic. The 375 litre boot is competitive for its class and can be expanded to 965 litres with the rear seats folded.
In range-topping SE-L trim, the CT200h has most of the kit you'll ever need, with keyless entry and start, HDD sat-nav, 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo with CD changer, auto-dimming rear view and door mirrors, electrically adjustable front seats and LED sidelights as standard.
Our test car was fitted with the full HDD navigation system, that includes a six-CD autochanger. The maps are not very detailed, but I was impressed at how easily I could pair my phone with the Bluetooth system.
So to sum up, the CT200h will bring Lexus luxury to a whole new area of the market and it is easy to see why this car is proving popular with business buyers, as it should prove cheap to run. What lets the package down is the lacklustre driving experience and the interior space won't suit all.