Revamped Lexus CT200h is a winner

The Lexus CT200h has been given a facelift, which includes a new spindle grille.
The Lexus CT200h has been given a facelift, which includes a new spindle grille.ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

After tweaks, CT200h remains restrained to maintain economy

Driving a Lexus is always a pleasure, even if the car is not an entirely new model but one with a minor facelift.

Why? Because you can always count on a car that is well put together.

There is not a hint of cabin rattle, the windows operate noiselessly and body panels are aligned precisely, with shutlines as narrow and uniform as gaps on a fine-tooth comb.

The engine transmits barely any vibration into the passenger cell, the brakes do not squeal, the seats do not creak and the springs do not squeak.

Beyond these basic prerequisites - which a number of manufacturers find hard to meet - a Lexus offers refinement.

Every stalk and switch is pleasing to the touch, and operates as if there is an air cushion between every physical contact point. That goes for even the entry-level CT200h, a Lexus that is available only with a petrol-electric drivetrain.

The car exudes a quality beyond what you would normally expect of a product in its price range. The model was introduced here three years ago.

Cosmetic tweaks aside, very little has changed since then. The car wears Lexus' new corporate spindle grille, which does seem to suit it quite well. Visually, it gives the hatch a lift in the sportiness department. So does the darkened roof on the test-car (a first for Lexus), which from afar resembles the carbon roof you find on the BMW M3.

The new 10-spoke aluminium wheels the car sits on are pretty sporty-looking too. But, as before, the CT200h is not nearly as sporty as its styling suggests. Its acceleration is leisurely, taking more than 10 seconds to reach 100kmh from standstill.

To get it up to a trot in a hurry, you need to have a heavy right foot. Or you could switch to Sport mode, which improves throttle response noticeably.

Lexus claims it has made adjustments to the suspension as well as enhanced body rigidity and aerodynamics to give the car more agility, stability and comfort. But this is not apparent.

It says more than 90 improvements were made to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Again, this is not apparent, mainly because the original car was already very refined.

Changes to the interior are few but more noticeable. The CT gets a three-spoke steering wheel similar to the one in the more accomplished Lexus IS. And its 7-inch multimedia centre monitor is thinner and sleeker.

All these small changes add up to a car that is more updated and somewhat more attractive. Even if it is still not exactly a head-turner.

As for its performance, the hybrid hatch is still decidedly laidback. Its high-compression engine (13:1 ratio) is tuned for efficiency rather than effervescence. Left in the default Normal drive mode, it is often one of the last cars to leave a junction when the lights turn green. (It is probably advisable not to activate the Eco mode, in case you fall asleep at the wheel.)

In Sport mode, things liven up significantly. Stomping on the right pedal has the same result. But somehow, you tend to drive gingerly in the CT. Perhaps it has to do with a prominent gauge on the instrument panel that shows how economically you are driving.

Hypnotised by this gauge, I average 5.5 litres/100km - similar to the 5.3 litres/100km achieved in the original car and not far from Lexus' claimed 4.1 litres/100km figure. Over a stretch driven in Sport mode, the consumption goes up, but not beyond 8 litres/100km.

The CT200h is clearly an economy champ then, aided no doubt by its electric system, continuously-variable transmission and restrained throttle.

But if you can ignore the car's hypnotic economy gauge and keep the drive mode permanently in Sport, you may be able to have some fun at the wheel.

If not, you can always sit back and enjoy the Lexus for what it is: a well-built car that is smooth, silent and comfortable.