First drive: Lexus CT200h

The CT200h might be Lexus's first premium C-sector rival to the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series, but it's also the world's first compact premium hybrid. The baby Lexus uses the same petrol-electrical drivetrain as the Toyota Prius and Auris HSD, but is there more to the CT200h than being a classy version of the Prius? We hit UK roads for a first drive to find out.

The result of the hybrid drivetrain in the CT200h (CT stands for Compact Tourer), are best in class emissions at 94g/km. On top of this, because the Lexus falls under the magic 100g/km CO2 figure, it costs nothing to tax and has an impressive combined fuel consumption figure of 68.9mpg.

Lexus hope that these class-leading ownership costs, the £23,485 entry price and the three trim levels ( SE-I, SE-L and SE-L Premier) will make the CT more attractive to younger private buyers, but it's hard not to see how this car won't be a popular company car choice too.

The CT200h's styling is best described as distinctive rather than attractive. It's almost an interesting fusion of the BMW 1-Series and the current Subaru Impreza. I particularly liked the front and rear styling. At the front, there's busy headlight detailing with LED driving lights and the trademark grille - all meaning that this car couldn't be mistaken for Audi and BMW rivals. At the back, the abrupt back end and wraparound rear window are the standout features.

Inside the CT200h, things get more interesting with the swoopy, button-heavy dash split into two parts. The top half runs the climate control with the bottom part and the centre console taking care of entertainment, navigation and transmission. The futuristic-looking chrome topped lozenge to the right of the centre console controls the transmission, while the mouse-like 'Remote Touch' system takes care of the navigation and many other vehicle functions. Overall, it's not as easy to operate as some rivals' systems.

To sum up, the interior finish and build quality feels up to usual Lexus standards. I particularly liked the stitched leather top for the instruments and the quality leather-trimmed steering wheel.

Space in the front half of the CT200h's cabin is fine and the seats are supportive, but the distinctive styling gives big blind spots all round. Rear space isn't good either, the curved roof robs headroom and there's not much legroom. The news doesn't get any better when we move to the boot, as the rear battery pack takes up valuable space. With 375-litres it's both small and shallow, still at least the rear seats fold to increase capacity to 985 litres.

So what's the CT200h like to drive? Like the Prius, the fact that the hybrid drive train allows you to travel on electric power alone up to 28mph never fails to impress. However, after that, I've got to admit that I found the driving experience, well – a bit slow and dull. Top speed of the 1.8-litre VVTi engine is just 112mph, with the dash to 60mph covered in a leisurely 10.3 seconds.

I like the quick steering and there's very little body roll in corners, but the ride on the 17-inch alloy wheels is fidgety (I'd recommend the 16-inch wheels as the steering feel ride and handling were improved), the engine feels thrashy and strained when worked. Finally, unless the engine is in sport mode, the CT200h seems to take ages to react to driver inputs such as acceleration.

So to sum up, the CT200h will bring Lexus luxury to a whole new area of the market and should prove to be very cheap to run. What let's the baby Lexus down is the styling that will not appeal to all, it's only average to drive, interior space is tight and the sport mode is definitely not sporty.

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