AOL Cars slips into the comfortable driver's seat of the Lexus CT, to see if this fashionable hybrid can compete with newer rivals.
What is it?
Lexus has been offering its buyers a slice of low-emission hybrid motoring far longer than any other luxury brand, starting with the RX SUV. The addition of an electric motor and battery pack eventually trickled down through the manufacturer's entire range, reaching the compact CT hatchback in 2011.
With the CT becoming fairly long in the tooth, Lexus has updated it for 2017, giving it a new look and upgrading the safety technology.
See also: Lexus LC500h first drive
The CT's additions are along the same lines as the recently facelifted NX compact SUV. There's a new design for the prominent 'spindle' grille at the front, while the daytime running lights have been repositioned above the main headlamps.
There are also new 16- and 17-inch alloy wheel designs, while on the equipment front there's a wide range of semi-autonomous safety kit. No mechanical changes have been made under the skin, however, leaving fundamentally the same powertrain as has been in the CT since launch.
What's under the bonnet?
Under the hood lies a powertrain borrowed directly from sister brand Toyota. It combines a 1.8-litre petrol engine (running the more efficient but less powerful Atkinson cycle) with a 60kW electric motor to produce a total of 134bhp and 207Nm of torque. That power is delivered to the front wheels via a CVT gearbox, as is the way with most hybrids.
Despite the comparatively high power figures, performance isn't exactly brisk. Zero to 60mph takes over 10 seconds and the CT has a top speed of 112mph. However, good economy figures help the car's case, and Lexus claims it will return 68.9mpg on the combined cycle while emitting just 94g/km of CO2.
What's it like to drive?
Unfortunately for the CT, the hybrid game has moved on since Lexus launched the car six years ago. Even at the lower end of the market, hybrid motoring has become more refined, more conventional and more tempting for buyers.
The CT feels its age. Around town, you can't complain – it's quiet, and returns brilliant economy. Head out on the open road and the CT's foibles make themselves known, though, mostly due to the CVT gearbox. Breathe on the throttle and the revs are sent spiralling, meaning any request for performance is met with a deafening drone as the powertrain struggles to bring the car up to speed. In truth, you're forced to put up with a huge amount of noise for very little forward motion.
It's a shame the CT's powertrain is so woeful, really, as the car's steering is surprisingly sweet. There's plenty of weight and it's precise enough to give you confidence placing the car. The same can't be said of the ride though – springs and dampers are suitably beefy to deal with the weight of the batteries, and the end result is a very firm ride.
How does it look?
We're actually fans of the way the CT looks. Its unconventional design – from the bottom-feeder grille to the letterbox rear window – is certainly divisive, but it can't be accused of being boring. It's also rather more conventional than the Toyota Prius, which is almost universally disliked.
The Lexus badge is also a strong pulling point for lots of buyers. With an unrivalled reputation for mechanical longevity, endless reliability and fantastic dealers, ownership of a Lexus is a shortcut to stress-free motoring.
What's it like inside?
The CT's cabin is a curious mixture. It's an example of terrible design, built beautifully by master craftsmen. There's no denying material quality is great, and the cabin's fit and finish is very good, but it's let down by a confusing layout.
Heating controls are further up on the dash than you'd expect, while it's all too easy to change the driving mode when you're really just heading for the volume control – very irritating. The infotainment isn't the best, either, with the computer mouse-style control proving very difficult to use.
In credit, the seats are very comfortable, and equipment levels are generous.
What's the spec like?
Lexus claims spec-for-spec the CT undercuts key rivals such as the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3. Even basic cars get a good level of standard equipment – entry-level SE trim nets you a six-speaker sound system and 16-inch alloys.
If you want Lexus' latest safety kit you'll need SE Plus grade, which comes with adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and automatic high beam.
Our test car was an F Sport model, which came with a more dynamic bodykit, new pattern for the grille, different interior upholstery choices and a larger, 10.3-inch infotainment display.
If you're after a compact, efficient hybrid car that isn't a Toyota Prius, your options are increasing all the time – and Lexus' CT remains a quirky and premium alternative to the electrified mainstream. Unfortunately, lack of performance and a confusing interior mean it struggles to keep its head above water in an ever-more-competitive segment.
Model: Lexus CT 200h F Sport
Price as tested: £26,995
Engine: 1.8-litre petrol hybrid
Max speed: 112mph
0-60mph: 10 seconds
Fuel economy: 68.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 94g/km