Class act from a Lexus hatch

LEXUS brings a touch of posh to the hybrid hatch sector. David Vivian assesses its chances.

LEXUS is aiming to gatecrash the small prestige hatch territory dominated by Audi and BMW with an up-market/low emissions five-door hatch using the petrol-electric hybrid powertrain of the Toyota Prius and Auris HSD.

It’s the first hybrid in this sector and carries the promise of Lexus quality.

Under the bonnet lies a 98bhp 1798cc variable timing four-cylinder engine that, working in tandem with an electric motor, delivers 134bhp.

Lexus has tweaked the electronics to smooth the delivery and, in Sport mode, provide a little more shove while, at the same time, sharpening throttle and steering response and reducing the effect of the stability control.

As with the Prius, there are three other settings: Normal, Eco and EV (in which guise you can travel on electric power alone at up to 28mph while battery reserves permit).

Premium small hatches as a breed don’t make spaciousness a big priority and the Lexus is certainly no worse than the class norm, though what would be quite a decent luggage capacity is compromised by the battery pack located underneath the rear seats and boot floor.

Leg and headroom dimensions in the back look adequate and the small of stature shouldn’t feel cramped, though the CT’s high waistline means the view out won’t be great for anyone.

The good news is that, when it comes to perceived quality - the standard of the paintwork, fixtures and fittings, the sense of solidity and the tactility of the cabin materials - the Lexus should be able to stand toe-to-toe with Audi and BMW and maybe even force them to look to their laurels.

Plenty of kit is a foundation stone of the Lexus ethos, so it’s a little surprising that only the topline Premium models have satnav as standard.

To be fair though, it’s quite some satnav, boasting touchscreen controls, a display with excellent clarity and graphics and a level of sophistication few other line-fit systems can match.

In other areas, though, the lesser CT200h variants aren’t found wanting. There are three trim levels to choose from: SE-I, SE-L and SE-L Premier. Lexus reckons that it would cost over £1,700 to specify a comparable BMW 118d SE to the same level as a CT200h SE-I.

Cost of ownership is where the CT200h can really hurt its conventionally-powered rivals.

Its hybrid technology might be fairly conventional - we’re on the cusp of a transition to plug-in lithium ion batteries - but that can’t detract from CO2 emissions of just 96g/km and the running cost benefits that go with it: rock bottom road fund licence and company car tax.

A 10 per cent benefit-in-kind company car tax rating compares with 13 per cent for a BMW 118d or an Audi A3 2.0 TDI - or 18 per cent if you properly match this Lexus by choosing these German rivals in their automatic guises.

Take the official combined consumption figure of 68.9mpg with a pinch of salt - achievable but not in the real world - and you won’t be disappointed with returns at least the equal of the best diesel competition.

Throw in congestion charge exemption, reasonably-priced servicing and what’s almost certain to be a snail-like rate of depreciation though, and the running cost package looks compelling.