Revisions for 2018 are subtle and the CT still looks distinctive

Revisions for 2018 are subtle and the CT still looks distinctive

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Sometimes, Toyota Motor Corporation does curious things. The new Lexus LC and LS are clearly money no object designs. Why then has it chosen to extend the life of the seven-year old CT 200h with another facelift, when the car was, to be polite, not exactly state of the art?

The CT has never had any major flaws, although the way the CVT and petrol engine communicate isn't to everyone's liking.

The CT has never had any major flaws, although the way the CVT and petrol engine communicate isn't to everyone's liking.

Lexus sales staff probably try to avoid sending prospects out on a test route that involves steep hills. At the foot of the first any such incline, the little 1.8-litre petrol engine starts to rev up, the tachometer needle swings to 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 and sometimes even 5,000rpm and the accompanying noise doesn't feel much like a premium car brand experience. Then, a curious thing happens. As speed increases, the rev counter's reading starts to fall. This happens as the CVT 'catches up' and starts to smooth out progress.

You do get used to the engine and transmission's double act, which is why it's a shame that many people probably return to dealerships thinking "nice car but it was very noisy on the hills". Then head off to buy an Audi A3 Sportback or Mercedes A-Class. Toyota has long been aware of the issue and to its credit, the latest engine and gearbox sound less thrashy than they once did. The issue has never been one of smoothless; merely noise. There is never a jerk, nor a shudder.

The littlest Lexus has been around for a long time and never managed to sell in anywhere near big numbers. It has done OK in Britain and was once relatively popular in its class in North American markets. Recent years have seen sales drop off severely in the US to the extent whereby Toyota decided to cease exports at the end of the 2017 model year. During the 11 months to the end of November, US deliveries totalled 4,681 cars, quite a tumble compared to the 7,935 units in the prior year period.

It might sound as though I want to beat up the CT 200h but that's not the case. It's a car I've always admired, even if I disagreed with TMC's dogged determination to sell it solely with a hybrid powertrain. A diesel in combination with manual transmission could have really helped sales in European countries back in the early 2010s - the years when few people in this part of the world saw any reason to buy a petrol-electric car. Judging by how few such vehicles were ever sold by Peugeot and Citroën, offering a diesel-electric set-up wouldn't have helped matters either.

There seem to be more 20 year old LS 400s running around that equivalent XJs, S-Classes, 7 Series and A8s.

The refinement of the CT is there; you just need to drive the car with a light right foot. Everything about it, what you touch and what you see, says 'bullet-proof'. Under the bonnet, the finish and presentation of all ancillaries and paintwork betters that of many way more expensive English luxury vehicles. It looks as though it's a hand-made car.

Shutlines are impossibly tight, every stitch in the leather trim is exactly in alignment with the next, and so on. The plastics are unlike what you find in other premium cars. They are somewhere between designed for decades of use and slightly too shiny. This too is typical of all Lexus models. There seem to be more 20 year old LS 400s running around that equivalent XJs, S-Classes, 7 Series and A8s.

History

The CT had its global debut at the Geneva motor show in March 2010 as the hybrid-only CT 200h. Toyota Motor Kyushu commenced build in late 2010 and the car was launched in Japan during January 2011. Sales in Europe, the US, Canada and Australia/NZ following two months later. The North American-spec car (2012MY) also premiered at the New York motor show in March 2011.

From day one, it has been one body style, one gearbox and one engine: a five-door hatchback powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol unit linked to a continuously variable transmission. Only the front wheels are driven - there has never been an AWD option, not even in Japan.

The CT 200h is effectively a rebodying of Toyota Motor Europe's first generation Auris Hybrid. A concept version, the LF-Ch, had its world premiere at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2009.

A facelifted CT 200h had its world premiere at the Guangzhou motor show in November 2013. North America's 2014 model year was announced in November 2013: it was the facelifted car. Toyota Motor Europe began selling the facelifted CT from Spring 2014.

This latest, second facelift was announced by Toyota in June with the car being seen for the first time two months later at the Chengdu motor show.

This latest, second facelift was announced by Toyota in June with the car being seen for the first time two months later at the Chengdu motor show.

Electric-only range: up to 1.9km

Depending on outside conditions, the CT will start off in EV mode, although the engine will often fire up after a few seconds to give you more oomph off the mark and stop the battery running too quickly if A/C, heated seats and/or other HVAC controls are activated. Drive gently and the reward will be uncanny silence for up to 1.2 miles. Exceed 28mph and the engine comes to life. 

The handling is, as you'd expect, benign but hardly inspiring. That's OK. Nobody buys a CT thinking it's an Audi RS 3 Sportback. Or even an S3. What the Lexus excels at is comfort. The combination of motorway and low-speeds near-silence are its main appeal, along with what has to be most serendipitous sound system of 2017. The Mustang GT still takes my personal prize for best audio experience this year but the CT 200h's 13-speaker Mark Levinson hi fi has to be one of many close runners up.

For GBP30,495, the newly updated CT seems like good value. Being a Lexus, it's going to last forever, be super-reliable, the dealership experience will be first class and crucially, any owner won't be on the motorway thinking "oh look, there's another car the same as mine. And another one". So as an off-beat choice, the case for buying a CT 200h can be made.

What next for the the CT 200h?

The follow-up to the current model is likely to be offered as both a five-door hatchback and four-door sedan. The latter is considered to be needed in the US, and should also be useful for the Chinese market. A non-hybrid powertrain might also be offered: probably the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine from the NX 300. If TMC takes the decision to engineer the car with that alternative, it could spell success in the USA. What about an EV variant. That's certainly a possibility but more likely to become available three to four years after launch, probably at the time of a facelift in 2023 or 2024.

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