Blog : My week with a hybrid Lexus CT200h

Keith Adams on the Lexus CT200h

My love of old cars is well known. And it knows no bounds. Put me behind the wheel of anything from a 1978 Lada 1600ES to a 1970 Lamborghini Miura P400S – and most things between – and I’m a happy bunny. A lesser known fact about me is that I also love alternatively-fuelled cars, and when I started driving, that usually meant diesel or LPG. These days, we have more options still, with the advent of petrol and diesel hybrids, range extending electric cars, and solely battery powered cars… And with this this, there is finally now much evidence of technical and evolutionary divergence after a couple of decades (at least!) of engineering orthodoxy!

Regular readers will know that I have something of a soft spot for the Nissan Leaf at the moment. It’s a one-shot electric car that allows its driver to stick two fingers up at petrol stations – as long as they don’t need to travel very far and have a handy charging points. As I do. And in the current climate of expensive petrol (despite the dropping price of crude oil), that’s a potently enticing proposition. But in the real world, few of us really do fit into the template of the ideal Leaf owner – we’re all travelling further for work, and spending longer in our cars (on business). And really, have but one car for the day-to-day stuff.

So, for most people, a range of 400-miles (at least) is the absolute minimum requirement of any new car. And that means going petrol, diesel or hybrid. I must admit that my hybrid experience is woefuly outdated. I’ve driven Honda’s CR-Z and original insight, as well as the last-generation Toyota Prius, but other than that, I’ve led a fairly hybrid-free existence. And with that in mind, and allied with my curiosity for unorthodox cars, and appreciation of cutting down my visits to the petrol station, I thought it would be a brilliant experience to try out the latest from Lexus, the CT200h, kissing cousin of the Toyota Prius.

Like the Prius, the CT200h has an interesting drivetrain – well, actually it’s identical – comprising of a transverse-mounted 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol with 98bhp and a ‘hybrid transaxle’ which also powers the front wheels. Together, they push out 134bhp and according to government figures, deliver 68.9mpg on the combined cycle. So far so good. What those figures don’t tell you is just how refined a drive you’re left with – you power on the car, and creep gently away before the petrol motor cuts in to push you along at a reasonable clip. Initially, it’s hard to tell when the car’s running on petrol, and when it’s on battery – or both. And for me, that’s really quite satisfying. And restful.

So this hybrid lark meets with approval so far? Oh yes – I think there’s a lot to be said for silent manoeuvring and running on battery in town. I just wish the electric motor had more capacity, though… but I guess that would mean the CT200h would then end up being a range extending electric hybrid, rather than the other way round.

Watching the energy monitor is a geekish pleasure part and parcel of CT200h driving...
Watching the energy monitor is a geekish pleasure part and parcel of CT200h driving…

Living day-to-day is what this is all about. And certainly in the past week, I have appreciated many aspects of the CT200h’s considered design. The fabulously well-made interior is a tactile delight, and the level of convenience that comes as standard really is astonishing. For someone like me – currently on crutches and hobbling at best – it’s a brilliant car. Keyless entry, a nice high stance, wide-opening doors, and a roomy footwell make it an ideal choice. The all round quality and refinement make the CT200h equally satisfying on the move. Only the average ride stops it ticking all the boxes for me. So it’s nice and easy to live with – but then, so would an Audi A3 or Mercedes-Benz B-Class… question is, does the complexity of the hybrid drivetrain bring anything new to the party?

Truth be told, at no point did I ever forget I was driving a hybrid. And not for bad reasons. I love tech, and the worth while appliance of it, and once I’d figured that it was possible to display the battery/engine/charging status on the infotainment screen in all its live glory, I became hooked on watching the little pictogram. A little obsession then ensued, where I’d try to use the battery as much as possible, and recharge it fully at any given opportunity. That did see me driving more slowly than I might have done (with its CVT, you’re usually accelerating more smartly than it feels – and sounds), and with that new-found cautiousness came good fuel consumption. On my commute, which is about 15-miles each way, and is a mix of urban and extra-urban and lots of stop-start, the CT200h has been delivering a rock steady 55mpg.

In comparative terms, that puts it about on a par with a new Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion or Suzuki Swift DDiS, both of which are diesel powered, and far less refined (although the Golf was spectacularly smooth… for a diesel – and the Swift is considerably cheaper and in no way a rival); or my Bangernomics VW Golf Mk4 TDI. Of course, this isn’t a scientific test, more of a real-life one, but proof that with a little hybrid know-how, you can enjoy the benefits of petrol without the drawbacks of inferior economy compared with Rudolf’s compression ignition engine.

So, I do like the CT200h. But there’s a big but for me…

I wanted more electric from the car. Instead of 70% petrol and 30% electric, I want it the other way round, if not more. And that’s why I’m hoping that the next generation of compact hybrids to be range-extending battery powered cars. Driving a Chevrolet Volt (Vauxhall Ampera when we get it in the UK) is something I am really looking forward to. But all of that takes nothing away from the CT200h – it’s an ultra-refined tech-fest that works pretty well in the real world, and an interesting insight into how batteries make cars ‘sound’ and feel more luxurious.

Now, to save up £100K for a nice little LS600h…


Keith Adams


  1. And therein lies the rub. It and others like it are an overcomplex curiousity and little more. I can get 55mpg with a simple diesel, or I can get 55mpg with something that needs a phd in starfighter maintinence from Kuat U, and costs about the same as a gold plated T65C. Its all about the right tool for the right job, and right now that is a correctly sized, turbo intercooled ICE with multispeed transmission. Trying to use the current hybrids in reality is like running Windows on a 80186; possible but why on earth would you want to?
    Then theres the plug ins & little hitlers situation, you plug in your car and they bitch about the lead… and yes, I’m in that situation right now and its costing me upwards of £5 a tank in fuel at least in lost mileage… Can you imagine what it’ll be like with electric cars? It wont be The Story of the Hedgerow Argument Murder, it’ll be The Nissan Leaf Serial Killer…
    On an unrelated subject, how is your foot doing? I hope its healing ok, it might be an idea to take calcium supplements while it is, more free serum calcium means quicker healing.

  2. @Jemma

    Well, I admit it’s no Humber Sceptre. But what is? 🙂

    Thanks for your note about my foot – it seems to be healing well, although I’ll know more next week when they get the cast off and have a proper look. I’ve been drinking lots of milk – does that count as the same?


  3. Milks probably better, since its less processed than suppliments. I hope you manage to get back on both feet soon, but remember to take it easy. Healed areas of bone are always a little weaker for a while until they fully ossify.
    I know its not a Sceptre and I also accept that there are alot of more efficient vehicles, but I maintain that the simplest tool for a given job is always best. The more you ladle electronics and batteries into the mix the more things there are to go wrong and leave you stranded, and being stranded has, more than once, cost a woman on her own her dignity, her life, or both.
    Not to mention the fact of how electricity and water and humans dont mix, or what might happen in a serious accident involving hybrid batteries – the small 1200MaH battery in a iPhone can cause an explosion and serious burns when shorted, what happens to a multi KwH set when things get ‘(bmw driving) gorillas in the mist’? Is it going to be a single pristine alloy wheel bouncing out of the fireball situation?
    When I can get a battery powered vehicle with the same power performance and range as my ICE car, for the same price, that takes the same time to ‘refuel’ and doesnt cost me a massive amount in batt’s every 15 years, then I might be tempted.

  4. “The more you ladle electronics and batteries into the mix the more things there are to go wrong and leave you stranded, and being stranded has, more than once, cost a woman on her own her dignity, her life, or both.”

    Jemma, do you think it’s possible to ladle on any more hyperbolic, near hysterical justification for a neo-luddite approach to cars?

    Seriously, a modern car is SO much less likely to strand anyone – woman or otherwise – if operated correctly (i.e. put fuel in it) than a classic, and if we’re aiming for sweeping generalisations, most women on their own are unlikely to be able to sort out a duff distributor, air-locked cooling, blocked fuel filter or any of the many faults that plague old cars. Keith’s SD1 failed to proceed until some relatively informed guessing and a 13mm spanner were applied – it would be so easy to be totally clueless about the car and just be, as you say, stranded.

    There are many strong environmental, cost, efficiency and pleasure arguments to be had against modern car developments, but to find the red herring of “it’ll strand you due to complexity” and lace it with “AND IT MIGHT LEAD TO A HORRIBLE CRIME” is just ridiculous.

    Most modern blokes can’t work out why their car has failed to proceed either. I also suspect that in MOST cases, when the car is broken, anyone stopping will be decent, helpful and will do their very best to assist the person, male or female, alone or in a group.

    This tabloid-esque theory that suggests around every corner is some sort of boogeyman is getting really very tired, and extremely destructive to society as a whole.

    Let’s be totally straight about this – a well maintained modern car is less likely to go wrong in the first place. MUCH less. It may be difficult to make it go again when it breaks, but the only difference there is that for us car enthusiasts, we might stand a chance with an old car. The majority of people won’t.

    I once did a faith healing on an old bloke’s 190, because he didn’t understand how to work the autochoke. Laid hands on the bonnet and talked to him, and then the car. Then told him to restart it. Until I’d popped along, he’d just been churning the poor thing over and over and was about to flatten the battery – all he’d done was flood the engine. No understanding, from someone who was of an age you would think had grown up with carbs, chokes and flooding.

  5. Agree completely Richard. In my younger days I had a succession of 60’s/70’s Fords, Vauxhall and BL cars. All where simple devices, but all continually went wrong despite only being required to do very small mileages. My current car is ladled with electronics and management systems and lots of things that could go wrong – but they never do. I do around 30,000 miles a year and rarely even check the oil.

  6. Jemma – simple Diesels? Long gone… clear 100k and its new mortgage time! Keith is it nice inside now? The one I sat in Paris was rough enough to warrant an MG badge!

  7. @ Richard

    I’ve seldom seen any SD1 be so incapacitated by its own electronics that it couldnt move under its own power, even the dismal autochoke doesnt usually incapacitate them, as I know from personal experience (floor accelerator, turn key, wait until A: it starts or B: the backfire burns through the bonnet). My fathers Safrane was reduced to the vehicular equivalent of a hysterical blubbering wreck, because the computers didnt know what to make of a faulty sensor input…
    Honda Insight hybrids are well known to be a mechanical disaster area – they mostly get scrapped when the earth connection leads fail, and thats on a Honda..! Then theres all the fun with the occasional fly-by-wire throttle that suddenly thinks its doing the death star run, not the school run… Need I go on?
    Add to this the fact that you’ve got a nice fat multi kW battery installation and you just KNOW some berks going to be playing ‘dodge the discharge’ with an old metal screwdriver…
    You’ve made my point for me in alot of respects, my dad even now could take a TE20 apart and put it back together with just a old bent coathanger and a socket wrench, but try explaining VVTi to him. The best bit of all, is you can get the same power from a properly designed NA engine without all the bells and whistles, as you can from some crippleware ‘kent’ lump with 16v, VVTi and whatever acronymtastic is flavour of the month.
    Its been said before and it will be again. A larger capacity, properly breathing properly fueled properly maintained engine, will be more economical than some pint sized thing that needs to be revved silly constantly. Add to that the sad fact that ‘pollution controls’ can thieve up to 40% of the power (and 80% of the entire pollution is within first 3 miles only) and more and more power is needed & therefore more capacity.
    Then ypu have the battery weight to contend with, and the part where electric motors chew anything that isnt an automatic or CVT into small bite size pieces so you cant use a manual, so more lost efficiency.. And all the pollution caused to make the batteries and ship them and replace them.
    There are many things I might be but a Luddite is not one of them. i have argued against hybrids since they came out and will continue to do so while they

    1. Use immature technologies which are dirty and consumptive to produce, and as much trouble to get rid of.

    2. Are little more than an over complex, overweight, compromise designed solely and simply to pander to peoples ‘ecolust’.

    3. Are inefficient and of poor performance in direct comparison to even relatively ancient competition. Humber Sceptre 85hp 99mph, Toyota Prius 136hp 99mph. Thats a total of 51hp extra to reach the same top speed for similar sized vehicles, even with the advantage of aerodynamics for the Prius (the Sceptre has all the flair and grace of a small shed door in that department). Forgive me for stating the obvious but doesnt progress mean less power for the same performance, not the opposite?

    4. Not designed for owner servicing and repair

    5. Designed specifically for a given life & engineered down to said (the aforementioned Insight is a good example of this. Whoever heard of a conventional car that leaked, melted its electrics and blew out 2nd gear on a regular basis… But the Insight has all these faults.

    The underlying concept of economical vehicles I applaud, but there are many many better ways of finding that economy than strapping 300kg of batteries to a honda civic.

    six stroke engines, horizontally opposed piston engines, two strokes with tuned pipes and broad gauge cats. Then theres fitting every new car with coolant preheaters as standard, radiant heated car interiors until the engine reaches temperature. Just a coolant preheater alone for 3 hours will improve start up economy at 0 from 15 to 22-24 alone on my car. Teaching people to drive economically would be a good start alone, theres more to driving than reading signs.

    Oh, and as for the horrible crimes part, theres a good reason why women alone are the priority for breakdown firms, because there have been many cases of lone women being targetted by ‘good samaritans’ and the advice now for women alone is not to accept lifts from strangers for that very reason. So you’ll forgive me if I stick to my 15 year old non hybrid on the basis that I have a chance of fixing it if it does throw a wobbly, and it wont go and whimper in the corner every time theres an ‘r’ in the month because a big puddle shorted its electrics.

  8. @ Andrew

    I’ve heard a few recently that sound like a bucket of bolts in a blender, if anything they sound worse than a sick Ford CVS, although to be fair, its more likely its natural as opposed to mechanical alzheimers in the case of the CVS.
    My dads Merc 3.2 diesel needed a whole new inlet side after 12000 miles – turbo, gaskets the whole lot, and it was on a recall (after my dad blew his stack, the relevant documents suddenly appeared)! This is my complaint about quality; if Mercedes think thats ok, what hope have us normal mortals?
    Its like the entire planet has slipped into iPhone mode… So long as it lasts 3 years and doesnt set lil Victoria on fire when she calls a taxi, its fine. I still dont understand how people can say ‘im a environment snuggling people loving bunnywabbit’ when we buy electronics made by slave labour (to the point the factories put ‘do not commit suicide’ as one of the job conditions) and buy eco cars using materials mined using methods that would make stone age Wales seem advanced. We have a limited amount of resources on this planet, yet we scrap perfectly usable cars because the people who make new ones couldnt hire decent accountants.

    Im not that much of a cynical old witch really, but looking at the world in general, I cant for the life of me think why I’m not..

  9. Hey Jemma, i never considered that a putting a petrol engine next to an electric motor made the pair of them an ‘immature technology’, considering that both of them are 100+ years old.
    As for your 99mph comparison between this car and your Humber sceptre, what is the point of that? You might as well compare them on tyre pressures or fuel tank capacity. Neither car is all about the top speed is it.
    My mate has an original Honda Insight (the one that looks like a shoe), its now got 178,000 miles on, with its original battery pack still, and the worst failure he’s ever had on it is a stuck EGR valve, which he has now learned to remove and clean out once a year. He still travels 120 miles a day in it and averages 70 mpg.
    A hybrid makes a lot of sense when you consider how inefficient internal combustion engines are… If you can make a bit of progress without switching yours on, you should do.

  10. and the carbon footprint of the factories making the Li-on batteries or rare earth metals mined and pollution from these toxic substances from thier manufacture? id never feel smug driving one of these boring washing machines and who would go wobbly at the knees seeing a auris?ever seen one? ill have the full fat hubre sceptre anytime at least it has character.

  11. Jemma: I’m on the same side environmentally. I prefer older cars, I think that the impact of making a new car far outweighs the benefits. And I can find examples to justify any balance, in any direction, for any editorial slant you wish.

    1990 Golf GTi Digifant – 115mph, 0-60 8.5s, 45-52mpg, real world. 5 seats, safe, reliable, strong – for the time.

    2004 Beetle 1.6 Cabrio – can’t remember top speed, it’d do 100 though. 0-60 12-13s. 30-33mpg, real-world. Not much difference between it and the Golf it’s derived from.

    Or how about my old P6B 3500S, which gave 13mpg; Keith’s SD1 is giving me 30mpg. Yeay progress! Of course, my C6 would leave both of them standing, was vastly better equipped, weighed 80% more and yet gave 43mpg driven carefully, from the 2.7 twin-turbo V6.

    The C3 I drive now exceeds most reports – and the little experience – I have had with hybrids. And it’s not got stop-start tech, I think the newer ones do. On a careful run, 78mpg – without dawdling, just sticking to the speed limits. Driven at fast motorway speeds, I get 65mpg, and I’m not putting up with the lumpen, horrible handling of a Prius.

    Also: ” when we buy electronics made by slave labour (to the point the factories put ‘do not commit suicide’ as one of the job conditions) ”

    Hokay. Yeay China. So, let’s clarify:

    Working conditions in these complexes are very different to Western (particularly British) expectations. They’re not slave labour. I’ve worked in a UK electronics plant, they’re very similar, and plenty of people put in the overtime. Last time I checked, the arrangements for taxation and living costs put a Chinese factory worker for Foxconn at an equivalent income level to around £13Kpa, however 50% of that is disposable income, with food and accommodation provided by Foxconn – because many of the workers are rural migrants who would otherwise be looking at surviving on a couple of dollars per month, with no access to healthcare or anything else without saving huge amounts. We may be horrified to imagine such working conditions, but I personally work 10 hours per day regularly. I know people who do more.

    As for the suicides, Foxconn’s “population” at the affected facility is over 200,000 people. The suicides as a per-capita rate were lower than ANY other civilisation and vastly lower than China as a whole, and to assume that these suicides were related purely to the working environment is absolutely and completely offensive – it suggests that the workers have no emotional or mental concerns, that they are in essence, mindless. It’s tragic, but to wheel it out as a criticism is ridiculous and erroneous, and serves merely to propagate an inaccurate and biased perception of China’s industry and people.

    Chinese people may have mental illnesses, overwhelming emotional and life stresses, just like British, Scandinavian or whatever people, and by comparison with the bulk of China the working and life conditions in Foxconn are FAR from unpleasant. We might not like it – we’re spoiled.

  12. The Lexus is an impressive technical achievement, and sounds very much like an extremely refined place to be. If you’re buying a car as a means to go from A to B you couldn’t justify it over the bangernomics option (initial cost, depreciation, servicing, insurance costs all likely to be sky-high in comparison), and for me it fails in the environmental stakes too. Keeping an old car going is surely better for the planet than the environmental costs of manufacturing a new one.

  13. comment no 13 hits it right on the head,and i dont think hybrid or electric cars are the answer especially in terms of range,why not hydrogen powered as honda have recently showcased?the internal combustion engine is a long way off defunct in otto cycle at least,the main inefficiency being heat loss experimental orbital engines and six strokes are just that experimental,wankels drink juice like george best and keeping them engines clean is more complex,RX300/350 why? CT 200h kylie minogue prancing all over it isnt going to detract from the fact its dear and only a bit bigger than an auris(on the outside)and just as anonymous as for the auris no one buys em only coffin dodgers and driving schools.Prius-pious so that leaves the insight and ampera probably the best looking and useful of the bunch.By the way i run a 99 golf 1.8 20v with 205k on the clock on its original engine,gearbox and wheel bearings etc etc etc and flys through emmisions test every time- i think i prefer it to my mk5 golf tdi!

  14. As a hybrid owner I often face the Clarkson inspired snipe about the pollution footprint of hybrids / batteries being manufactured and shipped half way around the world.

    Lets put this straight, compare the one-off making/shipping of a hybrid battery against the energy wasted by continually shipping, year upon year, of crude fossil fuel by sea, again half way around the world, to keep the non hybrid gas-guzzlers satisfied. The fuel sipping energy reclaiming hybrid wins every time!

    Another myth is the saintliness of the diesel over petrol, it takes twice as much crude to provide a gallon of diesel as a gallon of petrol, that 2012 55 mpg golf diesel guzzles crude at the same rate of a 27 mpg petrol 1973 Ford Cortina.

    You can do the maths yourself, refining fossil crude typically yields: petrol 40%, diesel 20%(and declining due to sulphur content) kerosene 10%, 30&% other products.

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