Lexus CT200H

Like the Mini Countryman Lexus's new CT200h, the self-styled ‘world’s first premium compact hybrid’, is also asking more questions than it answers.

In essence it’s a Golf-sized Lexus running a minutely modified version of the hybrid powertrain of the Prius and consequently uses less fuel and has lower CO² emissions than any rival. Add in the savings in company car tax, tax disc, congestion charging and likely strong residuals and you have a car which, Lexus claims quite plausibly, can reduce annual running costs by a four-figure sum compared to its conventional diesel-powered opponents.

The problem is that this is a Lexus with prices starting just shy of £23,000, which creates a level of expectation in areas important to buyers of premium cars that it fails to meet.

It’s slow, slower even than its double-digit 0-60mph time suggests because the faster you go, the slower it gets. Off the line with full electrical assistance its performance is acceptable, but much above about 80mph it runs dramatically out of puff because by then its weedy 98bhp petrol motor is doing the work. So while its 112mph top speed may seem academic, it reveals the tail-off in performance from which low-powered hybrids suffer.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the fact is to compare it to its closest rival, the BMW 118d. Not only does it hit 60mph in less than 9sec, it’ll carry on to 130mph, meaning that in the 60-85mph bracket the BMW has power and torque aplenty. Nor is there such a big hit at the pumps: the Lexus does 68.9mpg, but the BMW will hardly break the bank at 62.8mpg.

Moreover the Lexus suffers from a mediocre ride quality and resolutely uninvolving handling, leaving its strengths lying in what you can see: the quality of its cabin fittings and the impressive length of its standard equipment list.

As with all hybrids, it has a clear appeal to those wishing to demonstrate their environmental sympathies in public while offering an evident and substantial saving in running costs. But to crack a market where your rivals are not Fords and Vauxhalls, the area in which the Prius operates, but BMW and Audi, will I think take more than the CT200h has to offer.

We know that the future of hybrids does not belong to cars with heavy, inefficient, nickel metal-hydride batteries like those used in this Lexus but with lithium-ion technology that allows cars to be charged from the mains and complete most journeys on battery power alone, using internal combustion power merely to extend the range of the car. And you can bet all the sake in Japan that a plug-in version of the CT200h is being readied for market just as we know the same is being done with the Prius. Then its proposition may prove tempting or even compelling. But right now, it feels somewhat harder to see its point.

ENGINE: 1798cc, four-cylinder petrol and electric motor
TOP SPEED: 112mph
POWER: 98bhp at 5200rpm
FUEL/CO2: 68.9mpg, 96g/km