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 have a deep fascination for alternatively-propelled 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!
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 I must admit that my hybrid experience is woefuly outdated.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.
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.
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. 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.