_ENGINEERING _ and design are the focus of upgrades to the latest Lexus. The CT200h carries many banners in the Lexus world - it's the smallest, it's the cheapest and it's the latest version of the biggest hybrid family in the car world.
In Australia, it's the first luxury hybrid hatchback, and this is the key to its past success and will no doubt increase sales in the future. Because an exciting driver's car it is not.
For example, the driving mode dial has three settings - Eco, Normal and a very ambitiously named Sport mode. Eco is fine and understandable, with enough gizmo lights and graphics to entertain drivers pushing the extremes of economy driving. But the other two perhaps should be renamed Sedate, and Less Sedate.
Ten thousand Lexus hybrids have been sold to date, with more than a third of them the CT200h. In 2008 they made up 3 per cent of Lexus deliveries. So far in 2014, the hybrid content has been 40 per cent. Interestingly, the company says its research notes hybrid is not usually a factor in the buying decision. Rather the power of the brand - quality, dependability and prestige - is above all that and the main reason people aspire to a Lexus product.
The driveline is from the Prius, not a fact easily acknowledged by Lexus sales people in the showroom. But that's what it is - a 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine that produces a meek and mild 73kW of power and 142Nm of torque, plus an electric motor that produces 60kW and 207Nm.
But the management system restricts the maximum power to the gearbox to 100kW by blending output from each power source, resulting in the underwhelming road performance and helping to keep fuel use suppressed.
At 4.1L/100km this driveline is well proven and, given its acceptance in many taxi fleets, is clearly capable of delivering fuel savings through the long term.
However CT200h buyers won't be focusing on the hybrid set-up, except to enjoy a warm feeling of socially responsible sustainability while they drive. Their attention will rest on the high standard of quietness, comfort and quality that is unique to Lexus. Eight SRS airbags are ready to spring into action if things go awry.
Big improvements have been made in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) engineering. Twenty extra spot welds are added, along with additional body bonding and revised floor bracing.
And how about this - the CT200H has DRLs, ECB, ABS, EBD, BE, VSC, TC and HAC, as well as WIL seat. That lot, plus advanced Bluetooth, mood lighting, dual-zone climate control and everything electric means you really do need to read the owner's manual.
Starting price for the new CT is $39,990 but Lexus admits most buyers drive away after spending an extra $5000-$6000 on upgrades and options.
Big improvements have been made in noise, vibration and harshness engineering.