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Lexus CT 200h for true greenies only

Lexus is fast becoming a byword for hybrid, and the maker of upmarket Japanese cars now has more petrol-electric models in its line up than any other manufacturer.

The company's obviously identified a niche group of customers who wish to display their planet-friendly inclinations on their sleeves by driving h-badged cars with low fuel consumption and even lower C02 emissions.

Despite the spoilers and skirts, the Lexus CT 200h F-Sport is not a boy-racer special.

We're talking serious greeenies here; the types who go so far as avoiding foods that might cause digestive mishaps because flatulence is a major contributor to global warming.

PAYING FOR THE PRIVILEGE

And most importantly they must be willing to pay for the privilege. If you scan a buyer's guide of midsized hatchbacks the new petrol-electric Lexus CT 200h might jar you with its price of R343 300 for the standard S version and R398 500 for the flagship F-Sport.

Even the cheaper one is between 20 and 70 grand more expensive than similarly-specced (but usually more powerful) turbodiesel hatch rivals.

With its combined petrol/electric outputs the Lexus serves up outputs of 100kW and 142Nm (207Nm for the electric motor). This relatively poor bang-for-buck might immediately cross the Lexus off many people's shortlists, but the planet-friendly argument is that the CT 200h isn't a car to be measured in such crudely boyracerish terms.

Instead one must look to the fact that the car runs on the whiff of petrol fumes, and emits exhaust gasses that will melt icebergs more slowly (Lexus claims 4.1litres/100km and 94g/km).

PREMIUM FEEL

The CT 200h is the first hatchback from a company better known for its luxury sedans, and the good news is that it has a premium feel with the brand's signature sophistication.

The cabin's a classy environment with its soft-touch plastics and leather seats, and it happily accommodates four adults (five is a bit of a squeeze), while the features are fairly plentiful including items such as Bluetooth with voice command, eight airbags, keyless start, climate control, and automatic headlights.

The nearly 400-grand F-Sport version tested here additionally comes with items such as charcoalcoloured 17-inch wheels, LED headlamps, boot spoiler, sports electric seats, and sports suspension. Optionally, the CT 200h F-Sport can be ordered with a Convenience Package which adds an upgraded sound system, rainsensing wipers, a full-colour monitor with HDD navigation, and a reverse camera.

The car shares its petrol-electric drivetrain with Toyota's Prius, to whit a 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine and an electric motor. Like the Prius, the CT 200h can run either on petrol or electric power, or a combination of the two.

NO SPORTS HATCH

This is no sports hatch for boy-racers, but the power on tap is very adequate and never feels lazy. It accelerates and cruises without any flat spots, while the characteristics of the belt-driven CVT transmission will as usual polarise opinion.

The best part about it is its smooth and step-free operation which lacks the power pauses of regular auto transmissions as they shift up and down. But some drivers dislike the "slipping clutch" effect of a CVT.

Three driving modes are offered, Normal, Eco and Sport, which change throttle and steering responses to suit your mood. It's a very smooth drivetrain, whether in petrol- or electricity-powered mode.

In electric mode it's eerily silent, sneaking up on unsuspecting pedestrians like a Ninja.

Lexus reckons the CT 200h could save over R3 000 a year in fuel over conventional rivals. As an incentive to make your right foot lighter, in Normal and Eco modes the instrument panel turns blue when you're driving economically.

The psychological effect is a powerful motivator and it becomes a challenge to see just how long you can make that blue light stay on. In the end it contributed to our test car averaging 6

litres per 100km in a mix of freeway and city driving, which is good if still short of Lexus' 4.1-litre claim.

VERDICT

Fuel economy is particularly relevant right now with fuel price hikes threatening to send us back to commuting by horse-and-cart. This would make the Lexus CT 200h a timely newcomer in our market, if only it weren't so expensive. Its problem is that there's a broad choice of turbodiesel hatches out there boasting similar consumption figures but at far lower pricetags.

The Lexus admittedly has a lower CO2 output, which will appeal to the flatulence-avoiding greenies. -Star Motoring

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