HYBRID technology has become a popular way of keeping our environmental consciences clear and saving us a few pennies.
The runaway success of the Toyota Prius is helping to sway us away from being a nation in love with gas guzzlers, to a nation that watches out for its CO2 outputs.
Not to take anything away from the pioneering Prius, but it’s not the most exciting of motors and as hybrid technology progresses and improves, it’s creeping into more and more types of car and the frugal motorist is becoming spoilt for choice.
Take the Lexus CT200h, for instance. It’s the latest of the Prius’ cousins to be treated to a version of the clever Hybrid Synergy Drive system and, in the case of the FSport I tested, it’s the first properly sporty car to have been given the hybrid treatment.
The theory sounds great. A 1.8-litre engine and a powerful electric motor will happily work independently, depending on what power is needed at the time or, put your foot down and they both work together to provide up to 134bhp.
Except it’s not very quick. 134bhp in a sporty car these days is really quite sober and it’s not helped by the awkward CVT gearbox, which does away with conventional gear changes in favour of a continuously variable ratio.
As a result powering out of a corner, which should be a pleasure in a car that handles as well as the CT200, becomes a laborious excercise as the revs from the 1.8 litre Atkinson Cycle engine rise, but the pace doesn’t gather to match.
Eventually it does get going and its slightly firm ride makes for a very sporty drive although bear in mind the tyres fitted to the “h” model have been designed to be quiet rather than grippy.
Inside, Lexus’s trademark build quality is very evident across the cabin, with beautiful materials and hardly any noise — especially when the engine shuts off and lets the motor do the work.
While the cabin feels well put-together, it could be slightly more practical. Rear legroom isn’t remarkable and the rear window arrangement and black roof-lining makes the interior feel dark and pokey.
The floor in the boot is also quite shallow, due to the technology underneath and rear visibility is poor — although a reversing camera comes as part of the package.
There are some fiddly switches put before the driver but they’re contrasted by the firm’s brilliant Remote Touch control system which works like a mouse to navigate the myriad of menus on the infotainment screen. It’s a very clever and intuitive way to operate the various functions while on the move.
Although there are a few glitches, the CT200h has been designed to impress when it comes to low running costs and this is where it makes most sense as a daily driver.
Although the hybrid system is at its best away from the motorways, through towns and rural roads 50mpg seems the bare minimum while 60 or even 70mpg can be attained without too much care and concentration.
Added to that the model’s tax-busting emissions rating of 94g/km and lack of any congestion charging and a starting price of nearly £30,000 begins to make a lot of sense.
It might not be perfect, and while there are some tempting if slighly less frugal rivals from BMW and Audi, the aggresively-styled CT200 ticks a lot of boxes for the keen driver and although the hybrid system hampers its pace, trundling through stop-start traffic and not using any fuel whatsoever is immensely satisfying.
Hybrid cars still rely on good-old fossil fuel for the most part but at least you can shake of the shackles of internal combustion at low speeds and waft along silently and cheaply using your own self-generated electricity.
And now, finally, you can do all this in a genuinely interesting car.
Engine and power: Petrol / Electric Hybrid,
0-62mph: 10.3 seconds
Max speed: 113mph
Size: (l) 4320 (w) 1765mm (h) 1440
Efficiency: combined 68.9mpg, urban 68.9mpg, extra-urban 68.9mpg
Boot space: 375 litres