KEEP it quiet, but the price is right

The allure of a ride on the Orient Express never really posed much of a puzzle to me.

Given the disposable means, there’s little mystery to why people would pay over £2,000 per person to travel from London to Venice by train when EasyJet can take you from Manchester to the same destination, in a couple of hours, for £165.

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I can’t help drawing the comparison when pondering the thinking behind the Lexus CT200h.

As sporty as Toyota’s premium arm might want its hybrid hatchback to appear and feel (in certain respects) the aim of the game in any electrified or part electrified car has to be driving steadily to achieve the most economical result, right?

Take life steadily in the CT and you’ll be rewarded with an everso- smooth and quiet power delivery — remember the “Join the Quiet Revolution” TV ads with Kylie Minogue? — and a comfortable perch in the brand’s trademark sculpted seats.

In the Premium spec tested here (there are SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premium trim grades), opting for a little more noise could mean taking in waves of crisp but bass-rich tones from the 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system which is one of the best I’ve sampled in recent years.

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The option of going quickly is a little less straightforward than the flick of a switch…and rather less aurally appealing.

In fact, due to the presence of a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), acceleration is about as far from flicking a switch as it could be.

The hybrid drivetrain may combine a 98bhp, 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle petrol engine and 81hp electric motor to produce a total potential output of 134bhp, but tapping into it feels like a chore.

Ease your right foot towards the carpet and the revs rise, and rise, and stay in a droning range that undermines the potential serenity of the car and just feels like a drawn-out journey outside the CT’s comfort zone.

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The CT200h claims a 10.3 second nought to 62mph time and is probably good for it, but partthrottle acceleration generating any pace can feel like a noisy and drawn-out affair.

The CT does handle quite sportily.

Sitting low on its suspension, it rides firmly and will tack into a corner fairly keenly, but with the lack of any real engine braking to load-up the chassis the set-up feels like a compromise designed to harness mechanical grip rather than deliver any genuine dynamic prowess.

Outside, Lexus’s distinctive new “spindle” design grille has been introduced to the CT for the first time in 2018 as part of an otherwise fairly subtle set of changes delivered seven years after its initial launch.

I like the way the CT looks, though, particularly on the Premium trim’s new 17-inch wheels, but they do serve to compromise fuel economy.

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With 16-inch wheels the CT is said to be capable of 74.3mpg and 88g/km CO2 emissions but, as tested here, it claims 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 94g/km.

Anti-diesel sentiment would have to play a part in ushering potential buyers towards a CT then, because it’s really no more economical than the average diesel hatchback.

A quality cabin is a real strength, though, and the CT200h does deliver the same quality as vehicles further up the Lexus range, with a wide repertoire of safety equipment introduced for 2018.

A new 10.3-inch display for the sat nav infotainment system looks the part and the mousestyle controller on the broad centre console is a novel device that you soon get the hang of.

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Matte effect plastics and brushed metallic surfaces feel tactile in combination with leather seats and a chunky, sculpted steering wheel.

Heated seats and a heated steering wheel feel at odds with the eco-friendly part-electric technology, but add an extra level of premium comfort which — with the right soundtrack pouring into the cabin through that impressive stereo system — can combine to make the CT feel like a truly cossetting place to be.

The latest update of the CT ushers in Lexus Safety System+, which combines autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam headlights.

This array of technology succeeds in bringing the CT well up to date in safety terms.

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Rear cabin space is sufficient for two adults, but despite a claimed capacity of 375-litres, the boot looks fairly small, with a shallow load area which communicates a compromise perhaps made in the locating of the hybrid drivetrain’s battery packs.

The real clincher for many prospective Lexus CT200h buyers could be the price, though.

At £31,855 as tested here it is right in the firing line of headturning German rivals such as the BMW 1 Series M Sport, Audi A3 S line and Mercedes-Benz A-Class AMG Line models.

As enticing as Kylie made the prospect of joining the “Quiet Revolution” look, the alternative to choosing life in the slower lane with Lexus refinement and eco-friendly technology is far from being the EasyJet of the premium hatchback world…