Silence is golden

11:38am Friday 5th August 2011

By David Duffy

Electric cars can be potential killing machines. Don't take my word for it, talk to the wood pigeon which was pecking away in the middle of my quiet close as I pulled into my driveway.

With its back to me, it did not have a clue that £25,000 worth of petrol-electric hybrid luxury was gliding in on a deadly collision course until I was almost on top of it.

The bird escaped with no more than a few ruffled feathers, but it brought home the fact that neither pigeons, nor pedestrians, are used to cars that coast along in near silence.

That goes just as much for the driver, and it certainly pays to engage your brain, as well as the gearbox, when you first sit behind the wheel of the new Lexus CT 200h.

I pressed the starter button, flicked the automatic gearshift into Drive and sat like an idiot waiting for the engine to fire up. It did not. So I nudged the gearshift back into neutral, pressed the engine stop button and went through the whole procedure again — twice — still with no sign of any engine noise.

Then it clicked. The hybrid CT200h has a powerful electric motor linked to the 1.8-litre petrol unit, and if it can run on electric alone, it will.

So all you have to do is press down on the accelerator and off you glide in eerie electrically-powered silence. Often this is only for a short distance before the engine kicks in, but it is a reminder of the seamless integration of the technology built into Lexus’s first model in the small luxury car segment.

The glovebox-filling manual weighs in at a hefty 1.5kg and covers no fewer than 688 pages, but a dip into it shows the CT 200h is capable of running on its petrol engine or electric motor alone, or with both working in combination.

A power-split device automatically combines and reallocates power from the engine, electric motor and generator, without any input from the driver.

The electric motor works in tandem with the petrol engine to boost acceleration, or drives the wheels on its own when electric-only EV mode is selected. Lexus says in EV mode the CT 200h can be driven for up to a mile-and-a-half at speeds up to 28mph.

I never managed more than a mile in full electric mode before the engine cut in, neither could I match the near-70 mpg average fuel consumption claimed, with my combination of city rush-hour and motorway driving delivering a more modest 53mpg.

But rock-bottom CO2 emissions mean this car is exempt from road tax.

As you would expect from a Lexus, precise handling and superb ride comfort come as standard, and equipment levels in the air-conditioned, leather-lined cabin are high, with no fewer than 37 buttons to play with on the centre console, and a further nine mounted on the steering wheel to keep the driver busy.

Safety systems are top drawer, with anti-lock braking and traction control and vehicle stability control backed up by eight airbags including knee airbags for driver and front passenger.

Lexus has signed up Kylie Minogue to lead its advertising campaign for the ‘Quiet Revolution’ but for the sake of pigeons, if nothing else, these cars need something to make their presence known.

Auto facts Lexus CT 200h SE-L

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