Lexus has been focused on hybrids since the mid-2000s, but it has been hesitant to introduce an all-electric vehicle. In markets outside the U.S. Lexus does offer the completely electric UX 300e, but Lexus chose not to bring it here. Now, our first Lexus EV has arrived, the 2023 Lexus RZ. The RZ 450e shares its DNA with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, but it distinguishes itself in many aspects. However, is it sufficient to attract luxury EV buyers?
Despite being a latecomer to the EV segment, Lexus has committed to exclusively offering battery-powered vehicles by 2035, with the RZ being just the starting point. Lexus provided a glimpse of what to anticipate a year ago by unveiling several concepts. Speaking of the RZ, the EV excels in certain areas, but it falls short in others.
Based on Toyota’s e-TNGA platform, the RZ is currently offered only in one version: RZ 450e. Compared to the bZ4X, the RZ has an identical 112.2-inch wheelbase but is around five inches longer, and slightly lower and wider. Positioned between the NX and RX in the brand’s SUV lineup, the RZ offers a more spacious interior despite being a few inches shorter than the RX.
On the exterior, a notable absence is the Lexus “spindle” grille, which is a feature in the rest of the lineup. Instead, Lexus states that the RZ possesses a “spindle body” resembling the shape of the spindle grille, but closed off and more subdued since it does not need to supply air to an engine under the hood.
The RZ 450e is propelled by a dual-motor powertrain delivering more power than the Toyota and Subaru versions. The dual-motor setup incorporates an all-wheel drive system termed as Direct4 by Lexus. The powertrain produces a combined 308 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, significantly surpassing the 214 horsepower of the bZ4X. Lexus estimates the RZ’s 0-60 mph acceleration at 5.0 seconds. While this horsepower rating is akin to the dual-motor variants of the Audi Q4 e-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQB, it falls short of sportier models such as the Tesla Model Y, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Cadillac Lyriq.
The electric motors are powered by a 71.4-kWh lithium-ion battery with an estimated usable capacity of 63.4-kWh. During our drive through the countryside in San Diego, the RZ exhibited more than adequate power to swiftly navigate the twisting roads. It presents some body roll and offers a serene and plush ride in typical Lexus fashion. The RZ comes with four regenerative braking modes selectable via the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Regrettably, even the highest setting does not bring the vehicle to a complete stop, indicating that the RZ is not equipped with the one-pedal driving capability standard in other EVs.
However, an area that requires improvement and could deter potential EV buyers is the driving range. The RZ boasts an estimated range of 220 miles for the Premium version with 18-inch wheels and 196 miles for the Luxury trim level with 20-inch wheels. These specifications are not particularly groundbreaking, especially with the debut of other EVs providing over 300 miles of range.
Charging the RZ is also underwhelming as its onboard charger is only rated at 6.6 kW, compared to 10.9 kW in the Genesis GV60 or 11.0 kW in the Audi Q4 e-tron. It takes 9.5 hours to fully recharge the RZ using a Level 2 charger. The maximum charging rate is 150 kW, requiring 30 minutes to charge it up to 80 percent using a DC fast charger. The Genesis GV60, Tesla Model Y, and Cadillac Lyriq all boast faster charging capabilities than the RZ 450e. For buyers planning road trips, Lexus is offering a program called Lexus Reserve, providing owners with up to 30 days of complimentary Lexus rental cars during the first three years.
One notable feature that may come as a surprise is the Steer by Wire system, delivering a more engaging driving experience with a yoke steering wheel resembling that of an aircraft. The system is remarkably responsive, necessitating only minor inputs to change the vehicle’s direction. However, it does require some time to get accustomed to driving since the steering wheel lacks the upper wheel rim. The steering wheel also turns slightly beyond 90 degrees in each direction, making it easy to deviate from the intended direction by oversteering around a corner. Overall, the yoke steering wheel is rather impressive, and we look forward to seeing it incorporated into other Lexus models, as it offers a much more responsive steering system than a traditional electric system. The Steer by Wire system will not be available in the RZ until later.
Another intriguing steering feature is the Traffic Jam Assist system, allowing hands-free driving on highways at speeds below 25 mph.
Internally, there is a 14-inch touchscreen housing the brand’s latest infotainment system. An optional 10-inch head-up display and Mark Levinson 13-speaker audio system are available. Radiant panel heating emits heat from the bottom of the dashboard, enhancing the RZ’s efficiency compared to the HVAC heat pump.
The pricing for the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e commences at $59,650 for the Premium trim level and $65,150 for the Luxury trim level. Lexus intends to market only about 5,000 units in its inaugural year, a goal that should be easily achievable. The Lexus RZ 450e epitomizes the essence of a Lexus vehicle, presenting a luxurious and chic electric SUV that will effortlessly captivate current Lexus owners seeking to transition to an EV. Nonetheless, it may encounter challenges in swaying prospective buyers from Genesis, Tesla, or Cadillac, given its somewhat limited driving range.
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