Nearly a year after Toyota introduced its first long-range EV, the bZ4X, the automaker’s luxury brand is getting into the game with the battery-electric Lexus RZ 450e.
While the two all-electric models share the same underpinnings, the Lexus package delivers improved performance, distinctive design details and a variety of upscale features not offered on the mainstream Toyota model. Among other things, the RZ 450e will be offered with a new steer-by-wire system that, officials claim, will give the all-electric SUV a sportier, more responsive feel.
Like a number of key competitors, Lexus has laid out plans to go entirely electric. To check out what the luxury brand has delivered with its first EV, TheDetroitBureau.com headed to San Diego to drive several versions of the 2023 RZ, including an early prototype equipped with the yoke-controlled steer-by-wire system.
“This is a pivotal year for us,” Greg Kitzens, the Lexus general manager, declared prior to the first drive of the brand’s first long-range battery-electric vehicle.
Lexus was one of the pioneers when it comes to electrification and now offers a variety of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. It’s late to the market with a full EV, however. With plans for the brand to go entirely EV within the coming decade, Lexus hopes to make up for lost time with the launch of the 2023 RZ 450e.
The electric crossover shares a number of key components with the Toyota bZ4X launched a year ago. That starts with the underlying e-TNGA platform. But the RZ isn’t just a gussied-up version of Toyota’s mainstream EV. It delivers a number of pluses, starting with improved performance and a more compelling design. There are, as you’d expect, some welcome new luxury features, as well.
One of the more intriguing options won’t be available at launch, however: a new, yoke-controlled steer-by-wire system likely to by added sometime in 2024.
If there’s one shortfall, however, it’s range. At a maximum 220 miles, based on EPA estimates, the RZ 450e falls short of most — though certainly not all — of its luxury EV competitors.
At first glance, you might confuse the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e with the conventional, gas-powered Lexus NX crossover. They share the same wheelbase, though the EV measures 7 inches longer overall. The RZ 450e also has about 2 inches more headroom than both the NX and bigger RX.
As we’ve come to expect with modern battery-electric vehicles, Lexus designers put a premium on aerodynamics, something critical to maximizing range. The RZ has a drag coefficient of 0.29, making it the sleekest model in the Lexus line-up.
Instead of a rear wing, a distinctive feature of the RZ is the use of dart-like “vortex generators” which, the automaker claims, is equally effective at cheating the wind while producing less lift at freeway speeds.
To achieve the low drag number, the RZ features a low, sloping hood and a nose adopting a completely sealed version of the familiar Lexus “spindle grille.” With no engine under the hood, there are lower-mounted air intakes to cool both motors and the battery pack. A lit Lexus logo alerts you to the fact that this is an EV.
With shorter front and rear overhangs, and its battery pack and motor drive system moved under the load floor, the Lexus RZ 450e boasts a substantially larger interior than the otherwise similarly sized Lexus RX crossover.
Unlike some key competitors, such as the Tesla Model Y, the RZ does not offer a front-trunk, or frunk, for added storage. Surprisingly, Lexus opted to delete a glovebox, as well — though there’s plenty of interior storage space, including a large center console.
In line with the “green” theme of the RZ — and echoing what a number of competitors have done with their EVs — Lexus all but eliminates some traditional luxury design features, such as leather and wood. Instead, it opts for synthetics such as Ultrasuede made from recycled materials.
Even the “base” Premium model is reasonably well-equipped, with a full digital instrument panel, including an LED gauge cluster and 14-inch infotainment screen. There are a handful of traditional controls, though most functions are operated by the infotainment system.
I was particularly impressed by the interior lighting system Lexus came up with. It projects diamond-like patterns on the door inserts. The downside is that this is only visible at night.
One big difference between the RZ and the bZ4X is that the Lexus package is offered solely with two-motor all-wheel drive. The Toyota EV comes in both front- and all-wheel drive. That said, a driver can switch to “Range” mode. It all but completely shuts off the front motors unless an extra burst of power is needed, or when additional traction is needed.
The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e musters up a reasonable solid — but far from benchmark — peak 308 horsepower, the front motor delivering up to 150 kilowatts of energy, the rear another 80 kW.
Where the Toyota bZ borrows its all-wheel-drive system Subaru, which jointly developed its own Solterra EV, Lexus has developed its own AWD system. Dubbed Direct4, it is quite effective at moving energy back and forth between the motors.
At 220 miles maximum for the RZ 450e with 18-inch tires, the Lexus EV is not particularly impressive on the range front. And the upgraded Luxury model, with its 20 inchers, cut that to an anemic 196 miles. Lexus officials downplay the numbers, noting their research suggests RZ buyers will rarely drain their batteries.
As for charging, all versions of the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e are equipped with a 71.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. If plugged into a 150-kilowatt public charger it requires as little as around 30 minutes to go from a 10% to 80% state-of-charge. With its built-in 7kW 240-volt charger, going from 10%-100% takes 13 hours.
Safety and Technology
Where the RZ 450e might lag in terms of range and performance, Lexus aimed to step out in front with an array of advanced tech features. That includes an Amazon Alexa-style voice assistant. Just say, “Hey, Lexus,” and it will operate a variety of vehicle functions using plain English commands.
It’s unclear why the RZ delivers such mediocre range when compared to some key competitors using a similarly sized battery pack. And to get even that maximum 220 miles, Lexus engineers made introduced some intriguing technologies. That includes a radiant heating system that all but immediately blasts out plenty of warmth while using less energy than even the most efficient heat pumps found in other products, such as the Tesla Model Y, Lexus claims. It also has a reservoir to capture heat from the battery pack to further reduce the amount of energy needed to warm the cabin.
There’s the requisite array of advanced driver assistance systems, including Traffic Assist, as part of the Lexus Safety Sense+ 3.0 package. The RZ 450e Luxury trim adds niceties such as a head-up display and the audiophile Mark Levinson sound system. Also available: an extremely effective auto-park system that can put you head or tail-first into even tight spots.
Add the new steer-by-wire system Lexus plans to begin rolling out in a year or so. The technology eliminates the normal, mechanical link between the steering wheel and the front wheels, much as many of today’s vehicles have just an electronic link between the throttle and their engine or motors.
It’s not the time this technology has been offered. Infiniti was the first to bring the concept to market a few years ago. But the Infiniti system had a failsafe mechanical linkage that would activate if the by-wire system failed. Not so with the Lexus technology. Instead, its steer-by-wire system gets redundant microprocessors and power supplies.
The typical Lexus driver should find it easy to plug into the new RZ 450e. That was actually a key goal of the EV’s product development team: making the switch all but completely transparent. That said, this approach has some drawbacks.
There’s no 1-Pedal mode, for example. In many competing models, that increases the amount of energy “regenerated” when coasting or braking, allowing you to slow rapidly simply by modulating the throttle. You cannot come to a complete stop with the RZ, even when switched to its most aggressive regen mode.
While Lexus hasn’t released final performance specs, expect the RZ to outperform the Toyota bZ4X which is rated at 6.5 seconds 0-60. It’s reasonably quick and responsive — but my own experience found it clearly slower than the 4.7 seconds required to launch a similarly equipped version of the Tesla Model Y.
Lexus engineered the RZ with additional body supports and that becomes obvious when you’re flogging it around corners. It’s no sports car but most drivers should be impressed by its handling and minimal body roll — though the steering is a bit numb and there’s more wind and road noise than you’d expect from a product wearing the Lexus badge.
Lexus had me spend a bit of time flogging a prototype equipped with the steer-by-wire technology around a slow-speed circuit laid out in a closed parking lot. It was a wise move, as it took a bit of time to get comfortable with using the yoke-controlled technology. For one thing, you only have to turn the yoke 170 degrees to reach steering lock. Steering inputs can vary in their effect, as the system reads vehicle speed and other factors, as well. The system also can isolate the sort of jarring bumps a conventional steering wheel delivers when you hit, say, a speed bump or pothole.
It took less time than I expected to get comfortable with the upcoming option, eventually taking it out on public roads along the San Diego coast. I’m hoping to log more time later driving it up through the twisty mountain roads leading up to Julian, one of my favorite test routes.
The steer-by-wire system that Lexus has coming should deliver a real surprise to potential buyers. If anything, it seems the sort of technology you’d expect to debut on one of the brand’s sportier models, the LC, perhaps, or an F Sport package. I’ll be curious to see how many potential RZ buyers actually opt for the feature.
The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e is a reasonably good product, one that existing Lexus owners will find both familiar and comfortable to operate.
That said, it does fall short in a few areas, notably range. And, at a base $59,650, plus $1,150 in delivery fees, it carries a steep entry price. Under the revised rules of the Inflation Reduction Act, meanwhile, it no longer qualifies for federal tax credits.
It might be telling to consider that Lexus has laid out surprisingly modest aspirations for the RZ 450e. Even though it plans to offer the EV in all 50 states, the automaker expects to sell just 4,900 during the first year. And it expects demand to grow moderately in the years to follow.
That certainly factors in the competition Lexus will face, including key products like the Tesla Model Y, as well as the Audi e-tron, the Jaguar I-Pace and the Volvo XC40. But, as brand boss Kitzens stressed, the RZ will be a “pivotal” product.
Lexus plans to completely migrate to electrified vehicles by 2030 — something that includes hybridized products, as well as EVs. But it has an assortment of all-electric models in the pipeline and we should see several more by mid-decade, according to what insiders have told us on background.
2023 Lexus RZ 450e — Frequently Asked Questions
What is the range of the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e?
The 71.4 kilowatt-hour battery in the Lexus RZ 450e can deliver an EPA-estimated range of 220 miles with versions equipped with 18-inch wheels and tires. The 20-inch package drops to just 196 miles per charge, making it one of the lower-range offerings in its segment.
How much does the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e cost?
The base Lexus RZ 450e Premium package starts at $59,650. The RZ 450e Luxury trim jumps to $65,150. Add delivery fees of $1,150.
How long does it take to charge the Lexus RZ 450e?
All versions of the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e are equipped with a 71.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. If plugged into a 150-kilowatt public charger it requires as little as around 30 minutes to go from a 10 to 80% state-of-charge. With its built-in 7kW 240-volt charger, going from 10-100% takes 13 hours.