Lexus has been all about hybrids since the mid-2000s, but it’s been more reluctant to introduce an all-electric vehicle. In markets outside the U.S. Lexus does offer the fully-electric UX 300e, but Lexus decided to not bring it here. Now we have our first Lexus EV, the 2023 Lexus RZ. The RZ 450e shares its DNA with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, but in many ways it stands out on its own, but is it enough to woo luxury EV buyers?
Although Lexus is late to the EV game, it has committed to only offering battery-powered vehicles by 2035. That means that the RZ is just the beginning. Lexus gave us a preview of what we can expect a year ago by revealing several concepts. Going back to the RZ, the EV does some things great, but it falls short in some areas.
The RZ is based on Toyota’s e-TNGA platform and at least for now it’s only offered in one version: RZ 450e. Compared to the bZ4X, the RZ has the same 112.2-inch wheelbase, but it’s about five inches longer and a little lower and wider. The RZ is positioned between the NX and RX in the brand’s SUV lineup and although it’s a few inches shorter than the RX, the interior in the RZ is more spacious.
One big thing you’ll likely notice on the outside is the absence of the Lexus “spindle” grille, which is featured on the rest of the lineup. Instead, Lexus says that the RZ has a “spindle body” which mimics the shape of the spindle grille, but is closed off and a lot more subdued since it doesn’t need to feed air to an engine under the hood.
The RZ 450e is powered by a dual-motor powertrain that has more power than the Toyota and Subaru versions. The dual-motor setup features an all-wheel drive system that Lexus calls Direct4. The powertrain generates a combined 308 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. That’s a big increase over the 214 horsepower that the bZ4X has and Lexus estimates that the RZ can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds. That horsepower rating is similar to the dual motor versions of the Audi Q4 e-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQB, but it’s not as powerful as sportier models, like the Tesla Model Y, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Cadillac Lyriq.
The electric motors get their power from a 71.4-kWh lithium-ion battery, with an estimated usable capacity of 63.4-kWh. During our drive around the back country roads in San Diego, the RZ had more than enough power to zoom up the twisty roads. The RZ has some body roll and in true Lexus fashion it provides a quiet and comfy ride. The RZ has four regenerative braking modes that are selected via the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Unfortunately even the highest setting won’t bring you to a complete stop, which means that the RZ is not offered with the one-pedal driving capability of other EVs.
Now for the area where there could be an improvement and will likely turn off some EV buyers, the driving range. The RZ has 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. Those specs aren’t exactly ground breaking, especially with the arrival of other EVs that have over 300 miles of range.
Charging the RZ also isn’t great, since 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 will take 9.5 hours to fully recharge the RZ using a Level 2 charger. The maximum charging rate is 150 kW, so it will take 30 minutes to charge it up to 80 percent using a DC fast charger. The Genesis GV60, Tesla Model Y and Cadillac Lyriq can all charge faster than the RZ 450e. For buyers that need to go on a road trip, Lexus is offering a program called Lexus Reserve, which lets owners have up to 30 days of free Lexus rental cars for the first three years.
One stand out is what you probably wouldn’t expect here. The available Steer by Wire system provides a more engaging driving experience and its yoke steering wheel feels like something you would find in an airplane. The system is incredibly response and only requires small inputs to change your direction. It does take a bit to get used to driving though, since the steering wheel is missing the upper wheel rim. The steering wheel also turns just past 90 degrees in each direction and we found it easy to miss our intended direction by oversteering around a corner. Overall the yoke steering wheel is pretty cool and we can’t wait to see what other Lexus models adopt it, since it provides a much more responsive steering system than a traditional electric system. The Steer by Wire system in the RZ won’t be available until later
Another cool steering feature is the Traffic Jam Assist system, which will allow you to take your hands off the wheel on highways at speeds under 25 mph.
Inside there’s a 14-inch touchscreen, which runs the brand’s latest infotainment system. A 10-inch head-up display and Mark Levinson 13-speaker audio system are optional. There’s also radiant panel heating that emits heat from the bottom of the dashboard, which improves the RZ’s efficiency better than the HVAC heat pump.
The pricing for the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e starts at $59,650 for the Premium trim level and $65,150 for the Luxury trim level. Lexus only plans to sell about 5,000 units in its first year, which shouldn’t be hard to do. The Lexus RZ 450e is exactly what you would expect from Lexus. It’s a comfy and stylish electric SUV, which will easily win over current Lexus owners that want to make the switch to an EV. But on the flip side it might be a challenge to see the RZ steal buyers from Genesis, Tesla or Cadillac, since its driving range is a bit too short.