The brand's first EV in the U.S. market has unremarkable specs but one surprising feature.
"Electrification" can be a catch-all term for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric vehicles. If you think in terms of hybrids, Lexus is a longtime leader in electrification given that its RX hybrid dates back to 2005, making it the first hybrid from a luxury brand. But if you think of electrification as the move to EVs, the picture changes. Lexus is just now introducing its first EV, the RZ450e, in the U.S., and its underwhelming stats betray the fact that Lexus—and parent company Toyota—has been an unenthusiastic conscript in the march to battery propulsion.
As you might expect, the RZ is based on the e-TNGA architecture of the recently introduced Toyota bZ4X. It shares the Toyota's 112.2-inch wheelbase, but the Lexus is about five inches longer and fractionally lower and wider. Within the Lexus family, the RZ is a few inches shorter in length and lower than the RX, while it sits astride the same wheelbase. Looking out at rival EVs, the Lexus casts a larger shadow than the Audi Q4 e-tron, Genesis GV60, Mercedes-Benz EQB, and Volvo XC40 Recharge, about matches the size of the Tesla Model Y, and takes up a bit less garage space than the Cadillac Lyriq.
Without the need to feed air to a large radiator, the eye-searing Lexus "spindle" grille is absent, although the shape is mimicked in the sculpting of the front end. A small air inlet below suffices for the RZ's cooling needs, and it includes grille shutters. An optional illuminated Lexus logo ($200) in the nose of the car makes up for some of the missing bling factor. A blacked-out C-pillar is standard, and buyers can also opt for a more extensive two-tone treatment that has the roof, the center section of the hood, and the blanked-out front grille space also in gloss black ($1200). The styling overall is recognizably Lexus, with detailing that's more subtle than that of its showroom mates. The trailing edge of the roofline, which extends rearward jutting out from the body, constitutes the biggest design flourish, but that oddity is only discernible from the rear.
HIGHS: Plush ride, hushed cruising, cushy accommodations.
Inside, we find a comfortable, welcoming space for five. The rear seat boasts plenty of kneeroom and a flat floor. Narrow A-pillars and decently large windows make for good visibility. The RZ cabin offers minimal adornment, upscale materials, and typically impressive Lexus build quality. In keeping with the green theme, there's no leather upholstery option: The Premium version features the brand's NuLuxe synthetic leather, while the Luxury model gets a rich-looking Ultrasuede. Like the bZ4X, the Lexus offers radiant heating elements in the lower dash to warm front-seat occupants' legs (the feature is optional on the Premium, standard on the Luxury). As a result, there's no glovebox, but there's a cubby under the center console along with the usual covered bin and forward tray. A dual-pane panoramic sunroof is standard across the board, while the Luxury's optional Dynamic Sky version gets electronically dimmed glass that goes from transparent to opaque.
The driver faces a padded three-spoke steering wheel or, optionally, a steering yoke (more on that in a bit). The latter gets a repositioned instrument cluster that's slightly higher and farther away; all versions have digital instrumentation. The RZ also introduces a dial shifter. The 14.0-inch touchscreen that's optional in the RX is standard here, and it incorporates most climate controls, including a touch slider for fan speed (there are knobs for temperature and buttons for the front and rear defrosters). You also select drive modes on the screen. There is, thankfully, a volume knob, along with a smattering of buttons on the center dash and console. Smartphone mirroring is wireless.
"Hey Lexus" summons voice recognition to work the infotainment, phone, and climate controls. Additional voice-command features are available with an active Drive Connect subscription. Smartphone-as-key functionality is another subscription-based feature, this one requiring Remote Connect, which also provides the ability to remotely start/stop/monitor charging, lock/unlock the doors, start the car, and set the climate control. Three years of both Drive Connect and Remote Connect are included for free.
Disappointing EV Stats
Initially, the RZ450e will be offered in dual-motor, all-wheel-drive form only. (A single-motor version with front-wheel drive is likely to join later.) Compared to its dual-motor Toyota sibling, the Lexus gets a more muscular front motor, which ups total output to 308 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. That's a healthy increase over the Toyota's weak-sauce 214 horses, and it compares favorably to dual-motor versions of the EQB, Q4, and the (base) GV60. But it's well shy of more performance-oriented dual-motor EVs like the Model Y, the Jaguar I-Pace, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the higher-trim GV60, and the Lyriq.
The RZ's battery pack is lifted directly from the single-motor bZ, and it's modestly sized with an estimated usable capacity of 63.4 kWh. As a result, the RZ's EPA-estimated range is just 196 miles for the Luxury trim with 20-inch wheels and 220 miles for the entry-level Premium version on 18s. Might Lexus introduce a larger-capacity battery? Unfortunately, we're told the e-TNGA platform can't accommodate a larger pack unless the wheelbase is stretched.
Note, however, that the RZ's EPA numbers are with the car in Normal drive mode. There are also Sport, Eco, and Range modes, and the latter two should wring more miles out of a charge. A major difference between the modes is that Range disables the air conditioner; other changes include steering effort and accelerator mapping. Running in Normal mode, our 75-mph highway range test of an RZ450e Premium (conducted at an ambient temperature just above freezing) yielded a disappointing result: just 120 miles.
When it comes time to recharge, the RZ again lags behind its rivals. Its onboard charger, also lifted from the bZ4X, is rated at a paltry 6.6 kilowatts—compare that to 9.6 kilowatts for the EQB, 10.9 kilowatts for the GV60, 11.0 kilowatts for the Q4 and XC40, and 19.2 kilowatts for the Lyriq. A full recharge using a Level 2 source should take all of 9.5 hours. The RZ's maximum charging rate is 150 kilowatts, and Lexus says that a DC fast-charger will take a fully depleted battery to 80 percent in 30 minutes. In our test of recharging (again at cold temperatures), the peak rate was 102 kilowatts, and the average was just 36 kilowatts over the 86 minutes the battery required to charge from 10 to 90 percent. As a workaround to the RZ's range limitations, a program called Lexus Reserve offers owners 30 days of free Lexus rental cars over the course of three years.
The RZ may not be a powerhouse, but our test car's 4617-pound curb weight is relatively svelte for its peer group. As a result, the electric Lexus steps lively, whether taking off from a stop, passing on two-lanes, or merging onto the freeway. We measured a 60-mph time of 4.6 seconds, while in passing scenarios, the electric Lexus zipped from 30 to 50 mph in 2.5 seconds and from 50 to 70 mph in 3.8. The RZ doesn't deliver the muscle-car straight-line speed of some electric vehicles, but it should be plenty quick for the intended audience.
That audience is expected to include a goodly number of brand loyalists, and the RZ driving experience seems catered to them. Although brake-based torque vectoring is on hand to help the RZ carve corners, at the skidpad, we recorded 0.83 g of lateral grip, a dismal result given that the RZ was wearing summer tires. We don't think this car will sell based on its handling prowess. The smooth ride is more likely to be a calling card. The suspension (struts up front, multilink at the rear) is adept at soaking up pavement imperfections —both in the gentle climate of southern France, where our initial drive took place, and during a second drive opportunity on the mean streets back home. Between the two models, the Luxury's 20-inch wheels transmitted a bit more road harshness than the Premium's cushy standard 18s, but only a bit. There is some head toss, and body motions are not aggressively damped, with some float at higher speeds, although the plush overall experience seems right on target for a Lexus.
The RZ's quietness is similarly brand-appropriate. There's a near-total absence of spacey EV powertrain noise—only in Sport mode can it faintly be heard. The degree of lift-off regen is selectable via steering-wheel paddles, and although it's short of one-pedal driving, the blended brakes are commendably linear and easy to modulate. The standard steering is quite light in Normal mode—though most Lexus owners are unlikely to object; Sport mode adds just a bit of weighting. For an entirely different steering experience, there's the yoke.
Yoke: It's a Real Thing
No matter what vehicle you're coming out of, the available Steer by Wire system and its steering yoke take getting used to. This optional system (which will be exclusive to the Luxury trim when it becomes available sometime after launch) is the kind of novelty that auto journalists geek out on, but it will be interesting to see how real customers take to it. The SBW system feels normal around the straight-ahead but gets harder to predict the further you move off-center. The yoke turns a little past 90 degrees in each direction, and the last bit of steering brings what can be a surprising amount of response. It's very easy to oversteer for a 90-degree corner, particularly when starting off from a stop or when attempting a K-turn.
The system does obviate the need for hand-over-hand steering maneuvers, such as when parking. And the missing upper wheel rim provides a slightly better view of the instruments, which are repositioned slightly higher and farther away (moving them closer to the driver's line of sight). Still, Steer by Wire seems like a lot of adjustment for not much benefit—unless you just think its video-game aesthetic is cool.
If you'd rather not steer at all, Traffic Jam Assist allows for hands-free operation on major highways at speeds under 25 mph. Exclusive to the Luxury version, this is another subscription-based feature, requiring a current Drive Connect account.
LOWS: Severely limited range, subscription-based features, silly yoke steering.
A full phalanx of conventional automated helpers is also on hand, and a couple of them can stray into nagging territory. We're calling out the driver-attention monitor, which chirped at us when we were watching for traffic to clear from the left and again when we were operating the touchscreen. Another annoyance is the Excess Speed Caution warning, which emits a triple-ding whenever you stray above the posted limit. Both can be switched off, but one must do so with each restart, and it's a multi-step process.
Lexus is pricing the RZ450e at $59,650 for the Premium trim and $65,150 for the Luxury version. That price range at least partially overlaps many of the aforementioned EVs and is (at this moment) just above the Model Y. Viewed as a Lexus, the RZ450e offers plenty to like. Looked at as an EV, the 450e is a tougher sell. Both Lexus and Toyota will have to try harder if they're going to regain the leadership mantle for this next phase of electrification.