Luxury brand Lexus is a little late to the party with its first purpose-built electric vehicle. So, the question is – has the RZ been worth the wait?
Lexus is no stranger to electrification. After all, Toyota’s premium sister brand launched its first hybrid, the RX 400h, way back in 2005.
However, it’s taken until now for Lexus to introduce its debut pure electric car designed from the ground up – the RZ 450e – which sits between the mid-size NX and larger RX SUV models.
The RZ’s many EV rivals include the Audi Q4 e-tron, Mercedes-Benz EQA, Volvo XC40 Recharge, Kia EV6, Genesis GV60, Polestar 2 and Jaguar I-Pace.
Before I begin, let’s deal with the elephant in the room, because the RZ has been co-developed with the very similar Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra EVs.
In fact, the RZ 400h is being manufactured alongside its cousins in the same plant at Motomachi, Japan, and they all share the same e-TNGA platform.
It may bear more than a passing resemblance to the Toyota and Subaru, but the RZ differs in some key areas.
The exterior has some uniquely Lexus touches. Its sharper front end features the signature spindle grille (now sealed), while its derriere features a light bar running across the width of the car and softer lines than the BZ’s rump.
Naturally, there’s also a more opulent, driver-focused interior with leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and Lexus’s latest (and much improved) 14-inch touchscreen infotainment system, plus an optional double panoramic roof (which is dimmable and has a coating to reduce the heat it lets into the car) and 20-inch wheels.
So-called “radiant” heaters mounted at knee-level in front of the driver and passenger are another option. Unlike convection heating, they use infrared radiation to heat solid objects directly in front of them and Lexus claims they use around 8% less energy.
The RZ 450e has an all-wheel-drive layout as standard. Named Direct4, it features two electric motors mounted on each axle, and though it has the same 71.4kWh battery ((of which 64kWh is usable) used by its cousins, the front motor has been upgraded to deliver 201bhp while the rear remains unchanged at 107bhp, producing a combined 308bhp with a maximum torque of 321 lb-ft.
It’s swift, with a 0-62mph sprint time of 5.3 seconds, while driving range varies from around 245 miles (20-inch wheels) to 270 miles (18-inch).
The RZ has a maximum 150kWh charging capability, meaning a boost from 10-80% can take as little as 30 minutes when connected to a fast public charger. Naturally, it will also charge overnight using a 7kW wallbox.
Sounds good, but some rivals have ranges of around 300 miles, while the Kia EV6 and Genesis GV60 have a maximum charging capacity of up to 350kWh – that’s 10-80% in just 18 minutes.
On a more positive note, Lexus loves innovation and the RZ is a classic case. From 2024 there will be an option to ditch the traditional steering wheel and choose a butterfly-shaped ‘yoke’ instead.
Looking like something out of Top Gun, it also utilises Lexus’s new One Motion Grip steer-by-wire system. That means it has no mechanical link and no steering column between the steering wheel and driving wheels.
The system requires just 150 degrees of steering wheel rotation between straight ahead and full lock, eliminating the need for any hand-over-hand movements, and allows a better view of the instrument binnacle ahead. However, you also have to keep your hands at the quarter to three position.
I tried the ‘yoke’ version, as well as a regular wheel with a conventional electric power steering rack.
Given a few weeks to adapt, I think the quirks of the new steering wheel would become second nature. For instance, at low speeds, little movement is required for a lot of steering to the front wheels, making it easier to manoeuvre.
Higher speeds require more movement to apply less steering to the wheels for better stability. In practice, that change in ratio meant that my cornering wasn’t as smooth at higher speeds because the steering is so sharp and fast.
Frankly, I felt much more confident driving the RZ with a traditional steering wheel, though the yoke and steer-by-wire are not just a gimmick and many drivers will prefer the system.
My only other observation would be that the yoke’s diminutive stature means the stalks for indicators and lights are on the stubby side, while the regenerative braking paddles have been reduced to buttons.
When it’s available from 2024, a test drive in both versions would be highly recommended.
The steering is a talking point, but ultimately the RZ drives like a Lexus, which means it’s luxurious, smooth, refined and supremely comfortable.
Compliant over poorer road surfaces, it felt nothing but composed over our varied test routes. Hustle it in Sport mode and it stays nicely flat in faster corners and there’s no shortage of grip. Given its agility, you’d never know it weighs more than two tonnes. That said, the RZ is best enjoyed wafting along in the default Normal setting.
Unlike many EVs, the RZ’s brakes seemed fairly responsive and I liked the use of paddles behind the steering wheel to adjust the level of regen on the move.
Ultimately, the Lexus RZ ticks Lexus’s three Cs of confidence, control and comfort in all driving situations. Job done.
The cabin is a mixed bag. The design up front means it’s not quite a spacious as some other EVs because the centre console is solid and fixed. Puzzlingly, there’s not even a glovebox on the passenger side.
The good news is there’s plenty of head and legroom for three adults in the back and boot capacity is a healthy 522 litres, or 1,451 litres with the rear seats flipped. Note, there is no ‘frunk’ under the bonnet – the charging cables have to be stored in the boot.
There are three trim levels to choose from (Premium, Premium Plus and range-topping Takumi).
Priced from £62,600-£72,100, the entry-level Premium model comes with a generous amount of standard equipment including LED headlights, eight-way electrically adjustable front seats, a powered bootlid, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and Lexus’s extensive safety and driver assistance systems.
Move up the grades and other goodies such as a head-up display, 360-degree camera system, radiant heated front seats, a two-tone paint job and a Mark Levinson sound system are offered.
And a special mention for Safe Exit Assist (a Lexus exclusive) which prevents your door opening into the path of vehicles and cyclists approaching from the rear. Great idea.
Finally, if you choose an RZ you’re also buying into Lexus’s reputation for reliability and award-winning customer service.
Like all Lexus cars, it also benefits from an extended manufacturer warranty for up to 10 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first (as long as you service your car with Lexus).
What’s more, Lexus guarantees the battery will retain at least 70% of its capacity after 10 years. And given its long experience in battery technologies, the company believes the actual capacity at the point should be at least 90%.
Ultimately, the Lexus brand means a lot, which may trump the fact that some RZ rivals offer longer ranges, more power and engagement, plus quicker charging at a lower price.
Verdict: Striking, sumptuous, safe and sensible, the pure electric Lexus RZ 450e is a classy family-sized SUV delivering superb build quality and clever innovations. An impressive debut EV from a top-notch brand.