Considering Lexus launched the first premium hybrid way back in 2005 (the RX 400h), it’s been a bit of a wait for this debut EV, the Lexus RZ. Yes, there’s the smaller UX, but that was also developed as a petrol hybrid. The Lexus RZ has been designed as a pure electric car from the ground up.
If you’ve looked through the pictures you may well be getting a sense of deja vu because the RZ has been co-developed with the very similar Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra EVs.
In fact, the RZ 400e is being manufactured alongside its ‘cousins’ in the same plant in 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 unique Lexus touches. For instance, its sharper front end features the brand’s signature spindle grille (now sealed), while its softer rear sports a full-width light bar.
There’s also a more luxurious, 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 (it’s dimmable and has a coating to reduce the heat it lets into the car) and 20-inch wheels.
It also features ‘radiant’ heaters, which are mounted at knee-level in front of the driver and passenger. 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, which should ease range anxiety a tad in cold weather.
At launch, there is just one all-wheel-drive ‘Direct4’ model, which has two electric motors mounted on each axle.
However, customers are able to choose from three trim levels (Premium, Premium Plus and range-topping Takumi).
Entry-level Premium comes with a generous amount of standard equipment including LED headlights, eight-way electrically adjustable front seats, a powered tailgate, 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 Mark Levinson sound system and an eye-catching two-tone paint job are offered.
And a special mention for Safe Exit Assist (a Lexus exclusive) which prevents your door from opening into the path of vehicles and cyclists approaching from the rear. Top idea.
The Lexus RZ 450e has the same 71.4kWh battery as the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, though its front electric 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 too, with a 0-62mph sprint time of 5.6 seconds, while claimed driving range varies from around 251 miles (20-inch wheels) to 271 miles (18-inch).
The RZ has a maximum 150kW charging capability, meaning a boost from 10-80% can take as little as 30 minutes. Naturally, it will also charge overnight using a 7kW wall box.
However, some rivals have ranges of around 300 miles, while the Kia EV6 and Genesis GV60 have a maximum charging capacity of up to 350kW – that’s 10-80% in just 18 minutes.
In real-world driving, I’d estimate the RZ’s range to be around the 200-mile mark. On the plus side, Lexus reckons the battery will hold 90% of its range for the first 10 years of its life.
On the road, the RZ drives like a Lexus, which means it’s smooth, refined and comfortable.
Compliant over poorer road surfaces, it felt nothing other than composed on our varied test routes. Push it in Sport mode and it stays nicely flat in faster corners and there’s no shortage of traction.
And considering it weighs more than two tonnes, it’s surprisingly agile, though the RZ is probably best enjoyed wafting along in the default Normal setting.
The RZ’s brakes seemed fairly responsive, unlike many EVs, and there are paddles behind the steering wheel to adjust the level of regen on the move.
So, ultimately, the Lexus RZ ticks Lexus’s three Cs of confidence, control and comfort in all driving situations.
I was also given a preview of another Lexus innovation. From 2024 there will be an option to choose a butterfly-shaped ‘yoke’ instead of a traditional steering wheel.
Looking like something out of a jet fighter, 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 allowing a better view of the instrument binnacle ahead.
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.
You also have to keep your hands at the quarter-to-three position, which is a struggle for many drivers (me included). Plus, the stalks for the indicators and lights are on the stubby side, while the regenerative braking paddles have been reduced to buttons.
To be honest, I felt more confident driving the RZ with a traditional steering wheel, though I’m sure the yoke and steer-by-wire will be a popular option because it’s not just a gimmick.
Back to the present car, the cabin is just what you’d expect from Lexus, so it’s a lovely place to be. That said, it’s not quite as spacious as some other EVs upfront because the centre console is solid and fixed, plus there’s no glovebox on the passenger side. Rear visibility is also slightly compromised because of the slim hatch window, raked roofline and large rear pillars.
Adult passengers in the back are treated to plenty of head and legroom, and boot capacity is a healthy 522 litres (1,451 litres with the rear seats flipped). However, there is no ‘frunk’ under the bonnet to store charging cables and there’s no rear wiper.
Overall, the build quality is superb, while the seats are comfortable and supportive.
Finally, choose an RZ and 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).
So, some rivals may offer longer ranges, more power and engagement, plus quicker charging, but I suspect the RZ will sell well largely because it’s a Lexus.
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