Auto review: The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e is good, but is it good enough?
Larry Printz writes, "its lack of range, good but not great horsepower, pokey charging rate and lack of basic niceties such as a locking glovebox put it at a disadvantage against its competitors."
Naysayers have criticized Toyota and Lexus for not getting into the electric vehicle space as quickly as some of its rivals. Yes, EV market share in the U.S. nearly doubled last year to 5.6% from 3.1%. But that still leaves nearly 95% of U.S. consumers choosing cars powered by gasoline. So, it seems that Toyota does have time to enter the EV segment, something it did last year with the introduction of the Toyota bZ4X.
Now, Lexus has done the same thing, with the introduction of the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e, which uses the same architecture as its Toyota cousin, in this case Toyota’s New Global Architecture. But this is not a case of a Toyota with more window dressing, as the Lexus offers better performance and a host of luxury options.
The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e’s overall appearance calls to mind the RX, but it lacks the RX’s spindle grille. Instead, the RZ’s sheet metal and trim are shaped to suggest its form in fine futuristic fashion. The RZ’s overall look is similar to the RX, but carefully hewn to deliver a drag coefficient of 0.29, the slipperiest Lexus yet.
Because the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e’s battery pack and electric motors are located under the floor, it yields noticeable benefits inside, with significantly more space than its conventional siblings of similar size. But strangely, storage space suffers, as Lexus has not fitted the RZ with a front trunk as on some other EVs, nor does it have a glovebox. Lexus claims that open space under the center console compensates, but there’s no way to hide your items from view, nor secure them for safekeeping.
Of course, being that Lexus is seeking to enhance its green credibility, the interior of the RZ lacks wood and leather, opting instead for manmade materials, including fake suede. A 14-inch touchscreen houses most of the cabin’s controls, although there are some conventional ones as well.
Thoughtfully, the RZ450e is fitted with five USB-C ports: three up front and two in the back, as well as a wireless charger. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard.
While technology is important, what matters more is the RZ’s performance. At 308 horsepower, Lexus claims the RZ runs 0-60 mph in five seconds, which is good but not best-in-class. Others offer more, but the RZ 450e has nearly 100 horsepower more than the bZ4X. And unlike its Toyota sibling, all-wheel drive is standard. Certainly, the RZ feels fleet enough for the daily drudgery of driving, but how far you can go on a full charge depends on your tires.
The RZ 450e is offered in base Premium trim and tonier Limited livery. Premiums have 18-inch wheels, netting 220 miles of range, while Luxury model’s 20-inch wheels only returns 196 miles. Thoughtfully, RZ buyers will receive 30 days of free Lexus rentals for longer trips.
And surprisingly, recharging is relatively pokey, with a full charge taking 9.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet. Charging to 80% is more reasonable, taking a half-hour using a DC fast charger. Again, others offer quicker charges, particularly at this price.
But if you’ve driven a Lexus in the past, you should find much to like here.
Engineers added extra bracing to enhance the RZ’s feeling of solidity, which can be felt when flogging it on your favorite road. It feels solid, with minimal body roll and a comfy ride. The sizable battery pack does lend it a low center of gravity, enhancing its driving feel. But it’s no sports car, nor would you expect it to be. Yet it handles fairly well, despite fairly numb steering.
Of course, you could opt for the steer-by-wire option, which will be available in 2024 and incorporates a yoke-style steering wheel. It feels odd at first, but proves easy to get used to. Yet how far you turn it depends on your speed and other factors, so it can vary. But because its connection to the wheels is electronic, not physical, you’ll never experience steering wheel kickback over big bumps. And you’ll never use hand-over-hand steering. It proves very fast, and is far more precise than its conventional steering sibling.
All RZ EVs feature regenerative braking, which recovers energy generated from braking to help recharge the battery pack. Usually, you can adjust the amount of regeneration. Boost it, and you rarely have to use the brake pedal, as the regeneration slows the car. This allows the driver to use one pedal to drive, only rarely resorting to using the brake pedal. But regeneration effort is light in the RZ and can’t be adjusted. So those who prefer one-pedal driving will be disappointed.
If you’ve driven a Lexus before, you’ll find the Lexus RZ 450e to be a solid EV. But its lack of range, good but not great horsepower, pokey charging rate and lack of basic niceties such as a locking glovebox put it at a disadvantage against its competitors, such as the Tesla Model Y, Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace. And under the Inflation Reduction Act, it no longer qualifies for a federal tax credit.
But such quibbles shouldn’t affect its popularity, seeing as Lexus only plans to sell 4,900 units in its first year.
2023 Lexus RZ 450e
Base price: $59,650
Motors: 150kW front and 80kW rear
Horsepower/Torque: 308/ 320 pound-feet
EPA estimated range: 220 miles
Recharge time (240 volts): 9.5 hours
Length/Width/Height: 189.7/74.6/64.4 inches
Ground clearance: 7.8 inches
Payload: 1,201 pounds
Cargo capacity: 23.7-55.6 cubic feet
Towing capacity: Not available
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