Prototype Drive of the Lexus RZ450e from 2023: A Ride in the Automaker’s First Electric Vehicle

Is the first electric Lexus capable of completing the journey? Yes, in a symbolic sense. No, not in the literal sense.

This week, Lexus invited us to the Circuit Parcmotor Castelloli outside Barcelona, Spain for a preview drive and interview with RZ450e lead engineer Takashi Watanabe. Because the software and suspension/powertrain settings on these prototypes were still developing, this review is far from a final one. It was our major goal to test out the (optional) Steer-by-Wire yoke, which is so astounding that we wrote a separate piece about it. In terms of specs, we didn’t learn much more than what we already knew from our 2023 Lexus RZ First Look, but we did get a good sense of how everything would fit together in the RZ. Most, but not all, of our impressions were positive.

Lexus RZ: An Untwined BZ4X Twin

Lexus’ RZ450e is Toyota’s bZ4X and Subaru’s Solterra clone, for those who don’t know. The only way to tell is to look: The RZ, in contrast to the bZ4X and Solterra, has a distinctive appearance on the inside and out. Despite the fact that we were there to drive, rather to gaze, we found the design to be both attractive and intriguing.

 

Because of this, we only had a few minutes to test drive Toyota’s e-TNGA platform car over the steep and roughly 2-mile-long Parcmotor Castellol track. When it comes to performance, we were surprised by the RZ’s ferocity on the track, as we have come to expect from Lexus.

Experiencing Torque-Vectoring AWD on the RZ450e

In Lexus parlance, the RZ450e is equipped with “DIRECT4” all-wheel-drive, with a 201-hp front motor and 107-hp rear motor. For comparison, the RZ’s rear motor is more efficient than the all-wheel-drive bZ4X’s but otherwise identical to that of the bZ4X’s front motor.) There’s a noticeable difference in performance between the RZ and the Toyobaru variants, but it’s hardly a jaw-dropper like the Tesla Model Y with its two motors.

 

Because they were equipped with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx summer tires, the prototypes we tested had a lot of traction. As of now, it is possible that RZs in the United States will have less aggressive all-season rubber. Try to suppress your shock as we accelerated through the corners with our all-wheel-drive system engaged, and sure enough, the front end lost traction first. The RZ’s outside rear wheel received enough thrust to tighten its line, but not so much that the tires were swamped. RZ’s power delivery drops down at higher speeds, so we found ourselves eagerly stomping the gas pedal in the corners as we flew out of them.

 

Moderate body roll let us know we were driving hard, but it wasn’t so much that we were concerned about scraping the car’s paint. With their dual-valve design that inhibits oil flow while the vehicle is accelerating rapidly (vertical acceleration), shocks are to be given credit for this. In spite of the RZ450e’s acoustic glass and sound insulation blocking out wind noise, driving on a glass-smooth track surface gave us little insight into how rough roads will effect the RZ’s ride and handling.

Rear Steering on the RZ450e Yoke and Without

Compared to other Lexus SUVs, we drove a RZ outfitted with an old-school conventional steering system, and while it was nicely weighted, it lacked feedback and on-center feel. Lexus’ new Steer-by-Wire system, which will be available as an option on the most expensive RZs, was also on hand, and it was a blast to drive. It’s not necessary to turn the yoke more than 150 degrees out of center while using Steer-by-Wire because there is no physical connection between the steering column and the rack. In contrast to Tesla’s half-baked steering yoke, one does not need to go hand-in-hand with the vehicle.

 

RZ’s variable-ratio steering gives excellent tracking, nice feel and feedback, and reasonable responses to panic moves even though it’s not as comfortable to handle as a standard steering wheel yoke. While the steering yoke may merely be a curiosity, the hardware behind it might (and perhaps should) be the system of the future. You can read more about the system in our separate Lexus RZ Steer-by-Wire yoke review.

 

The RZ’s Weak Spots: Battery Life, Range, and Regen

Even though we only had a short test drive, we were able to dodge the charging and range concerns that Lexus and Toyota will have to deal with. Lexus expects the RZ450e to have an EPA-rated range of just 225 miles with 18-inch wheels and 200 miles with 20-inch wheels. That’s fine for China, where Lexus is expecting to sell half of the 30,000 or so RZs it plans to make in the first year, but it’s average at best for the United States. There is also a 150 kW maximum fast-charging rate for the charging mechanism. Despite the fact that Lexus claims that the RZ can be charged from 0% to 80% in 30 minutes, this is little to brag about when compared to the charging periods of EVs using 350-kW stations.

 

After asking chief engineer Watanabe about the RZ450e’s specs, he revealed that his team’s decisions were mostly driven by efficiency, not capacity. According to our focus on the RZ, we were shocked to learn how the regeneration system works. We haven’t seen official EPA numbers, so we can’t say for sure. (For those who don’t know, regenerative braking uses the car’s motors as generators to recharge its battery when the car’s resistance to the motor is slowing it down. There is enough regen in many EVs to avoid the requirement for friction brakes.) The RZ will have four levels of regenerative braking controlled by paddles on the steering column, a design we’ve used in EVs from Hyundai and Kia and have come to enjoy. Regeneration occurs when the motorist removes their foot from the accelerator pedal. Instead of combining friction and regen braking, the RZ utilizes an all-hydraulic-only braking system, unlike most other electric vehicles (not to mention Toyota and Lexus hybrids).

 

Why? When Watanabe explained to us that Lexus believes purchasers will prefer a more conventional driving experience, it sounded a lot like an excuse, considering the RZ’s concentration on efficiency. In order to get the most out of regenerative braking, drivers should set a level of regenerative braking that is as low as possible. For a car with such a limited battery capacity, this is a squandered opportunity. Possibly, the high cost of the clever Steer-by-Wire system played a role in this disappointing decision.

 

In the early prototypes we drove, we were unable to tinker with the regeneration levels, but Watanabe told us that its maximum 0.15 g deceleration rate was identical to that of the bZ4X, which we had driven earlier. Compared to Tesla and Rivian, Toyota doesn’t have nearly as much regenerative braking as Tesla or Rivian, and therefore requires the driver to step on the brake pedal to come to a complete stop.

 

All of NX’s Best Hits in the RZ450e Interior

The RZ’s interior, on the other hand, impressed us since it is so different from the bZ4X/Solterra twins, which are otherwise very identical. Digital gauges are used on all models of the RZ, but they are positioned differently depending on the model of the vehicle. Almost immediately pulled from the newly redesigned NX, the infotainment and climate control center screen features temperature controls built into the screen and a volume dial in the center. Being reunited with it in the RZ was like bumping into an old buddy.

 

Similar to the NX, the steering wheel has a camera pod mounted on top. As far as we know, this is for a system to check the driver’s awareness, but we’re sure Lexus Teammate, a Level 2 semi-autonomous driving system created by Lexus and General Motors, would also benefit from this technology. Lexus presently only sells this system in Japan, but we’re crossing our fingers that it’ll make its way to RZs built to U.S. standards. standards. We’re hoping

 

In addition, we found the backseat comfy thanks to its level floor and bench. As a result, we were surprised to see that Lexus had turned the “e-axle” bundle (front motor-gearbox-controller) on its side and placed it vertically for packaging considerations and eliminated a frunk. Flattening the rear e-axle system increases cargo room. That sounds like a logical answer to us; after all, frunks are cool, but are they absolutely necessary? Additionally, we were impressed with the quality of the construction: There are frequently concerns with fit and finish in early prototypes, but the cars we drove had lovely interiors that seemed like they were ready for market.

 

Lexus RZ450e Makes a Great First Impression in 2023

A lot of information about the 2023 Lexus RZ450e is yet to be released, including pricing and equipment options. After all, American Lexus dealers plan to get the RZ by November, so we should have had a chance to test drive a production model with U.S. specifications by then. Despite the RZ’s limited range and fast-charging performance, the RZ appears to be a viable contender in the luxury electric SUV market. This mechanism will make Tesla’s yoke look like a joke when it is finally available, which will be a long time after the RZ’s original debut. A favorable first impression of Lexus’ first electric SUV has left us hungry for a chance to drive one in its final production version.