Lexus created something with familiar with nods to the future. Lexus looked no further than their latest design language on the NX and RX for inspiration.
There are no newer cliches to say.
I’m sure I’ve used the reference to Bob Dylan going electric at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. That sure upset a bunch of folks back then. But, you know, the times they were a’changin’.
It took Lexus a while to get their first full battery-electric vehicle in their lineup. They had to create something that looks familiar with nods to the future. Lexus looked no further than their latest design language on the NX and RX for inspiration. The result is a stunning looking vehicle that dimensionally fits right in-between those two popular SUVs.
There is more to the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e. It is part of Toyota Motor Corporation’s push towards introducing a new lineup of electrified vehicles across both brands. Not just to augment the current parallel and plug-in hybrid offerings. These are to simply add more choices for their intended customer base.
The RZ starts off from the battery-electric based version of the Toyota New Generation Architecture called e-TNGA That same platform is shared with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra – the latter a part of the Toyota-Subaru development deal that also spawned the GR86 and BRZ.
To create a Lexus version of this same vehicle, they had to make it look and feel like a Lexus. That meant taking the current design language and meld onto the e-TNGA platform. To further distinguish the RZ from NX and RX, they deleted the grille from the center/upper part of the nose. All cooling is forced below the “bumper line.”
The C-pillar section does not have a glass panel where one should be. Certainly, this is a choice, but the proper adjustment to the side mirrors and blind spot monitoring will compensate for that. The doors are lighter compared to the NX and RX, yet they employ the same electronic operation as in the other two SUVs.
Instead of a full spoiler on top of the liftgate, you have two “fins.” Or, are they tails? They look cool, but the complaint some of our colleagues made was to the lack of a rear wiper to keep the glass clean and the lack of true aerodynamics. Keep in mind it is an EV and some of its competitors have similar – if not, weirder – rear aerodynamic solutions.
To top off the look, our Luxury trim tester wore 20-inch dark finished alloy wheels. Against this light blue color, it looks very sharp. Come to think of it, George pointed out that this color may be just about the same as a car I owned some 30-plus years ago. Rather, a shade darker than my first press vehicle from Lexus.
In all, it looks like a Lexus. That is what you expect, right? Consumers would rather buy EVs that are familiar looking than something out of a science fiction movie.
That theme continues inside with an instrument panel that is also inspired by the NX and RX. The digital instrument cluster is customizable, with a digital speedometer and energy level meter. The controls are the same as found on the RX and NX.
On the center stack is the 14-inch touchscreen housing the Lexus Interface infotainment system. Thirteen Mark Levinson speakers emit sound from various sources across the cabin. You have wireless smartphone mirroring, along with wireless charging and USB-C ports to complete your infotainment package. Remote audio controls are done through a series of haptic touch buttons on the steering wheel or right on the touchscreen itself. Climate controls are also touch capacitive.
Do you sense a theme here? It’s called continuity. This is a mark of a brand wanting to normalize EVs by utilizing as many elements as possible from its most popular vehicles onto the next one.
Where the RZ becomes its own vehicle are a series of pleasant warning sounds that have never been heard on any Lexus before. Mostly gentle, subtle and soothing. Maybe we should hear those sounds in another Lexus model coming soon…
There is one thing that is shared between the Lexus and its Toyota and Subaru cousins – the transmission controller on the center console. The knob actuator is depressed to go into Drive or Reverse. There's a button for Park. A different take for Lexus customers for sure.
To match this light blue paint is a gorgeous blue interior. For this Luxury model, we had suede upholstery to enjoy. Not leather – sueded cloth! The front seats offered plenty of comfort and support with some ample bolstering. Rear seat room was quite good with enough leg and head room for six footers. Cargo space is well shaped and spacious at 34.9 cubic feet behind the rear seats. That will fit the rollator nicely, except we had to remove the cargo cover for the extra handles. The rear seats do fold down for a total of 55.6 cubic feet of cargo space overall.
Powering the RZ is a new Direct4 driveline. This is a dedicated all-wheel drive system engineered specifically for a new generation of electrified vehicles by Lexus. The system has two electric motors – one for each axle – with energy provided by a 71.4 kilowatt-hour battery. All told, the driveline is rated for 304 total system horsepower.
You can recharge the battery through the J1772 CCS plug hidden behind a panel ahead of the driver’s door. At a DC Fast Charging station, you can recoup energy at a rate of three miles per minute. One session at the new EVGo location in Roseville, Minnesota took 40 minutes to return less than 22 kilowatt-hours back into the battery. In terms of range, the best we could do was a maximum of 196 miles from 100%.
For a 4,619-pound battery-electric luxury SUV, it is a smooth riding vehicle. The type of ride quality you expect in a Lexus. It does well on rougher road surfaces, as well as to provide a perfect balance between firm and hard on smoother ones. The RZ’s handling tended to be on the softer side with plenty of control through evasive maneuvers.
The steering system in the RZ was just fine, with a solid turning radius and control. On-center feel was good with nominal play at the wheel. We also found the brakes to be solid with pedal response much to our liking. Stops were solid in normal and panic situations. Also, you can adjust the degree of regen for energy recovery through the paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel.
It is no surprise that a Lexus EV is priced accordingly and competitively to its luxury brand rivals. There is a choice of two 2023 RZ 450e trims, starting with the Premium at $59,650. Our Luxury tester arrived with a sticker price of $67,095.
We should celebrate the fact that Lexus has joined in the premium/luxury battery-electric SUV race with its direct rivals. It does so by retaining the latest design language found on its internal combustion, parallel, and plug-in hybrid siblings. That means providing a level of luxury Lexus customers demand from their vehicles.
Yet, there is one sticking point: Range. While we have moved the bar in terms of expected battery range in EVs of late, some may dismiss the RZ for not having enough to compete with those same rivals. However, we should understand that EVs are mainly used for local drives, including commuting, errands, and school runs.
I can see plenty of growth for the Lexus RZ. This is a solid vehicle that will bring the battle to its peers. From what George and I observed when we drive the RZ, people are paying attention to it. And, that's no cliche.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
Cover photo by George Torline. All other photos by Randy Stern