Asking a potential EV shopper to forget about range anxiety is a nearly insurmountable task. That’s why many EV shoppers insist on having at least 250 miles between charges, in spite of daily commutes that might be 20 percent of that. And if a car dares to offer a range of 200 miles or so, well, it’d better either charge quick or be cheap – or both.
As a result of those market demands, many shoppers are going to completely overlook the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e, which offers only 220 miles of range with 18-inch wheels and a downright unfortunate 196 miles with the flashier 20s. Adding insult to injury is a maximum DC fast-charge rate of 150 kilowatts and a starting price of $59,650 with destination fees. Compared to the similarly priced Cadillac Lyriq and Genesis GV60, the Lexus simply can’t keep up, either in charging speed or in long-legged driving range.
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|2023 Lexus RZ 450e Luxury
|Dual Permanent-Magnet Synchronous
Gallery: 2023 Lexus RZ 450e First Drive Review
The Lexus Of EVs
But in spite of the Lexus RZ’s flaws, it really is an enjoyable electric crossover – as long as charging isn’t an obstacle. That’s because the 2023 RZ 450e, which is intended to be a sort of zero-emissions foil to the popular RX crossover, does an excellent job of blending traditional Lexus comfort with the torquey nature of an electric car.
It shares its EV-specific platform with the Toyota BZ4x and Subaru Solterra, but the dual-motor RZ 450e has 308 horsepower, compared to the mere 215 ponies of its cousins. Lexus doesn’t quote an official combined torque rating for the US market, but the front-axle motor makes 196 pound-feet and the rear makes 124 pound-feet.
Thanks to that perfectly respectable amount of muscle, the luxury EV merges onto the freeway and dices through urban confines with confidence and speed, but the accelerator feels more progressive than the on-off switches that some electric cars have. While the RZ may not be as snappy as the Genesis GV60, it’s undeniably easier to drive smoothly, which fits the EV’s birthright as a Lexus.
Its gentility also translates into the suspension, with well-damped body motions and excellent stability at speed. With decent noise insulation and limited intrusion from bad road surfaces, the RZ demands little of its driver. That’s also the case when the road gets curvy – the RZ is stable and surefooted, but never communicative or playful. Point the numb-but-accurate steering wheel where you want the car to go and let it do most of the work. In that respect, it reminds me of a Lexus product from the 1990s, when comfort and smoothness were more important than driver involvement.
I suspect most prospective buyers won’t care that their Lexus EV is more of a boulevardier than an apex hunter. The RZ boasts impressive refinement in most traffic situations, setting it apart from the occasionally overeager Genesis GV60 and the cheap-feeling Audi Q4 E-Tron.
The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e will only be available with traditional steering, but the automaker still wanted to show off its steer-by-wire system that might arrive in time for 2024. The production-intent prototype I drove boasted an unusual steering apparatus (that Lexus Europe calls One Motion Grip but is most certainly not a yoke) mated to a variable-ratio steering rack.
Since the not-a-yoke only rotates about 270 degrees, the steering rack responds aggressively to driver inputs at low speeds, eliminating shuffle-steering when performing U-turns and parking maneuvers. As vehicle speed increases, steering response goes down for stability, with the same inputs resulting in less yaw.
The net effect of this techno-wizardry is a steering system that requires far less effort at low speeds – no hand-over-hand panic when pulling into tight spaces or turning around in front of traffic – but still maintains a sense of straight-ahead stability on the freeway. I was deeply skeptical that the steer-by-wire system would feel intuitive and normal, but I was wrong. Within a few minutes, the fast-when-slow/slow-when-fast steering becomes downright fun, with zero intimidation factor. This isn’t the industry’s first application of steering by wire, but it’s almost certainly the best.
Putting On The Ritz
Relative to the RX, the shorter front overhang and cab-forward design give the RZ a modern stance, and Lexus’ corporate front end looks better here than it does on the nose-heavy RX. The front fascia contours to a pinch between the headlights before swelling out over the hood and front fenders, which is how the company will adapt its bold “spindle” design scheme for an electric, grille-less future.
Otherwise, the styling is very similar to that of other Lexus crossovers, with flowing body contours, L-shaped taillights, and a scripted wordmark across the rear hatch. If you’re the type who wants more flash from your family car, Lexus will happily option your RZ with two-tone paint featuring a black hood and upper body structure. But in my opinion, the EV looks best in the pale blue, single-tone Ether paint scheme.
The cabin of the RZ feels familiar thanks to its fine 14.3-inch touchscreen running Lexus Interface infotainment, but look closer and some novel features appear. The RZ’s low passenger-side dash alleviates claustrophobia, as does the floating center console with storage – a necessity since the available under-dash radiant heaters preclude a conventional glovebox. Improving efficiency by providing direct heat to the driver and front passenger, the radiators do their job well, keeping your core toasty-warm without using the less efficient, diffuse HVAC heater.
The design is great, especially since the cabin is rendered in such pleasant materials. The RZ 450e Premium gets NuLuxe faux leather seats, while the Luxury gets microfiber suede upholstery, and a supple NuLuxe steering wheel and microfiber door panels make an appearance on both. Soft-touch plastics are everywhere your hands will regularly fall, with hard surfaces showing up at knee level and below. The supportive and comfortable front seats leave little to be desired, and the spacious rear compartment is let down only by a high floor – a necessity for the 71.4-kilowatt-hour battery.
So Many Flies, So Little Ointment
Unfortunately, that battery only provides middling driving range when fully charged. At 220 miles with 18-inch wheels or 196 miles with 20s (as tested), the RZ 450e comes up short on its dual-motor rivals, the 236-mile Q4 E-Tron, 248-mile GV60 Advance, and 307-mile Lyriq. That wouldn’t be a huge issue if the RZ recharged faster than its competition, but with a DC fast charging speed of 150 kilowatts, the Lexus once again falls behind. Although that number matches the Audi, the Lyriq can recharge at 190 kW and GV60 can peg the meter at 250 kW.
|DC Charge Rate:
|Lexus RZ 450e Luxury
|Audi Q4 E-Tron Quattro
|Cadillac Lyriq AWD
|Genesis GV60 Advance
|Volvo XC40 Recharge
The RZ will recharge from 0 to 80 percent in about 30 minutes on a DC fast charger, giving it between 160 and 180 miles depending on wheel choice. Give a Lyriq the same time at the same charger and you’ll be left with 195 miles of range, while Genesis claims an additional 176 miles in a shorter 18 minutes. Even when using home charging, the Lexus’ 6.6-kW onboard charger is below average compared to the standard chargers found in the Audi (9.6 kW), Cadillac (19.2 kW), and Genesis (11.0 kW).
To the Lexus’ credit, its smaller, lighter battery gives it better energy efficiency than any of its competition, which may be compelling to buyers who have convenient and regular access to charging. And the company will allow RZ customers to borrow any other Lexus model from their local dealer with 30 free loaner days in the first three years of ownership. That could appease folks wary of the long-distance chops of an EV by allowing them to take their family road trips in an RX or ES instead.
With below-average range and recharging speeds, the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e looks worse on paper than it does in real life. The familiar-but-futuristic design is appealing, and it hides a more conventionally attractive cabin appointed with nicer materials than the Audi Q4 E-Tron and Genesis GV60. Its excellent driving manners shine bright on the open road (as long as the pace doesn’t exceed seven-tenths or so), and passengers get plenty of room and a few neat tech toys to play with.
Furthermore, while it’s easy to smirk at the RZ’s EV bona fides, its overall efficiency is admirable for a segment that’s supposed to be about sustainability – an argument that gets smothered by the diminishing returns of a larger, heavier battery. But although the RZ 450e is a good enough EV to serve as a second vehicle – devoted to short trips and daily commutes – it’s probably only suited for full-time driving duties to folks who never leave their 196-mile bubble.
With a base price of $59,650 including destination, the RZ sneaks in below the $60,415 Genesis GV60 and $62,090 Cadillac Lyriq AWD, but above the $56,395 Audi Q4 E-Tron and $54,645 Volvo XC40 Recharge. My tester’s $66,600 price still keeps it in the hunt, overshooting the Audi, Genesis, and Volvo by a few grand but undercutting the Caddy. If the price and range fit your needs, the Lexus has a lot going for it. But no matter how nice the crossover is in most respects, it’s hard not to be disappointed by the sub-200-mile EV range and back-of-the-class charging.
RZ 450e Competitor Reviews:
2023 Lexus RZ 450e Luxury