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Lexus RZ 2023 review: RZ450e prototype drive


The brand’s first dedicated electric vehicle, the RZ, feels like a true Lexus to drive – but the SUV’s interior takes a dramatic leap into the future

Good points

  • Smooth, quick performance
  • Yoke steering wheel works well
  • Premium, non-leather cabin
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Roomy back seat and boot

Needs work

  • Shorter range than rivals
  • Limited 150kW charge speed
  • No leather option
  • Loud ABS operation
  • Dim HUD with polarised sunglasses

Months in advance of its mid-2023 Australian release date, Chasing Cars was given a two-hour opportunity to drive the Lexus RZ450e electric midsize SUV on a private test track in Australia.

The Lexus RZ450e is a 4.8-metre long, midsize luxury SUV with AWD, thanks to the standard fitment of two independently-controlled ‘E-axle’ electric motors which contribute a combined 230kW of power.

Sitting atop a new Toyota-Lexus EV platform, E-TNGA, the 2100kg RZ450e is fairly light for an electric SUV due to its relatively modest 71.4kWh battery. This pack provides a range of about 400km – less than key rivals such as the Genesis GV60.

Lexus RZ 2023 rear 3/4

What we found in this first encounter with a hand-built, left-hand drive prototype will surprise.

The RZ450e handles with Lexus-like familiarity, but make no mistake: the RZ450e catapults the brand into the future as a crucial foundation stone to the brand’s aspiration to cease the sale of CO2-emitting vehicles within 12 years.

Despite its early-prototype status, the RZ450e we drove was built fairly well. Some exterior panels were fitted improperly, including the port door for the 150kW DC charging point, but there were no visible flaws inside.

Lexus RZ 2023 front

Finished in an arresting two-tone sonic copper and gloss black colourway, our test RZ – which is nearly identical in size to the well-known Lexus RX hybrid SUV – debuts a huge change for Lexus.

Leather does not feature in any way in the cabin of the RZ. The interior of this Lexus luxury SUV is vegan, and buyers will not be given any option to specify animal hides on any surface. From the seats, to the dashboard, to the yoke – it’s all synthetic, in a major push towards carbon-neutrality.

Yes—we said yoke: high-specification versions of the RZ450e in Australia will not have a traditional power steering system and wheel, but will instead be piloted via an F1-style yoke and steer-by-wire interface. Lexus promises it works well.

How does the RZ450e drive?

Lexus says that its vehicles possess the marque’s ‘driving signature’. Lexus suggests its cars steer, handle, ride, accelerate and stop in a consistent way across the range.

It sounds like a platitude, but there’s increasingly some truth to this statement – particularly as Lexus has now aligned all of the cars it sells in Australia to new-generation platforms that ditch the wallowy handling this Japanese luxury brand was once known for.

However, it’s one thing to make your combustion and hybrid cars drive in a similarly graceful yet rigid manner: it’s another entirely to align an EV to those driving manners.

Lexus RZ 2023 front 3/4 driving 2

With much more weight (thanks to the battery), a much lower centre of gravity (ditto), and so much instant torque from the dual electric motors, EVs rarely drive like combustion cars.

Yet, from our early first drive of the RZ450e prototype, it feels like Lexus has managed this.

Acceleration is notably more swift than just about any midsized NX or the larger RX SUV the company sells, yet the electric motors feel tuned to march linearly up to speed – like a V6 – rather than providing Tesla-style manic acceleration.

The numbers the RZ450e puts down on paper are impressive, though, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 5.6 seconds. We look forward to testing this independently.

Lexus RZ 2023 rear driving 2

Similarly to the throttle, the steering and handling feel calibrated to be a close match to the new-gen Lexus RX that will launch in Australia next year – and that Chasing Cars has already tested overseas.

There is pleasant build-up in the electric power steering as you begin to turn a corner and good levels of front-end bite from the Bridgestone rubber.

The yoke, being smaller than a traditional steering wheel, makes the rack feel a little quicker on turn-in, but it’s also more heavily-weighted than expected, making the RZ feel more sporty.

The yoke also makes low-speed cornering a doddle, with an amazingly fast rack that means tight parking maneouvres require no hand-over-hand twirling. It’s unnerving at first but you get used to it within 20 minutes.

Lexus RZ 2023 steering wheel

When the yoke is fitted, the steering system is not physical but is instead a steer-by-wire computer-driven rack. Fitted in some cars in the past – particularly Infiniti models – we’ve found steer-by-wire to feel very unusual, but the tuning is easily superior on the RZ. We look forward to testing it in the real world.

Lexus had set up two slalom courses for us to push the RZ’s chassis more than usual on a prototype drive – one was a low-frequency slalom doable at around 80km/h and the other was a tight system with a recommended speed of 40km/h – though we found the RZ complete it at a pinch at 50.

There’s no hiding the inertia from its skateboard-mounted battery in a slalom, but the RZ is more graceful than some electric SUVs in these tight direction changes. ESC intervention was minimal and we managed to avoid hitting any cones…

Body roll is also impressively contained in faster corners, owing to the location of all that weight being so low in the body. The seats could use a touch more bolstering to keep the torso centred, though.

Lexus RZ 2023 driving 2

There were very few bumps or blemishes on the test track proffered for our first go in the RZ, though there were three lateral drains we were able to hit in succession at 80-90km/h.

The suspension soaked the first two up in a supple way, though we did notice a lateral hop from the rear suspension on the last, and nastiest, feature. This was a hand-built prototype, and we imagine the suspension will be even more resolved by the time production starts.

About the only dynamic flaw we could identify on our short first experience was the ABS response. We conducted three full-strength stops from 100-0km/h and found the ABS was grabby – both in feel and sound.

Lexus RZ 2023 front 3/4 driving

We’re used to unnerving sounds under ABS stops in Lexus and Toyota hybrids, but it would be pleasant if these could be tuned out before launch.

On the safety front, the RZ450e is likely to come fully-equipped in Australia – including with what Lexus says is optional fitment of a driver monitoring system that sits just above the yoke’s span.

This system watches the driver’s eyes to ensure they’re on the road – a component that will only become more common with semi-automated driving on the highway potentially being in our future.

How is the RZ450e’s interior?

There are many similarities between the cabin of the new RZ electric SUV and the incoming fifth-generation RX large crossover that the RZ shares its 2850mm wheelbase with.

However, there’s one big difference: whereas the RX remains a leather- and wood-lined haven, Lexus has taken the decision to make the RZ’s interior entirely vegan.

Lexus RZ 2023 prototype interior wide
Pictured: A US variant of the RZ with a traditional steering wheel design

Unlike the Polestar 2 liftback and 3 SUV, on which vegan interiors are standard but leather can still be ticked, Lexus will not provide buyers the ability to option hides of any kind.

Chasing Cars understands that the RZ450e will be offered in a number of variants in Australia, with entry-level grades being set to use the brand’s Nuluxe vinyl seat coverings.

We like the softness of Nuluxe, but we’ve found in the past that it gets very hot in summer when not paired with seat cooling – as on the latest-gen NX.

However, high-specification grades will ditch Nuluxe in favour of the upholstery fitted to the prototype we tested: perforated ultrasuede. This textured alcantara-like trim looks soft and inviting and also features active seat cooling in the front row, which we found effective for sapping away any sweat.

Lexus RZ 2023 prototype touchscreen

The seats themselves feel quite shapely and comfortable, though we’ll need a longer time in the saddle to draw any conclusions. Extensive electric adjustment is fitted to both the seats and the yoke to find a decent driving position.

Behind the yoke is a moderately-sized and cowl-less digital driver display that was bright enough to outshine glare. There’s also Lexus’s trick heads-up display that tracks to touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel – all well and good, but you can barely see the HUD through polarised sunglasses that are a must in sunny Australia.

Things improve in the centre stack, where the RZ has the same generously-sized, 14.0-inch touchscreen as the RX (and some variants of the new NX, too). Running the latest generation of Lexus software, the screen ditches the brand’s old remote-touch trackpad for easier finger-digit control.

Lexus RZ 2023 prototype back seat

Wireless Apple CarPlay is fitted and worked fine during our test. Mark Levinson audio continues to be used here for a high-fidelity experience.

Moving to the back reveals some of the benefits of the use of the E-TNGA dedicated electric vehicle platform. A fully flat floor means you’ll get someone into the middle seat, and legroom is amazing. Despite sharing the RX’s wheelbase, there is vast knee-room in the back of the RZ thanks to room liberated by ditching the engine.

Behind a power tailgate is a decent-sized boot that we expect to be rated as more than 500 litres in capacity when specs are confirmed. However, there’s no spare wheel.

What are the RZ450e’s running costs?

We don’t yet know what the RZ will cost to service, nor what its service intervals will be.

Given its electric simplicity, hoping that Lexus allows you to service the RZ450e at least every 20,000km – though its sibling EV, the UX300e, requires scheduled maintenance every 12 months/15,000km.

We think Lexus Australia will provide capped-price servicing for the RZ450e, as it does across its range. It may consider adding the SUV to the brand’s exclusive Encore Platinum club, as with the UX300e. Encore Platinum grants owners the ability to swap into other Lexus models multiple times over three years.

Lexus RZ 2023 side

It’s also possible that Lexus will extend a complimentary public rapid-charging subscription to buyers of the RZ450e, as rival carmakers do with their premium EVs.

Lexus has indicated that that the RZ450e will have a driving range of 450km – but this relies on Japan’s optimistic WLTC test. In markets that mandate use of the more accurate WLTP consumption test, Lexus hopes that the RZ450e will be rated at about 402km range.

We were able to conduct a rudimentary energy consumption and range test of the RZ450e during our test track drive. At around 60km/h, with some accelerating and braking, the dual-motor RZ recorded 19kWh/100km. Fed by its 71.4kWh usable battery, that indicates an urban driving range of about 375km.

The final verdict

You only get one swing at building your first dedicated electric vehicle. Porsche understood this with the Taycan – and they made it great for that reason. Will Lexus get the RZ right the first time?

Certainly, the dynamics feel more crisp and better-resolved than some similarly-sized EVs, including the Tesla Model Y, and we like how effectively the RZ’s control surfaces have been tuned to consistently match the ‘Lexus driving signature’ that has made the brand’s other recent releases pretty good to drive.

Lexus RZ 2023 front 3/4

One of the reasons the RZ feels capable and lithe in the bends is its modest-for-an-EV weight thanks to a small battery.

We do have a concern that the modest size of this battery pack will hold the RZ back in comparisons against the BMW iX3 and updated Audi Q8 E-tron, both of which likely have noticeably longer range in the real world.

However, much of these conclusions await real-world testing, out of the confines of a small test track and onto punishing, challenging Australian roads. Given the RZ is shaping up as something of a surprise driver’s electric SUV, we’re looking forward to doing just that.

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