The new RZ isn't perfect, but it does come with many redeeming qualities.
Lexus recently flew us out to France to sample its new RZ 450e, a crossover that marks the premium brand's first serious foray into the EV space. It may share its platform with the humbler Toyota bZ4X, but you won't be giving the Toyota a second thought when cruising behind the wheel of the luxurious and quick RZ. While the Lexus does have a high price and a low range, admittedly aspects that could deter some customers, it also has a lot going for it. We've summarized seven key areas that make the Lexus RZ well worth consideration in a competitive segment.
The Lexus is not the most powerful electric crossover by any means, but it delivers the satisfyingly instant surge of acceleration that is typical of EVs. It is only available in 450e dual-motor guise, making 308 horsepower combined. Peak torque is 196 lb-ft from the front motor and 124 lb-ft from the one at the back. This equates to a claimed 0-60 mph time of just five seconds, along with effortless passing power. There is no version of the similarly-sized RX that comes close to delivering the same acceleration of the RZ - even the more powerful RX 500h hybrid is almost a second slower to 60, and it can't match the smoothness of the RZ's electric motors.
The RZ has been launched in two high-spec trim levels, the Premium and Luxury, but you won't feel shortchanged if you go for the Premium. In general, it's specified to a higher level than the base RX, so even the Premium enjoys eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation, classy NuLuxe upholstery, a power-adjustable steering column, and single-color ambient lighting with Shadow Illumination that looks gorgeous at night.
Whereas the RX comes with a 9.8-inch touchscreen as standard, the RZ boasts a large 14-inch touchscreen that banishes memories of the brand's older touchpad. It works very well, although we do ultimately prefer functions like fan speed to have hard buttons for easier adjustments on the move.
Upgrading to the Luxury adds multicolor ambient lighting, soft Ultrasuede interior trim, heated rear outboard seats, the advanced radiant front knee heating system, and the more powerful 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
Lexus has not dispensed with two of its trademark qualities simply because this is an EV. The RZ is as comfortable, relaxing, and quiet as we've come to expect from the luxury automaker. Around town, there isn't a rattle or squeak to be heard, and both road and wind noise are almost absent. Of course, the silent motors also help in this regard. At highway speeds, the absorbent ride takes the effort out of longer journeys, although a hint of wind noise does creep in from the large rearview mirrors. The Luxury variant with its 20-inch wheels also elicits a touch more road noise, but not enough to spoil what is generally a serene driving experience.
Although this feature will only be available at a later date in the United States, it's not only unique to the RZ but to the segment as well. In the RZ, Steer by Wire eliminates the mechanical link between the steering and wheels, substituting the conventional setup with a series of sensors and electric signals to determine the correct steering ratio for the given scenario. This variable steering ratio is important, as RZ models with this feature get a yoke-style steering wheel that demands maintaining the same hand position regardless of the intended maneuver. However, hand-over-hand twirling isn't necessary, as the ratio becomes more sensitive at parking speeds when full lock is required.
All of this may sound like a recipe for a disconnected, artificial driving experience, but the news is mostly positive. Steer by Wire introduces a sportiness to the RZ that is quite unexpected, the wheel being more responsive to even minor movements. Parking requires less twirling of the wheel, and visibility of the instrument cluster is enhanced as the wheel has no top section.
Steer by Wire isn't perfect, though, and requires more concentration to master than the conventional, standard setup. We covered this in more detail in our first drive of the RZ.
Lexus could have gone in more than one direction here. One is to follow many automakers that have used their first dedicated EV to showcase unorthodox, zany styling. The other is to design just another Lexus crossover so as not to alienate its fairly conservative fan base. In the end, Lexus seems to have settled on a palatable and appealing middle ground.
The resemblance to models like the RX is clear, but the RZ has a good few touches like its own interpretation of the spindle body that flows uninterrupted into the hood. Available two-tone paint, a standard panorama roof, and a coupe-like sloping roofline are further distinguishing features. The Luxury wears snazzier 20-inch alloys, whereas the Premium has 18-inch items, the former reducing the range by just over 20 miles. Although slightly smaller than the RX, the RZ is packaged better so retains comparably spacious seating.
EVs have had their fair share of tech-related glitches, and studies have shown that customers have poorer service satisfaction with them. On the other hand, Lexus has consistently proven to provide owners with a stellar ownership experience, and the brand rates highly in the vast majority of reliability surveys. For this reason, the RZ could be a solid first step for the gradually declining group of EV doubters. The peace of mind that comes with owning a Lexus will be a factor for many, and we can attest to the RZ being built to the same high standard as its gas-powered siblings. Another boost to long-term ownership is that the RZ's lithium-ion battery has been designed for durability, with it expected to retain over 90% of its capacity after 10 years.
For the Lexus loyalist who has driven an RX for years, the RZ feels like a natural progression to electric power. It doesn't have the futuristic but sometimes alienating interface of a Tesla Model Y or the divisive styling of a BMW iX but feels reassuringly familiar as a Lexus product - just one that's fresher, smarter, and swifter than before. The main radical feature of this EV, the Steer by Wire system, will be an option, so Lexus won't force anyone to get used to it if they choose not to.
The maximum range of 220 miles will be an issue for some, but in a two-car garage with a gas-powered vehicle making up one-half for lengthier trips, the RZ is perfectly positioned to help first-time EV converts warm up to the idea of electric power.
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