For as close in appearance as the new Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra electric crossovers are, you might not realize the Lexus RZ is their triplet. All three SUVs share Toyota’s e-TNGA electric vehicle architecture, but while the Toyota and Subie are readily identifiable as sharing a body, interior, and, well, nearly everything, the 2023 Lexus RZ stands apart with less awkward styling and an entirely unique (and luxurious) interior.
To be honest, Lexus probably would prefer we play down any associations between the RZ and its mechanical siblings, but the reality is that a host of upcoming EVs from a variety of automakers will spread a relatively small number of components (batteries, motors, platforms) beneath a flotilla of different cars, trucks, and SUVs spanning the mainstream and luxury segments. In short, don’t read too much into the Lexus’ links to the “lesser” bZ4X and Solterra. Hey, at least the the Lexus gets a somewhat normal name, one that sounds vaguely in line with those of the luxury automaker’s other products. Take that, Toyota Cat-Walked-Across-the-Keyboard-Z4X!
A Simpler EV SUV
In an amusing twist, Lexus has taken the basic approachability of the bZ4X (and, by extension, the Solterra) that we highlighted in our first drive of that EV and copies it over to nearly every other aspect of the RZ. That means while the bZ4X offers up a fairly normal in-car experience beneath its bizarre styling, without funky, Tesla-baiting tech weirdness or much nerd-rabbit-hole options for tracking various EV performance metrics like you might get from some competitors, the RZ does the same but with a normal outward appearance, too. This is a luxury electric crossover in the same vein as Audi’s E-Tron, which aims to deliver an electrified but otherwise utterly conventional experience that won’t turn off buyers coming out of internal combustion vehicles. Heck, the wildest features inside are the touch-sensitive door openers like those on the NX, where you push a little button to exit the car, and the available panoramic sunroof’s dimmable glass.
From the exterior, the RZ450e looks a lot like Lexus’s latest gas and hybrid NX compact crossovers, only with slightly more angular detailing and fewer intakes on the front end. Sure, if you really step back and study the RZ’s arcing roof profile, you can trace hints of the bZ4X and Solterra, but thanks to the puffed-out fenders, the pronounced hourglass shape to the nose that echoes Lexus’s signature grille design, and those full-width taillamps, the Lexus stands on its own. Dimensionally, the RZ is also slightly massaged. The 112.2-inch wheelbase is shared with the Toyota, but the Lexus sits more than half an inch lower and is 1.4 inches wider and 4.5 inches longer. While we don’t have final specifications for the interior, it seems likely that the Lexus will be roomier than its siblings.
The cabin similarly takes after the NX, adopting that SUV’s new-generation 14.0-inch touchscreen interface—and, thankfully, its volume and HVAC knobs—and a similar digital gauge cluster and steering wheel. A starter button lives up high, right in the driver’s field of view to the right of the steering wheel, and there are normal control stalks sprouting from the column, window and mirror controls where you’d expect them, and an elegant rotary knob for selecting drive, park, and reverse. Everything is arranged in an utterly conventional manner, just like in the Toyota and Subaru, again reinforcing the notion that this RZ will be easy for non-EV-fanatics to slide into and drive without any kind of in-depth training.
Lexus says the interior will be quieted by extra seals around the hood, acoustic glass front and rear, and even a new cross section designed specifically for the RZ’s weatherstripping. All of this is critical stuff, given the RZ’s lack of an engine; most EVs battle wind and road noise in the absence of the white noise generated by internal combustion. Or maybe not—the RZ will feature “expressive in-cabin sounds to convey the exhilaration of driving.” This presumably artificial sound will be piped into the interior in sync with the speed of the drive motors, and could mask some unwanted noises while providing a feedback loop for the driver.
Try not to read this like too much of a record scratch, but the RZ will at an unspecified future date offer a feature that will undo this “nothing-to-see-here” take. That feature is a steer-by-wire setup—in which there is no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels—which will enable not only computerized variations to the steering behavior, sharper control for the onboard driver assists such as lane-centering and (someday) evasive maneuvers, but also for Lexus to introduce a steering yoke like the one it’s already shown off and promised to RZ customers in China.
That yoke, which lacks a full steering wheel rim, is a lot like Tesla’s unit recently introduced on the Model S an Model X, albeit with one key difference: That steer-by-wire capability means RZ drivers won’t need to flail around with hand-over-hand steering inputs. Lexus says RZs with the feature will have 150-degree steering range, but doesn’t specify whether that means the yoke will only turn 150 degrees in either direction, or 150 degrees lock-to-lock (so, 75 degrees in each direction). Either range would eliminate the need to go hand-over-hand, and Lexus says the system enables nearly wrist-flick U-turns at low speeds and stability at higher speeds.
So, What’s Under the … Uh, Where Are the Motors Again?
Underneath all of the RZ’s layers of Lexus-ness sit the dual electric motors from the all-wheel-drive Toyota bZ4X. Lexus only lists their outputs in kW, with the front motor delivering 150 kW and the rear doling out 80. Those figures match those listed for the Toyota, and convert to 201 and 107 hp. If torque holds true, as we expect it will, look for 196 lb-ft from the front motor and 124 lb-ft out back, and for a combined system total of 214 hp and 248 lb-ft. The front-to-rear power split is variable 100 percent, given the motors share no mechanical connection, and Lexus has dubbed this AWD setup “Direct4.”
That said, those remain estimates, given how Lexus has so far only provided a battery capacity for an RZ prototype overseas. Curiously, that capacity is listed at 71.4 kWh, the same as the front-wheel-drive bZ4X (no front-drive RZ will be offered, at least not at launch); all-wheel-drive bZ4Xs get a higher-capacity 72.8-kWh battery. When asked about the oddity of the RZ using the smaller of the Toyota’s two batteries with its available higher-power-draw AWD setup, Lexus told us the batteries are still undergoing testing and could change before the RZ goes on sale later this year. Don’t be surprised if the RZ ultimately ends up with the bigger pack, especially given Lexus’s claim that its EV will be good for 225 miles of range, a few more than the AWD bZ4X manages, at least when equipped with the smaller of its two wheel sizes (18-inchers instead of 20s). This increase in range is partially attributed to a higher-efficiency rear inverter, which utilizes “silicon-carbide power semiconductor elements” in a claimed Toyota/Lexus first.
The RZ will need small advances like that to stand apart because unless Lexus finds a way to stuff a significantly greater number of battery cells into the RZ’s floor than Toyota did the bZ4X, expect similar performance and range to the Toyota, regardless of what the final specifications end up as. The ride could be smoother, however, as Lexus fits the RZ with frequency reactive dampers, a type of shock that firms up as the force of a wheel impact goes up (and soften for less aggressive actions), slowing the suspension’s movement at the limits of its travel. Translated, that means that if you bottom out the suspension, at least the dampers firmed up as that event neared, minimizing the thud.
Helping avoid even bigger thuds is the standard Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 active safety suite, which includes collision warning, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane keep assist, and a bunch of driver monitors. Those monitors can tell if the driver is fatigued or having an emergency of some kind (or simply stops paying attention) while using the self-steering and adaptive cruise functions, in which case the Emergency Driving Stop System will safely slow and stop the car in its lane.
Is It Enough?
Lexus is hoping to have a full lineup of electric vehicles for sale by 2030, and five years beyond that, to transition its entire lineup to EV-only offerings. The RZ450e is the tip of that spear, and an inauspicious one at that. This is not exactly a flashy, attention-grabbing, envy-causing electric luxury SUV. Its range and power are spanked by a variety of other EV SUVs, and not just luxury offerings such as Tesla’s Model Y. On the other hand, if the RZ turns out to be relatively affordable and can deliver the traditional Lexus experience of simple operation, a quiet and smooth ride, and supreme refinement, maybe it can carve out a lane for other electric Lexuses to follow. We’ll find out later this year, when it goes on sale.
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