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2023 Lexus RZ 450e first drive review: Range anxious luxury

Before we start talking about the experience driving the new Lexus RZ 450e, we’d like to address a question. Yes, the folks at Lexus learned from the failures of the Toyota bZ4X launch and have ensured that the wheels will, in fact, stay attached to the car.

But one of the other shortcomings of the bZ4X was its abysmal DCFC charging time on the all-wheel drive model.

Did Lexus manage to fix that? Did Lexus manage to build a luxury EV that is as good as the other options in the Lexus showroom? We flew all the way to Marseille, in the south of France, to find out.

Visually, the RZ 450e looks a lot like the Subaru Solterra and Toyota bZ4X, since they share a platform and most of the running gear. But the Lexus takes some Lexus design cues, like the new “whole car is a spindle grille” look to help differentiate it.

The standard 18-inch wheels look OK with the car, if a little small, but the 20-inch upgrades look fantastic. But there is a trade-off we’ll talk about in a bit.

Inside there’s new interior trim options, including colorful faux Alcantara, and minimal-ish gloss black interior pieces. The gear selector is lifted straight from the Subaru and Toyota, but the instrument cluster is unique, and colorful, and a standard 14-inch infotainment display that gets better in each new Toyota and Lexus product that features it.

The sunroom has an electrochroamatic shade that with the push of a button can dim, blocking out the sun without the need for a power shade.

New interior ambient lighting, called “Shadowy illumination” changes the color of the door ambient lighting based on door position. The company claims it’s a world first, but we’ve seen stuff similar from other OEMs. We can say, however, it looks very nice inside.

Plus it’s built nice, both inside and out. The interior reminds us a lot of the new Lexus RX, and Lexus tells us that the RZ is designed to sit in between the RX and NX in the lineup.

It’s powered by a dual motor setup, meaning all wheel drive, making 308 horsepower. The 71.4 kWh gross battery pack helps the RZ 450e go 220 miles on a full charge… which isn’t great. And that’s only on the 18-inch wheels.

If you opt for the 20-inch wheels, which is standard on the higher-spec model, your range drops to 196 miles.

That’s one of the lowest range cars we’ve tested, and would make it a challenge on a longer drive.

Lexus claims charging can peak at 150 kW, and it doesn’t use the same battery pack as in the AWD bZ4X, so it should do better. That’ll at least help some on a longer trip. We’ll independently test it later this year.

One other unique feature that’ll be available later is a steer-by-wire system. Lexus hasn’t named it officially in the U.S. yet, but it is coming, and it features a steering yoke instead of a steering wheel.

On the narrow roads through a sleepy French village, we can appreciate requiring less steering effort to make maneuvers. Depending on your speed the steering ratio varies.

We admit, we’re fans of it. No cars have real, old fashioned steering feel, so having a ratio that doesn’t require a hand over hand turn at low speeds is great. It actually felt more responsive than the standard steering.

But, we didn’t care for the yoke part. Unless you want to spend hours driving at the 9 and 3 position, you want a place to rest your arms. More than once we found ourselves reaching for the top of the wheel that isn’t there.

Our recommendation to Lexus? Offer the steer-by-wire system with the round wheel.

Pricing for the RZ 450e is reasonable considering the segment, with the Premium model with 18-inch wheels starting at $59,650 with delivery. The Luxury trim, only available with 20-inch wheels, starts at $65,150.

The Lexus RZ 450e feels and drives like a modern Lexus. That’s a good thing. It feels better put together than its Toyota sibling, and is a lot nicer inside. It also drives better.

Lexus definitely took advantage of the longer incubation time for its BEV and it shows.

The range is a bit poor, and that’s too bad because it puts a damper on a genuinely solid luxury EV. If you are looking for something around the same size without the range anxiety., the plug-in hybrid RX is a fantastic offering.

More than anything, though, the RZ doesn’t feel like a compliance car. It’s the first Toyota BEV that makes us think that Toyota is going to take EVs seriously.

Written by Chad Kirchner
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