Lexus Enthusiast was invited to the south of France to drive the new RZ 450e crossover. We covered the technical details in a separate article, and now have some thoughts on the first dedicated Lexus EV.
After spending a day with the new 2023 Lexus RZ 450e, I figured out a simple equation for those interested in the EV crossover:
- Are you a happy Lexus NX or RX owner but wish there was a full EV option?
- Do you travel less than 200 miles on the average day?
Answer YES to both statements and expect to be thrilled with the RZ. This vehicle may be the purest example of the Lexus brand so far — near-silent operation, reliability above all else, an understated but intuitive interior, topped off with just the right amount of innovation and novelty.
Answer NO to either statement, and it’s best to turn your attention elsewhere. This is a vehicle built for a sizeable but specific audience, and these buyers will know it instantly. If the RZ doesn’t make sense immediately, don’t force it. Move on.
If your ultimate goal is to decide whether or not to buy the RZ, this formula is all you need. But if you’re a Lexus enthusiast, even if you fall outside of the crossover spectrum, this is more than just the first dedicated Lexus EV. It’s the future of driving a Lexus.
Follow the development of any recent Lexus, and the recurrent theme thoughout is
the Lexus Driving Signature. The idea is that every Lexus will share a baseline driving experience that will be distinctly recognizable as a Lexus — here’s the Venn diagram used to explain the concept:
This had every chance of just being a bunch of marketing jargon, except it’s been true — drive any modern NX, RX, or LX, and you can feel the kinship between models. The same can be said about the RZ 450e, which shares the same predictable steering and steady character as the rest of the lineup. The RZ, though, takes the Lexus Driving Signature one step further with a trio of technologies:
- The new Lexus DIRECT4 AWD system is an electronic replacement for the traditional all-wheel drive mechanical system;
- The RZ features Vehicle Braking Posture Control, an electronic system that allows for precise application of braking;
- The One Motion Grip, a full electronic steering system that also uses a F1-style yoke steering wheel instead of the traditional circular design.
Put these three technologies together, and Lexus engineers now have a near-infinite ability to finetune every single driver interaction. Developing a curated Lexus Driving Signature has never been easier. As an example, the OMG steering wheel is able to filter out any unwanted feedback, like pot holes or the jerky sway of a windy day, but not with mechanical dampening — it’s all dynamic and computational.
This mesh of technologies, alongside the various Lexus Safety+ features, will form the backbone of the Lexus EV driving experience. Assistant Chief Engineer Yushi Higashiyama even called the OMG steering a “core technology moving forward” during his presentation.
There is a novelty to the OMG steering shape, but it’s not a distraction — removing the need to go hand-over-hand on turns is a wonderful thing, and the steering is intuitive and precise. The 2025 launch date given by Lexus Europe is disappointing, but it’s easy to see this steering wheel in every future Lexus, and to see it as an advantage over the competition.
As for the rest of the Lexus Electrified transition, where the entire brand is set to go full-electric by 2030 in North America, it’s still a work-in-progress. The RZ’s range of approximately 200 miles is far behind the curve, even with the promise of 70% battery capacity after 10 years. The infortainment struggles to handle the increased functionality of a minimalist cabin design. There is still plenty for Lexus to do.
The RZ 450e is a pragmatic debut, meant to fill a niche role in the lineup while the higher-volume models prepare for their transition to EV. With this in mind, the RZ could have felt like a stop gap, something “good enough”. Instead, Lexus decided to experiment with an eye to the future and ended up with a very solid block in their EV foundation.