Preview: 2023 Lexus RZ 450e SUV Launches Luxury Brand’s Electric Future

The brand’s first battery-electric vehicle reimagines the popular RX SUV

2023 Lexus RZ 450e SUV Photo: Lexus

Lexus started a new era with the online unveiling of the RZ 450e this week, the luxury brand’s first battery-electric vehicle. 

It will follow the Toyota bZ4X to market this summer, sharing the e-TNGA platform, wheelbase, battery, and motors. The automaker states that the RZ marks Lexus’ transition into a BEV-centered brand, meaning there are many more models in the pipeline. The brand has pledged to be 100 percent electric by the end of the decade. 

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Although it resembles the current RX SUV, the RZ is a bit smaller, sized more like the Toyota Venza. It will be offered strictly in a two-motor, all-wheel-drive configuration. It comes with all the prerequisite Lexus bells and whistles, with the promise of being extra quiet inside due to the lack of a combustion engine.

An intriguing feature is the yoke-style steering wheel that will be offered “at a future date.” Rather than a typical, round steering wheel, this essentially has a left and right handle.

The RZ has a balance of traditional features and innovations. Ultimately it may be the brand name and reputation that are its greatest attractions.

Here is what we know so far. 

CR's Take

Lexus moves into the vital electric vehicle space with the RZ, targeting a popular segment, while leaving space for a larger SUV akin to the three-row RX L later. Being a companion model to the Toyota bZ4X (and Subaru Solterra) follows the automaker’s long-time strategy of platform and powertrain sharing that has brought cost efficiencies and contributed to an enviable reliability track record. 

In this case, it appears that the RZ—at least on paper—doesn’t rise to the specs seen with other upscale EVs. Most notable is the range. While 225 miles might be adequate for most people, on most days, there is a perception issue when other models offer close to 300 miles. 

2023 Lexus RZ 450e SUV rear
The exterior has bold creases, clean light designs, and numerous aerodynamic touches to maximize efficiency.

Photo: Lexus Photo: Lexus

Outside

The RZ is a bit smaller than the popular midsized RX SUV, with the biggest dimensional differences being that it is about 4 inches shorter, top to bottom and bumper to bumper. The closer match within the corporate portfolio is the Toyota Venza. 

The front design preserves the brand’s signature spindle shape used for the grille on gasoline models. Here the spindle is a smooth element, offset by grille-like shapes.

From the side, deep sculpted lines give the body definition, making it look like it is in motion even when sitting still. It carries forward the “floating” roof element seen in the RX, with the body-colored roof separated from the lower body by black trim. 

The rear hatch is dramatically sloped, following the trend of coupe-like styling on SUVs that inevitably limits space for tall cargo. The single, continuous light bar across the back visually widens the appearance, while making the tail lights rather tidy.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e SUV
A large 14-inch touch screen takes center stage. Thankfully, no touchpad controller for the RZ.

Photo: Lexus Photo: Lexus

Inside

The interior looks distinctively Toyota, with its contrasting panels, clean control design, and dominant center screen. 

The 14-inch display houses the latest Lexus infotainment system, as seen previously on the latest NX and LX SUVs. The two integrated dials, each with a screen, are a neat, high-tech touch. 

Thankfully, the laptop-like touchpad controller used on many current Lexus models is absent from the RZ. 

The power on/off button for the SUV is mounted high, making it easy to see. This is a welcome detail, as some recent cars that we have tested have this vital button in a place where it can be hard to see, behind the steering wheel. 

Below the wheel and in a similar position on the front passenger side is a radiant heater to warm the knee area—a feature becoming more common on EVs, which can’t rely on a gas engine to produce heat. 

An available head-up display can project audio, navigation, and other information onto the windshield, reducing the time the driver has to move their eyes off the road. 

In the future, Lexus will offer a yoke-style steering wheel (shown below) with a steer-by-wire electric system that is designed to manage all steering tasks within 150 degrees of motion. It adjusts response rates to avoid hand-over-hand motions when parking, navigating intersections, or performing a U-turn. This is different from the yoke found in the Tesla Model S, which does rotate all the way around. We found that off-putting and distracting, especially in parking lots. It is unclear whether the system will have a backup mechanical connection between the steering wheel and road wheel that takes over in the event of a malfunction, as is the case with Infiniti’s existing steer-by-wire system.

A panoramic roof should help make the cabin feel more spacious.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e SUV
The yoke-style steering wheel will be offered in the future.

Photo: Lexus Photo: Lexus

What Drives It

The RZ is offered strictly in all-wheel-drive configuration, with a 150-kW motor in front and an 80-kW motor in the rear. Lexus is withholding a combined horsepower rating until closer to production, but those electric figures convert to 201 hp and 107 hp. That means the combined output may be around 300 hp, which would be much greater than the bZ4X’s 214 hp. 

The RZ battery capacity is 71.4 kWh, matching the pack with the front-drive bZ4X and being incrementally smaller than the 72.8 kWh battery pack fitted to the bZ4X AWD. 

The automaker estimates range to be up to 225 miles when fitted with 18-inch wheels. This is shorter than most bZ4X configurations and many key competitors. 

Toyota officials explained to CR, when discussing the bZ4X, that they feel this range is well beyond what most people drive daily (which they say is about 39 miles). They pointed out that to get more range would add both cost and weight. 

The bZ4X AWD runs 0-60 mph in a claimed 6.5 seconds. Clearly, the Lexus will be quicker, making for a lively experience. (For contrast, the Tesla Model Y we tested accelerated 0-60 mph in a rapid 4.7 seconds.)

Safety and Driver Assistance Systems

The Lexus Safety Sense+ 3.0 (aka LSS+ 3.0) suite is standard equipment on the RZ, packing the latest active safety features from the automaker. It includes all the common features, like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control, with many boasting enhancements. For example, the driver monitoring system watches how attentive the driver is and adjusts warnings and interventions based on whether the driver is judged to be distracted or drowsy. Likewise, adaptive cruise control can adjust following distances from other vehicles based on the driver’s focus. 

Taken to the next step, if the driver is assessed as not being able to continue safely driving, the RZ will flash the hazard lights and bring the vehicle to a stop. 

The RZ also includes blind spot warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and rear cross traffic warning. The rear seat reminder is door activated; if the rear door is opened within 10 minutes of a trip, the driver will be reminded to check the back seat when the car is turned off. 

An automated parking feature is available, allowing the RZ to be remotely parked in both parallel and perpendicular spaces. This includes the ability to back into a space, so it can drive forward on departure.


Jeff S. Bartlett

A New England native, I have piloted a wide variety of vehicles, from a Segway to an aircraft carrier. All told, I have driven thousands of vehicles—many on race tracks across the globe. Today, that experience and passion are harnessed at the CR Auto Test Center to empower consumers. And if some tires must be sacrificed in the pursuit of truth, so be it. Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSBartlett).