In-depth reviews

Lexus RZ 450e prototype review

The Toyota bZ4X’s premium sibling does battle with some established competition; we’ve driven a prototype

Pros

  • Strong refinement
  • Luxurious cabin
  • Intuitive yoke steering

Cons

  • No one-pedal driving
  • Rivals charge faster
  • Not the most fun to drive
Car typeRangeWallbox charge timeRapid charge time
Electricc.250 miles (est)c.10hrs (0-100%,7kW)c.30mins (10-80%, 150kW)

Lexus RZ 450e is the brand’s first bespoke, new-from-the-ground-up electric car and rival for the Tesla Model Y and BMW iX3. Unlike the somewhat lacklustre Lexus UX 300e that came before it – which shares its underpinnings with the Toyota Corolla – the RZ is based on an all-new EV-specific platform used by the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra.

The benefits of using a bespoke electric car platform are well known at this point. Not designing your car around a combustion engine has myriad advantages, including superior interior packaging, better weight distribution and improved handling. However, it is very much a case of better late than never for Lexus.

The RZ, bZ4X and Solterra are all similar in design, and get the same 71.4kWh battery, with the Lexus receiving an estimated range of “more than” 250 miles according to Lexus. Prices and specs haven’t yet been revealed, but for an early taster, we were given the opportunity to try a pre-production model on track.

The first point of mention is the steering. Much of our early drive was on the ‘One Motion Grip’ set-up, and the associated steer-by-wire technology. Cars fitted with this, swap out the conventional steering wheel for a squared-off yoke – like the one found in the latest Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X.

This set-up is different in that there is no physical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels. Instead, sensors relay the driver’s inputs electronically to a motor on the steering rack, which in turn moves the wheels.

The benefits of a system such as this, according to Lexus, is that it requires much smaller inputs than a normal wheel. A 150-degree turn left or right is enough to move the wheels from straight to full-lock – meaning manoeuvres can be executed without crossing your arms or removing your hands from the wheel.

It’s at low speeds where this set-up brings the greatest benefits. Small inputs result in quick changes of direction, making the car feel particularly agile. The steering itself was perhaps heavier than expected, though bosses insist that everything on this prototype can be fine-tuned in time. After only a few corners the yoke felt natural though, and the system is surprisingly intuitive to use.

Lexus hasn’t said how much the yoke will cost to add, only that it’ll offer “value for money”. We also tried a car with a normal steering wheel; it felt more natural, but also more cumbersome – requiring greater inputs for the same outcome. We’d try both before deciding which is right for you.

While the yoke is clearly the centrepiece for the Lexus RZ’s beautifully appointed interior, it’s pleasing to see the brand transferring the vastly improved infotainment system over from the latest NX hybrid SUV. That means you get a large 14-inch central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus a cloud-based sat-nav and a new ‘Hey Lexus’ voice control. The RZ is also capable of receiving over-the-air updates.

Every car gets all-wheel-drive thanks to two electric motors that combined produce 308bhp and 435Nm of torque. That’s enough to send the RZ from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, though top speed is pegged at 99mph. Performance is more than adequate for a car of this type, with all the urgency you’d expect from a standstill. It’s not as quick as a Tesla Model Y, but it’s certainly fast enough for families.

There are four levels for the regenerative braking system, though none offer true one-pedal driving. This is a shame, as we really like this style of driving; RZ buyers will find themselves using the brake pedal more often than they might in, say, a Hyundai Ioniq 5.

But where the brakes leave a little to be desired, we’ve no complaints when it comes to refinement. Even as a pre-production car the Lexus RZ 450e was incredibly quiet on the move – even at higher speeds. It’s a quality that is complimented nicely by the largely supple ride.

That softer suspension does result in quite a bit of body roll through corners, though we’ll reserve ultimate judgement on both handling and ride comfort until we’ve driven the car in production form on UK roads.

Rapid charging speeds for the RZ have yet to be revealed, but we expect it’ll be capable of the same 150kW rate as its Toyota and Subaru sister cars. If true, a 10-80% top up should take less than half an hour – competitive but not class-leading. Meanwhile, fully replenishing the 71.4kWh battery using a 7kW home wallbox is likely to take just under 13 hours. We expect the RZ's official range figure will also be close to the over 280 miles you get from the dual-motor versions of the bZ4X and Solterra

Practicality is a strong point, however, with loads of space inside for taller passengers to get comfortable – even on cars fitted with a panoramic roof. The boot is a good size, too. Official numbers haven’t been revealed, but we expect it to match the Toyota and Subaru’s 452-litre load bay with the rear seats in place.

We’re final judgement on Lexus’ first bespoke EV until we put a production car through its paces, but the RZ 450e is set to bring some clever tech to the popular premium electric SUV class. If the RZ’s optional steering-by-wire system, and its corresponding yoke, isn’t for you then there’s a conventional option. But it does work well and gives the RZ character, something that’s lacking from one or two of its rivals, so well done Lexus for trying something new.

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