The verdict: The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e SUV is comfortable, refined, and full of tech and cabin innovations that help it stand out in an increasingly crowded electrified market.
Versus the competition: With little-to-none of the quirkiness that often plagues other electric vehicles, the RZ deftly balances innovation and comfort when it comes to its driving experience and usability — but less range than key competitors is a problem.
The new RZ is Lexus’ first electric vehicle, though parent company Toyota has a long history of electrification. Toyota was an early hybrid pioneer with the Prius, and Lexus followed suit with a variety of hybrids along with a growing portfolio of plug-in hybrids.
The 2023 RZ 450e comes on the heels of Toyota’s own first EV, the 2023 bZ4X. The RZ shares the bZ4X’s platform but has a different motor setup, vastly different styling and is larger overall. See them compared.
Related: All-Electric 2023 Lexus RZ: Overachieving on Space, But Not Range
In size, the RZ slots between the NX and RX SUVs in the automaker’s lineup and competes in a growing segment of luxury EVs against the likes of the Audi E-Tron, Tesla Model Y and Volvo XC40 Recharge. See these models compared.
2023 Lexus RZ 450e | Cars.com photo by Jennifer Geiger
Zippy Power, Smooth Ride
If you’re used to the RX, the RZ will feel like a more modern and dynamic relative — in all the best ways; it’s quick, composed and comfortable. It’s available in Premium and Luxury trims with standard all-wheel drive. Power comes from two electric motors that make a combined 308 horsepower, and the RZ has a 71.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack.
Meanwhile, its bZ4X relative comes standard with front-wheel drive and combines a single motor and the 71.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack for a much more modest 201 hp. Selecting the AWD bZ4X gets you two motors that make 214 hp total and a 72.8-kWh battery.
I tested the RZ in Premium trim with 18-inch wheels and found it a joy to drive. Power delivery is immediate and smooth from a stop, and the RZ exhibits an athleticism you wouldn’t expect from an SUV this size. It’s agile around corners and has a direct, connected steering feel that adds to its overall controlled, composed character.
For extra sportiness, Lexus plans to offer a steer-by-wire system equipped with a steering yoke in place of a traditional steering wheel. Instead of a mechanical connection to the vehicle’s wheels, like regular steering systems have, the steer-by-wire system uses electronics to control the front wheels. I sampled this forthcoming model, and it delivered an odd combination of more precise steering with less feedback for a surreal, video-game-like experience. It’s coming to the lineup at a later date, but Lexus has not yet said when or how much it will cost.
The RZ also comes with larger 20-inch wheels and tires, but these should be avoided. With the 18-inch wheels and tires, the ride is serene with ample isolation from bumps. The 20s feel rowdier, however, and translate too much of the road through the body, making for a much more unsettled ride.
The RZ delivers braking smoothness, too. Like other EVs, it has a regenerative braking system that helps capture kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost — but I could barely tell. Unlike some other EVs’ brake systems that have a nonlinear action and lurchy quality, the RZ’s brakes were smooth and naturally reactive. Unfortunately there’s no one-pedal operation that allows the accelerator pedal to control both forward speed and braking, depending on its position, which is a handy feature I like in traffic. The braking system is adjustable, however; you can dial up the strength of the regen system using the paddle shifters.
Adjusting the regen brakes to the strongest setting captures the most energy, which will likely help with overall driving range. Amplifying range is a good idea, as it’s one of consumers’ biggest worries when it comes to EVs, and the RZ could use every extra mile it can get.
On models with the 18-inch wheels, Lexus says the RZ has an estimated 220 miles of range; that dips to 196 miles on versions with the 20s. Its range falls short of competitors: the E-Tron is estimated at 226 miles of range, the base Model Y has an EPA-estimated 330 miles of range, and the XC40 Recharge gets an estimated 223 miles. It also falls a bit short of the AWD bZ4X’s EPA-estimated range of 222 to 228 miles.
It lags in terms of its Level 2 charging rate, too, which matters for home and lower-power public charging. The RZ’s onboard charger is rated at 6.6 kilowatts, which is on the low side and means a full charge from empty using a Level 2 charger would take about 9.5 hours, according to Lexus. The Model Y, by comparison, has an 11.5-kW onboard charger. Lexus says the RZ’s peak charging speed at public DC fast chargers is 150 kW and that it can be charged from 0%-80% in approximately 30 minutes.
2023 Lexus RZ 450e | Cars.com photo by Jennifer Geiger
Luxury Meets Minimalism in the Cabin
Lexus is attempting to redefine luxury with a new take on cabin materials and design, and I’m sold. The RZ’s interior is lovely; everything feels well put together, and the look and feel is minimalist but not boring. The overall effect is a space that’s airy, modern and classy.
Leather is not available, instead replaced by simulated suede made with sustainable materials that looks and feels every bit as luxurious as the real deal. Instead of the wood or metal paneling you see in traditional luxury vehicles, the RZ uses light as a trim element — a clever take on sustainability. Called Shadow Illumination, the system projects light and patterns onto the front door panels. It was difficult to see in the daytime, however.
Aiding the cabin’s open, airy feel is a standard panoramic glass roof. While it doesn’t have a screen to cover it, which Lexus said saves weight and lessens the impact on headroom, it’s available with a neat dimming function that reduces the amount of light entering the cabin with the push of a button, taking it from clear to opaque in an instant.
The streamlined dash is highlighted by a standard 14-inch touchscreen infotainment system, similar to the system in the NX. A digital instrument cluster as well as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard; I found the system worked seamlessly with my Android phone, connecting quickly and resuming previous apps each time I engaged it. The system’s new voice command function, enabled by saying “Hey Lexus,” also worked accurately for audio and climate functions.
Other standard creature comforts include a wireless charger, heated steering wheel, and heated and ventilated front seats.
Two minor annoyances marred an otherwise straightforward control experience. First, the RZ’s shifter is a console dial. While its placement is comfortable, its action is odd and tripped me up every time. It requires a push down then a sideways toggle to change gears.
Second, while I found the infotainment screen easy to navigate — and definitely ahead of Tesla’s and Volvo’s systems in terms of ease of use — one issue continued to annoy: It was difficult to get out of the Android Auto interface and back to the vehicle’s native audio controls. For example, if you’re listening to satellite radio and wondering “Who sings this song?” you need to go into the apps menu and select the Lexus icon to get back to the radio screen. In other vehicles, a home button or something similar on the main screen makes this transition easier. It’s not a deal breaker but an odd extra step.