We tested the first EV from Lexus. Here’s how it drives.

Lexus, the luxury arm of Toyota, has just started delivering its first all-electric vehicle to dealerships in the US. Starting at $59,650, the RZ 450e is offered in two flavors—Premium and Luxury—and will play a leading role in the Lexus lineup as the brand works toward an all-electric offering by 2035. Highlights for this new car include a steering wheel -by-wire system with a controller that looks like it belongs on a commercial jet. radiant heaters to warm your legs and feet where a glove box usually sits. and silky smooth acceleration that sets the RZ apart from its competitors.

See what sets it apart and what it’s like behind the yoke — more on that detail in a bit.

Two motors

The public got their first look at the RZ 450e when it was unveiled last spring. The RZ was built with some familiar components and design cues borrowed from Toyota’s bZ4X, including the ‘skateboard’ platform also used by the Subaru Solterra. Automakers build EVs on these flat surfaces as a painter uses a blank canvas, creating unique structures unencumbered by engine and transmission placement. The lithium-ion battery is distributed under the vehicle floor, creating even weight balance and a sports car feel when cornering.

Basically, that’s where the similarity ends. The RZ uses two engines instead of one (as in the bZ4X or Solterra) and combined, the twin engine setup makes a total of 308bhp. More importantly, the RZ is tuned for luxury customers with incredibly smooth acceleration and a quiet cabin enhanced by Active Sound Control, which balances out unwanted cabin noise with directional sound frequencies. When I tested it recently in Provence, France, my driving partner and I found that we could carry on a conversation in normal voices without a problem, even on somewhat bumpy country roads.

Inside the cabin, Lexus now uses more bio-sustainable materials, such as plant-based “polyester” or simulated suede (Lexus calls it Ultrasuede) replacing leather from previous years. The RZ’s 14-inch touchscreen first appeared on the Lexus NX, when the brand finally replaced the oft-criticized touchpad found on the console of many Lexus vehicles. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and Wi-Fi connectivity is available for up to five devices.

A panoramic sunroof is also standard on both RZ trims. On the base Premium level, the roof has a special coating called low-e, or low emissivity, to keep the interior cool by blocking certain wavelengths of light. Alternatively, you can step up to the Luxury trim for upgraded adjustable glass that Lexus calls Dynamic Sky. In both cases, Lexus has chosen to remove the auto-tint found on many glass-top cars. In doing so, the RZ offers more headroom and more importantly, sheds 12.8 pounds from the vehicle’s overall weight.

The vehicle is Lexus’ first EV. Christine Shaw


Also unique to the RZ is an optional steer-by-wire system that Lexus calls a “game changer.” It’s not the first car to feature a U-shaped steering control, commonly called a yoke in the aircraft world. A few years ago, Tesla fiddled with the steering wheel and then offered a traditional aftermarket steering wheel for those who didn’t like it. Lexus doesn’t go that route for good reason: the steering systems are completely different.

The RZ’s steer-by-wire option isn’t just a reshaped wheel in the way Tesla attempted. There is no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the steering rack with a steer-by-wire setup, as there would be in a car with a traditional steering system. Instead, the information is relayed electronically (“over the wire”). While a traditional steering wheel can be turned all the way for a total of about 720 degrees, the steer-by-wire control only tilts 150 degrees in each direction.

“So far there have been others [steer-by-wire systems] but this actually extends the capability by a lot,” said Lexus assistant chief engineer Yushi Higashiyama. PopSci. “Of course, there will be customers who prefer the traditional steering system. The reason why the RZ team took on the challenge of implementing the steer-by-wire system is because it also addresses the challenge of the future of electrification and what comes next.”

Lexus reps advised us to take it slow the first time to get used to the difference in drive, but we found it very intuitive and easy to adjust. Making a 90 degree turn required a gentle turn rather than a hand turn, and I thought the steering felt more like a direct connection than my hand movement to the car itself. The RZ is designed so that the steering ratio adjusts depending on how fast you’re driving, which is intended to feel nimble at low speeds and stable at higher speeds.

Before you get too excited about it, know that the steer-by-wire option won’t be available at launch. Lexus has not revealed when it will offer the alternative steering option. all that the representatives will reveal at this time is “not yet”. By the way, this feature is called One Motion Grip — OMG, for short — in Europe, and Lexus decided the acronym wouldn’t play so well in the US market.

Does the RZ offer enough range?

Because it’s an EV, range anxiety is still a concern for US buyers. The Biden administration’s new development of standards for EV charging stations, fueled by $7.5 billion in federal funding, aims to standardize charging stations across the country. This will help ease the worry, but the market has a lot of room for growth. However, it may come as a surprise to some that the RZ came with a range of 220 miles with the standard 18-inch wheels or 196 miles with the upgraded 20-inch wheels. Larger wheels mean less rolling resistance and reduced range.

With a DC fast charger, the RZ’s battery can be charged from zero to 80 percent in about 30 minutes. At home with a Level 2 charger, expect it to recharge from zero to 100 percent in about 9.5 hours.

Lexus knows the RZ’s range is lower than some of its competitors, but Aono says most RZ buyers will opt for home charging and that the range is still well above what they need on a day-to-day basis. To attract potential customers who may be hesitant to buy an EV, the brand is offering a new benefit called the Lexus Reserve. This dealer-led program allows RZ owners to borrow any other available Lexus car from the dealership for free for a total of 30 days in the first three years. That way, if an RZ owner wants to take an extended road trip that goes beyond the range, they can borrow a gas-powered GX SUV, for example, to bring the family.

“The daily average for Americans is 40 miles,” says Aono. (According to research from AAA, that number was about 33 in 2021.) “You’ll drive 200 miles [in a day]? Probably not. Instead of worrying about it, you can change your vehicle. We want to make sure our customers feel comfortable.”

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