Lexus, one of the pioneers of hybrid technology in the luxury segment, is ready to march into EV territory. It unveiled a battery-powered model called RZ 450e that was developed as an electric car from the ground-up and that blazes the path that several cars will follow.
While the RZ isn’t the first electric Lexus, that honor goes to the UX300e sold in Europe and in China, it’s the first electric Lexus that was developed as a standalone model for global markets. There will not be a gasoline-burning or even a hybrid-powered RZ. The firm started with an EV-specific version of the e-TNGA platform developed by parent company Toyota and also found under the bZ4X, which explains why the crossover’s proportions might look familiar. One of the most striking styling cues is that the Spindle Grille is gone: it has been replaced by a body-colored insert that Lexus named a Spindle Body. We’re told that future EVs from Lexus will follow this design direction.
The RZ stretches 189 inches long, 74.6 inches wide, and 64.4 inches tall, dimensions that make it about three inches shorter and 10 inches longer than the RX and exactly as wide. Its weight hasn’t been released yet. It’s also slightly longer, wider, and lower than the bZ4X.
Inside, the RZ is characterized by a minimalist design that’s elegant and inspired by elements of Japanese culture. Most of the few switches left in the cabin are grouped into two clusters on the steering wheel; they let the driver control features like the infotainment system and the optional head-up display. The center stack is dominated by a 14-inch touchscreen that the RZ borrows from the NX and the LX.
Drivers will be able to count on the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 suit of electronic driving aids, which includes a lane departure warning system and adaptive cruise control, among other features. Remote-controlled parking will be optional, and radiant heaters located below the steering column and on the bottom of the passenger’s side of the dashboard will help warm the cabin without drawing too much electricity.
Power comes from a pair of electric motors linked to a 71.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. The motor installed on the front axle develops 201 horsepower while the one assigned to the rear axle generates 107 horsepower. This configuration gives the RZ through-the-road all-wheel-drive. Lexus estimates that the RZ’s maximum driving range will check in at about 225 miles when fitted with 18-inch wheels, though the official range figure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) won’t be released until closer to the model’s on-sale date.
Lexus packed a long list of technology into the RZ’s drivetrain, including an interesting feature called DIRECT4. It analyzes data like the speed of each wheel and the steering angle to control each motor’s output in a bid to improve acceleration, range, and handling. In some cases, the RZ relies only on the rear-mounted motor; in others, it’s the front-mounted motor that moves forward. Of course, nearly every torque split in between is possible as well. Between 50% and 80% of the system’s total output comes from the rear motor while exiting a turn, for example, while drive force is front-biased (between 75% and 50%) when the steering wheel is turned for better steering feel.
Steer-by-wire technology will join the list of optional equipment later in the car’s production run. Details remain relatively vague, but Lexus notes that the steering angle is set at about 150 degrees, which makes maneuvers such as U-turns and parking easier to perform. And, RZ models fitted with the steer-by-wire system will get their steering wheel replaced by a “steering control with a compact shape” — we’re guessing that’s the yoke-shaped steering wheel that Lexus previewed in April 2022. The bZ4X is also offered with steer-by-wire and a yoke.
The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e will reach showrooms towards the end of 2022. Pricing information hasn’t been announced yet.