2023 Lexus RZ 450e Is the Brand's First Dedicated EV, and It's a Sleek One
Packing lots of tech including a controversial, soon-to-be-available by-wire steering system -- Lexus' new SUV will battle Tesla's Model Y.
Chris PaukertFormer executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Meet the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e, an all-new, all-electric crossover SUV. While Toyota's luxury brand has long been an industry leader in electrification through its hybrid models, the RZ will actually be the brand's first dedicated EV, and the first all-electric model to wear a Lexus badge in North America. The model shares a lot of its underbody e-TNGA platform DNA with the recently revealed Toyota BZ4X and Subaru Solterra, but the BZ very much goes its own way in terms of style, accoutrements and in some cases, even technology.
The compact, five-seat SUV features a 71.4-kWh battery pack and two electric motors, the front rated at 150 kW and the rear at 80 kW. Combined, this works out to be around 308 horsepower and 321 pound-feet of torque -- a major bump over what the BZ4X and Solterra bring to the table. Lexus is claiming a disappointing maximum estimated driving range of up to 225 miles on 18-inch tires, similar figures to what the all-wheel drive variants of its Toyota and Subaru cousins manage with far less power.
The RZ 450e is likewise offered with all-wheel drive, newly branded Direct4 for Lexus, but it essentially appears to be the same through-the-road system as found in its aforementioned platform-mates. Direct4 typically defaults to between 60/40 and 40/60 power distribution front to rear, but the hardware can dynamically distribute torque to the rear in cornering and when slip is detected for sharper handling.
2023 Lexus RZ 450e Gets Toyota in the Luxury EV Game
What is new and exclusive to RZ 450e, however, is a novel steer-by-wire system. Or, rather, it will be new and exclusive when Lexus decides to bring it to the US. For now, the company is says the system -- which has no mechanical linkage between the steering wheel and the tires in normal operation -- will be "available in the US at a future date." When offered, the system is expected to come with a yoke-style steering wheel like the controversial unit found on newer Tesla Model S EVs. Lexus will offer this system immediately in other markets, but when the RZ first goes on sale in North America late this year, it will come with a more traditional steering system, including a conventional round wheel.
Lexus says the by-wire system's steering angle is set at around 150 degrees, "...greatly reducing the driver's workload and eliminating the need for hand-over-hand operation at intersections, U-Turns, parking, winding roads and other driving situations." In other words, the rate that the wheel can turn is so quick that it eliminates the need for frequent full twirling of the wheel -- rather like an F1 car. In addition, the by-wire nature of the system will allow Lexus engineers to further isolate the driver from feeling road shocks "by blocking out unnecessary vibrations from the tires and brakes." The system also features Lane Tracing Assist, which keeps the vehicle in the center of the lane by reading road markings and traffic ahead. It remains to be seen how intuitive this by-wire setup feels to drive, or if it provides worthwhile benefits to drivers of a street car. A Lexus official confirmed to Roadshow that the by-wire steering setup with the yoke will be optional.
Interestingly, Lexus has not divulged any details about a mechanical steering backup in the event of a system failure. Rival brand Infiniti's by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering, which has been on the market for over five years now, contains a small clutch in the steering column to create a backup mechanical linkage in an emergency situation. Infiniti's DAS has been problematic and poorly received, with numerous recalls, updates and complaints. We have asked Lexus PR representatives for more information on how the RZ's system works and will update the article when we learn more.
Cabin tech and advanced safety features
Lexus models are well regarded for their posh interiors, and the cabin of the 2023 RZ 450e will look to carry that tradition forward. The new model includes a massive 14-inch touchscreen running the Lexus Interface infotainment system that recently debuted on the company's NX and LX SUVs. The new hardware mercifully does without Lexus' much-maligned mouse-like multi controller. A panoramic roof is available with a Lexus-first dimming feature, and interestingly, the cabin will also be available with radiant heaters designed to warm occupants' knees in a manner that's more efficient to save battery life.
As you'd expect, the RZ features a full array of active safety features. Clustered under the Lexus Safety System Plus 3.0 banner, the model features adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert and automatic emergency braking. When optioned with the available driver monitor, the RZ can also be specified with Pre-Collision System, which keeps tabs on the driver's awareness and provides alerts to keep them focused on the task of driving. Should the vehicle detect that the driver is unresponsive to warnings and unable to continue driving, the vehicle can automatically come to a stop in its lane.
Pricing for the new 2023 Lexus RZ 450e has not yet been released. They'll likely be available closer to launch later this year when the model glides into showrooms to take on premium EVs such as the Tesla Model Y, Genesis GV60 and Polestar 2.