Electric vehicles (EVs) are making inroads for being a little more than just an intriguing part of American life as they inch closer to accounting for nearly as much as 10% of the current automotive market share. While most new EVs have a luxury price tag, there’s no surprise that Lexus has finally gotten into the EV game with the all-new Lexus RZ 450e compact EV crossover.
The new Lexus RZ 450e takes a simplistic approach to EVs with a compact crossover that shares a platform with the new Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra. Such a platform takes the Lexus turn to give the RZ 450e a unique appearance that does away with a traditional grille up front for a solid panel that somewhat mimics the newer spindle-styled grille of Lexus. The proportions of the RZ 450e are inviting and make smart use of its interior spacing as it fits between the new Lexus NX and the larger RX. Actually, the RZ 450e reminds me of the NX as far as its overall appeal and dynamics, which is a good thing. In all, the Lexus RZ 450e does mostly everything good except one thing, it lacks EV range, which ultimately keeps the RZ from being a stellar option in the brave new EV world.
Upon first jumping in and driving the Lexus RZ 450e, I was pleased with how it felt like any other traditional gas vehicle, even though it is fully electric with a dual-motor setup for all-wheel-drive. The two-motor powertrain produces 308 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. The power feels substantial and consistent until the battery starts to get below what I figure is around 40% or so, because there’s no battery state of charge percentage readout, only a mile range estimate and a battery meter in the digital gauge cluster.
When you have a good enough charge, the Lexus RZ will make a dash to 60 mph in about 4.8 seconds, which is quicker than I thought and slightly better than the manufacturer’s estimate. Overall, the RZ is a good performer that sometimes feels light on its feet despite about a 4,600-pound curb weight. The suspension is nicely tuned with fixed-rate dampers that have an initially soft feeling and seem to absorb road imperfections quite well. Mostly everything about how the RZ drives is on par with what you expect without any unwanted surprises. What does continue to surprise you is how the RZ feels like it has more power than what is stated on paper but doesn’t exactly give you the full confidence of hitting twisty back roads with a sense of urgency.
The braking feel is good, with no noticeable transition from the regen braking and the use of the friction brakes. There is no true one-pedal drive mode, but the RZ does have several braking regen levels. The drive modes, Eco, Normal, Sport, and Range mode, all have subtle changes in throttle mapping and steering effort. Though, the Range mode will completely shut off the air conditioner if you have it running, adding slightly to the range estimate – as I thought it might put the climate system into an Eco mode, which I suppose that’s what the Eco drive mode is for. The difference in the drive modes also enables a very soft sound that seems to emulate the motors ramping up as you drive. In Sport mode, the sound increases only slightly, and you must turn the stereo all the way down to even hear that. Otherwise, you’re left with an exceptionally quiet cabin.
Where the Lexus RZ 450e seems to falter is its overall range, where it is estimated to get 220 miles of range on a full charge for my RZ test vehicle equipped with the smaller 18-inch wheels (196-mile range estimate if you opt for the 20-inch wheels). However, I never saw such a figure and in driving the RZ down to what I figure is about a 20 to 15% state of charge, my estimated range if I kept driving to nearly zero percent would have been 211 miles total. Moreover, the range estimate display would always greatly vary with figures as low as 147 miles to empty after a full charge to as much as 171 miles. There was a lot of confusion in how the vehicle calculated your range estimate, hardly ever giving a good representation of the actual range left staying, on the conservative side, even if it was basing it off my recent driving style, which was mostly moderate.
Charging up the Lexus RZ 450e’s 71.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack on a DC fast charger from zero percent up to 80% takes 30 minutes, where it reaches a peak of 150 kW. Using a Level 2 charger at about 40 amps, you’ll expect to get a full charge from a nearly depleted battery in just over 9 hours.
One benefit of the Lexus RZ to help mitigate the low range expectation is that it uses its power rather efficiently, getting an average of 3.2 miles per kWh, matching its 107 MPGe EPA estimate.
Just like any new Lexus, the RZ 450e has excellent fit and finish throughout, fitting the proper luxury theme that you would expect. There’s a good use of space in being a compact crossover where the heated and ventilated front seats have ample adjustment allowing for someone as tall as me at 6 foot 3 inches to find a good driving position with room to spare. The rear seats are somewhat short on room but prove to be just enough for three, but I would not want three adults to sit back there for hours. Cargo space is generous for the class of vehicle with 34.9 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks in place.
In the area of tech, you get a familiar layout with the latest 14-inch infotainment touchscreen that’s proven to be simplistic in use and integrates well with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The wireless phone charging pad works well with my iPhone, but at its flat angle, don’t be surprised if your phone goes flying upon moderate to heavy acceleration. There is no dedicated home button on the system so when you do integrate your phone, you will have to find the Lexus app icon to return to the primary vehicle infotainment functions.
The use of a digital rearview mirror and a 360-degree camera system that records and overlays what is under the vehicle are all nice additions as well in the area of tech, in addition to the 10-inch color head-up display that actively displays functions where your fingers are touching for the steering wheel buttons before depressing them.
Where I was let down by the tech is the driver’s digital gauge cluster, that appears somewhat cheap with a hazy-looking LCD screen and the lack of a battery percentage state of charge indicator. Also, for the love of all that’s good in the world, I wish manufacturers would settle on sticking to one type of gear shifter, as the Lexus RZ has something completely different from the rest of the Lexus lineup. It’s not a bad shifter, it’s just yet another ‘different’ type that those familiar with other Lexus vehicles will have to figure out. I suppose once you own the RZ, you’ll be completely fine with the unique shifter. So, there’s that.
In the area of safety, the Lexus RZ 450e keeps with the tradition of offering up a full array of all the expected active safety features, which include the highlights of adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning/emergency braking, lane centering/lane tracing, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, front cross-traffic warning, semi-automated parking system, traffic sign reading, safe exit assist, and a nifty surround-view 360-degree camera system.
Lexus somewhat prides itself on their very first EV with its high pricing but keeps it on par with some competitors. Pricing starts at $59,650, while my test vehicle comes to $62,175 as equipped. The base price is about $1,000 more than something like the Genesis GV60 for the base price level but substantially more than other down-market EVs that get a lot more range with comparable or better performance numbers. It comes down to a question if the overall packaging, Lexus quality, and respected driving characteristics of the RZ 450e are worth the admission with such a low EV range.