Electric vehicles are all over today’s news, and much of that news isn’t good. Whether it’s stories about certain EVs languishing on dealer lots or public charging nightmares, what remains clear is that no matter how good EVs are themselves, there is currently an infrastructure gap that needs to be closed before mass EV adoption can begin in earnest.
Unfortunately for vehicles like the all-new, electric-only 2023 Lexus RZ 450e, these outside influences are likely to overshadow an otherwise welcomed entry into the luxury crossover EV market. During my week with the RZ 450e Luxury AWD, I was treated to a vehicle that I would describe as a Lexus first, EV second. This was most evident in the ride and handling department. Where most EVs fall short is that the lack of engine clamor can often reveal unwanted wind, tire, and other noises that used to be drowned out by the internal combustion engine. Without those mini-explosions going off under the hood, any failure to muffle the wind or the road becomes glaringly apparent to the occupants. However, this was not an issue with the new RZ, as we found it to be very quiet and comfortable on the road, thanks in part to acoustic glass that separates a noisy outside from a serene inside.
It also didn’t hurt to be surrounded by a beautiful interior replete with soft, supple surfaces like blue “Ultrasuede” trim – made from “bio-based sustainable materials,” because you can’t make an EV without being sustainable, of course! Also included were soft heated seats, a heated steering-wheel, a 10-inch HUD, and a very large 14-inch touch screen. Wireless Car Play and Android Auto are standard, as is a wireless phone charger that actually works well.
Styling is another strong suit of the RZ 450e. While it continues the general small-to-mid sized Lexus SUV styling dynamic, the RZ sets itself apart with a solid “no airducts needed to cool the engine” front end, flowing crease lines on the side panels, and (my favorite) a pair of pointy nacelles at the top corners of the rear window and slight duckbill spoiler at the back. The aggressive rake of the rear window looks great, but also severely hampers vertical storage inside, which wasn’t too large to begin with at about 35 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 48 with them folded flat.
Power is adequately quick, but don’t expect to keep up with the fastest EVs on the market. The 71.4 kWh, 96-cell battery pack found in the AWD RZ is good for a 0-60 time of about 5 seconds flat, and it’s certainly enough power to comfortably move through traffic. You really wouldn’t want to deplete all that power lead-footing it in the RZ though, because the EPA estimated range is a paltry 196 miles on the Luxury’s 20-inch wheels. What’s worse, I found engaging the air conditioning immediately dropped that range estimate by a whopping 60 miles. A 136 mile range with today’s infrastructure is going to limit the RZ’s appeal to those who rarely venture too far from home and have a level-2 charger in their garage. Should you forgo the 20” wheels for the standard 18” size, range would increase to 220 miles – still on the low end of the market.
Range issues aside, like all brand-new vehicles, there are several areas ripe for future improvement. First up is the puzzling lack of full 1-pedal drive. Even at the strongest setting of regenerative braking, the car will not execute a full stop by letting off the accelerator (something almost all other EVs offer). Rather, letting go of the “gas” brings you down to 8mph, but no lower, requiring use of the brake pedal to stop. Adding to the regen frustration is having to reset the regen braking level with each start of the car, but at least you can do it with the paddles behind the wheel a ’la Hyundai/Genesis/Kia. Next on my naughty list are the overly intrusive safety nannies. The RZ keeps a literal eye on you (and your eyes) while you drive – look left or right for what seems like a half-second or more and a chime and message tell you to look straight ahead. Perhaps this can be deactivated, but really it just needs a longer timer. Lastly, there is no glove box where you’d expect to find one, but Lexus does include extra open storage under the center console.
Lexus has seemingly cornered the market on gas and hybrid-powered luxury mall-cruisers, led by its staple vehicle, the mid-size RX SUV. Now, Lexus seeks to take a bite out of Tesla’s huge share of the mall-cruising pure EV market by doing what Lexus does best – quiet luxury and rock-solid build quality. Only time will tell how well the RZ 450e Luxury will succeed in the ongoing EV wars, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy my time in this SUV, I just can’t stray too far from home.