2023 Lexus RZ 450e Review - Does the new Lexus electric SUV cut it?

The Lexus RZ 450e is the first all-electric vehicle from Lexus. In this video, Autoblog Senior Editor James Riswick shows you notable exterior and interior design elements, talks about the in-car technology and hits the road in San Diego to describe what it’s like to drive and how the RZ ultimately falls short compared to other luxury EVs. Some brief details: the RZ 450e is mechanically related to the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, and is similarly sized. It has far more power from its two motors, though. Electric range is not particularly good, coming in at either 220 miles or 196 depending on wheel size. There are no performance or battery upgrades available.

Video Transcript

JAMES RISWICK: Welcome to sunny and warm San Diego, and the Lexus RX 450e, which is the Lexus answer to the Toyota BZ4X and the Subaru Solterra, which is the only one not named after a washing machine. Now, because this is on the same platform as the BZ4X and the Solterra, you can really see it in the dimensions. The same kind of silhouette is present, has the same wheelbase. It's a little longer, but that is kind of the result of the different styling up front.

And if you go outside this electric platform to the other Lexus SUVs, it's about the same length as the Lexus RX, roughly the same height as the Lexus NX. So it's just right there in terms of the compact to midsize SUV segment. Now, let's talk about some of the details up front here.

So just like the RX, the RZ has the new Lexus spindle body that has a body-colored panel up here instead of a grille. Doesn't need one because it's an electric car. But on other versions, such as this one we shot earlier, the grille, as well as the hood, is black, and it goes into the all-black roof.

Now, this car has the base 18-inch wheels, but the one we shot earlier has one of two available 20-inch wheel options. So let's talk about the rear. Like the BZ4x, this does have a more radically-raked back window, as well as a liftgate. That is for aerodynamic purposes. It also, as Lexus says, provides a, quote, "Coupe-like silhouette." And because it's coupe-like, it doesn't need a rear wiper because coupes don't have rear wipers, which does mean that if your water is just building up, it's just going to sit there for a bit.

Because of the aerodynamic properties of this car, the air will actually wipe it off for you to some extent. And part of the reason it does that is because these guys right here, vortex generators, which serve as a sort of rear spoiler. So it has the same sort of aerodynamic properties that you would get with a full spoiler. However, it does not have the detrimental effects in a crosswind. Spoilers, the wind can actually come up and create uplift at the back of the car in a crosswind. With these, that won't happen.

Let's talk about the trunk. At first glance, yep, it's a trunk, but there actually is quite a fair bit of underfloor storage here. A lot of EVs have this. This is no different. You don't have a spare tire though, so that that's not ideal, but definitely not unique. And then there's a nifty cargo cover here. The Lexus X has the same one. You fold it up, and you can put it inside. Nice and neat.

Let's talk about the frunk. It doesn't exist. There is no frunk. Now, some will complain about this, go ah, you didn't put a frunk in. You're bad. Well, yeah, but it comes down to packaging. So this has a very short front end. It's cab-forward design. That allows for more space inside and a smaller footprint overall, given the amount of interior space.

And also, the front motor control unit has to go somewhere, and it goes there. So before you get too bent out of shape about a lack of frunk, keep that in mind. Also, most trunks are not that useful. And do you really want to open your hood to put a small bag in? No. It's annoying. I have an EV. I've never once used the tiny frunk that it has.

All right, so moving our way forward. I am in the back seat. And although it doesn't look it, I've set this seat all the way back because I'm tall. And really good headroom, actually. Given the rake of the back, really great headroom in this. And you'll see here that this does have a panoramic sunroof that's available.

Now, there's basically two versions available. This one is just the glass and will always be glass, and the only way to shade it is to literally have auxiliary shades that you have to physically pop out and then remove, and then there is an electrostatic version that automatically dims it, not unlike the windows on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

ok so now we're up front, and this is really where you can see the biggest difference between the RZ and its Toyota Subaru platform mates. There's just a much higher quality of material in here. It is more interesting design, and it is totally different than those other cars, which are together, just identical to each other.

So not only is it a different look, you do get unique styling. And by that, I mean unique color scheme. So this would be the thunder storm and macadamia interior, a.k.a. Blue and cream. This would be the new Lux, also known as pleather material. It actually feels quite authentic. I think most of your friends and neighbors would think it's leather.

Now, you can get an ultra suede that covers everything that is in this vehicle that we shot earlier. That definitely does have a richer and distinctive ambience to it than this interior. And you'll notice that there is no wood, in addition to leather. Lexus wants to do something a little differently in terms of the materials. Instead of looking a little more rearward and traditional, it's trying to move the ball forward, both for its brand and design in general.

Now, this car, let's talk about technology. You do have your wireless charger. You do have three usb-c ports. And then up here, you do have the mega 14-inch touch screen, which serves as your controls for the climate system, minus these dials for temperature.

And then this is the infotainment system that you will find in every newer Lexus, as well as every newer Toyota. I personally don't really like this system. I find there's way too much that this is required to control, even drive modes. Lexus used to have a nice little drive mode selector here. Now, you have to dive in here. It's annoying. Maybe you'll like it. I personally am not a fan.

There's also the all-digital instrument panel. Now, as you can see here, it looks like it's this big, but in fact it's really only this big. This is just a blackout space. So this is like watching an old square ratio television show on a widescreen television. It's going to be hard for you to see, but it does have the head-up display that is controlled with these unmarked buttons. You press things, and different things pop up on the screen. Again, it's kind of needlessly complicated and confusing.

Let's talk about the shifter. Unlike the Lexus RX and NX, which adopted kind of the old Prius style shifter, this is a totally different thing. You have to push down and right for drive, and push down and left for reverse. It has this-- it does have this nice knurled finish on it, and you press for park.

Interior storage, it does have this underfloor storage areas. This is very standard fare for EVs of all kinds. This box opens like this. Woo. And then the glove box. It doesn't exist. And part of the reason it doesn't exist is because this car is available with radiant heating. So there's a heater behind the dashboard that gets hot very quickly, and will heat up the car quicker without relying on the standard HVAC system. Now, besides heating up quicker, that means it doesn't take as much power from the battery, which is important for reasons I'm about to tell you as we get underway.


The other big difference is power. This has a lot more of it. 308 horsepower versus 214 for the all-wheel drive easy 4X. That is a difference that you can absolutely feel. This does feel a little more performance-oriented, rather than just sufficient. The trouble is this has the same battery pack as the front-wheel drive, the easy 4X. 71.4 kilowatt hours. That means it has 220 miles of range with this car's 18-inch wheels, or 196 miles with the 20-inch wheels. That just is not very good.

And a big problem with the BZ4X is its various versions don't have very good range, and this kind of doubles down on that. The other thing is so this car has regenerative braking, different levels of it, just like a lot of EVs. I lift off the throttle, and it will slow down by itself, but it is not true one-pedal driving.

If I come up to a stop and I get to about 10 miles per hour, it'll call it a day and I have to take over. That is different than the true one-pedal driving that various EVs offer, and it is a great feature in traffic. Now, if you are used to driving, say an existing hybrid car, and you don't have regenerative braking, and you're wondering, what's the big deal, what's he's talking about, then it really won't matter to you.

However, if you've driven an EV, BMW I4, various Teslas, the Hyundai Kia Genesis triplets, you will, perhaps, appreciate how great of a feature that is in stop-and-go traffic. You can just let off the throttle, and the car will come to a stop for you. This car doesn't have it, and it's kind of annoying.

So the other big difference with this car is the availability of Lexus steer-by-wire, which gives you this kind of funky Batmobile yoke thing. And besides this unusual way of steering the vehicle, behind it is an unusual way to steer a vehicle. It is the steer-by-wire system, which changes the ratio of the steering to mean that you don't have to steer it as much.

That whole thing, right, what I just did there was almost full lock. So this changes the ratio of the steering so you don't have to steer it as much at lower speeds. That means that you don't need a full wheel, in theory, to operate. Now, I have not driven it that much, so I can't give you a full report, but that is why it has-- and you'll still have to program your brain to drive differently because of it. You can't do that. You have to just-- that's full lock right there on this car.

So it is weird. I'm not sure how many people will like it. I'm not sure how many people will check that option box, but it is at least available. The other thing is the turn signals are mounted to the wheel, the yoke, instead of the column, which means that they can also not be where you expect them to be at any given time. So while there are benefits to this, it also does require your brain to be reprogrammed, and people just love doing that.

This is full lock right here on the wheel, and I'm on a roundabout. So this is full lock. This is as much steering input as you can do, and I'm doing a very tight U-turn-like roundabout right there with the wheel. That is the biggest difference. Yes, this is a weird yoke thing, but the steer-by-wire, that would be the main difference. Less steering input at lower speeds.


So this isn't just a Lexus badged BZ4X, and if you are looking at this after coming from a Lexus RX, NX, and various Toyota hybrids, I really don't think you're going to be disappointed. It will deliver the Lexus EV experience you assumed that you wanted.

However, if you do go outside the Toyota Lexus family and look at its various EV competitors, you are likely to see that most of them have superior specs in terms of range and charging capabilities and even power. So how competitive this and appealing to this car is very much depends on what you're comparing it to.