The RZ isn't the first all electric Lexus, but it's the first one that really matters, new from the ground up. As you might expect, it's packed with borrowed Toyota technology, embellished with the usual Lexus sheen and a new-found spirit of driver involvement. An interesting confection.
No other premium luxury brand has more experience in electrification than Lexus. Which made it all the more surprising that it took until 2020 for the brand to launch its first EV (the compact UX 300e) and a further two years for the marque to introduce one with a dedicated EV platform, this car, the Lexus RZ.
We were pretty underwhelmed by the UX 300e with its feeble operating range, but this RZ looks far more promising. As it should be, given the huge investment poured into the e-TNGA architecture it sits on, a chassis we've already seen with the Toyota bZ4X and the Subaru Solterra. The similarly-sized RZ - its specific badge is 'RZ 450e' - is a more driver-orientated, luxurious thing, though it has the same 71.4kWh battery. Unlike its design siblings, it only comes with 4WD, a twin motor 'Direct 4' set-up. And there's a clever steer-by-wire system too. This is all more the kind of thing you'd expect from a brand with a heritage in electrification.
Lexus doesn't really have much of a heritage in pin-sharp driving dynamics, but of late has been prioritising handling much more as part of what it calls the 'Lexus Driving Signature'. We've already seen that approach in latest versions of the NX and RX and it continues here as part of what the company calls a 'seamless E-motion' concept. This was pretty important to achieve if the RZ was not to be seen as merely a plushed-up version of the Toyota bZ4X model with which it shares most of its engineering.
That car's 4WD system - called 'Direct 4' here - gives you a pair of compact electric motors, one at the front with 201bhp, the other at the rear with 107bhp, together giving the RZ 450e a combined output of 308bhp. 62mph is just 5.6s away (faster than this model's Audi Q4 etron 50 quattro arch-rival) but as with most EVs, top speed is governed back, here to 99mph, in order to preserve the 71.4kWh battery's range figure, quoted at just over 250 miles.
Unlike with the bZ4X, no front-driven single motor version is being offered because Lexus thinks the 'Direct 4' set-up is integral to the RZ driving experience. Torque vectoring between the axles allows 100% of power to be sent to front or rear at any given time, the distribution governed by sensors monitoring speed, steering angle and G-Forces.
Equally clever is the steer-by-wire system you can ask your dealer about which eliminates the usual mechanical linkage between the driver and the front wheels and can be optionally specified to work with an unusual butterfly-shaped yoke-style steering wheel.
Design and Build
Lexus clearly thinks all electric design should be different; it is here. Gone is the brand's usual trademark spindle grille, in favour of a design language christened 'Spindle Body', which highlights the lower bonnet and delivers more muscular looking front wings as part of a flush front end supposed to express 'powerful character and seamless acceleration'. Size-wise, the RZ sits somewhere between an NX and an RX, though thanks to the long wheelbase of this full-electric design, if you were to take a seat in the rear, you'd swear that it was a bigger car than either. It's not just legroom that's impressive either. Headroom at the back is improved by the way that the peak point of the roof has been moved rearwards.
Up-front, where Lexus continues to introduce its 'Tazuna' ('reins of a horse') approach to driver ergonomics, the minimalist cabin treatment shares much with the second generation NX model. There's a 14.0-inch central infotainment screen, a head-up display and an instrument binnacle designed to maximise forward vision. As is currently the trend, most functions are controlled by a touch interface rather than by physical buttons and there's a rotary drive selector instead of a conventional gear shifter. Boot space is competitive but no more than that.
Market and Model
You'll need just under £62,000 for an RZ 450e, which from launch was being offered only in 'Direct 4' 4WD form. You'd expect a cutting edge level of infotainment and media connectivity for that and to meet that need, Lexus has slotted in the same system as you find in the second generation NX, with its clever "Hey Lexus" 'personal assistant' voice control system. The set-up works via a wide 14.0-inch central screen and, of course, incorporates 'Android Auto' and 'Apple CarPlay' smartphone-mirroring.
Nice optional touches include a dimmable panoramic roof which reflects infrared radiation to better insulate the interior against the outside temperature and can be switched to opaque at the touch of a switch. One in four customers are expected to opt for the unusual butterfly-shaped 'One Motion Grip' steering wheel which will be available from 2023. And we particularly like the knee height heaters ahead of the front seats which provide front seat occupants with what Lexus describes as 'the feeling of a warm blanket around the legs'.
Cost of Ownership
We gave you the expected driving range in our 'Driving Experience' section - around 250 miles. An 80% charge of the 71.4kWh battery takes around 30 minutes, if you can find a suitably rapid charger. An optional 11kW AC charger in future will help with overnight charges for those with a compatible wall box.
The brand says that the battery will hold 90% of its range for the first ten years of its life, aided by water cooling for the cells, with active thermal management of the battery further aiding durability and range. That range is optimised courtesy of an on-board solar charging system that aims to minimise the effect of cold weather on usability.
By using the provided LexusLink app, RZ users can not only check battery charge and driving range but set charging schedules according to when the vehicle is next expected to be driven or to when energy prices are low, The app also allows the owner to remotely control the climate of the car.
Lexus sees itself as a 'design innovator' and it was certainly that when two decades ago, its luxury saloons introduced wealthy executives to the concept of Hybrid power. That advance owed almost everything to borrowed Toyota technology, as does the engineering behind this RZ model. There's nothing here we haven't seen before, but the combination of elements like the steer-by-wire system and the 'Direct 4' traction set-up really do feel cutting-edge.
You couldn't say the same about the 250 mile driving range figure or the 400V electrical architecture, but Lexus and Toyota engineers are no doubt working feverishly in both these areas to improve things. In summary, the Lexus brand is certainly moving forward - this is one of twenty new or revised models it will introduce by 2025. Few of them though, will be more important than this one.