The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e is a lightning rod of change for the brand
Table of Contents
6 Intriguing Features
Pricing and Warranties
Incentives and Rebates
RZ Buyer Demographics
Driving the RZ
Reinventing the Wheel
Why Buy the Lexus RZ 450e?
Lexus flipped the switch for its electric-vehicle future with the 2023 RZ 450e midsize SUV. The RZ is the brand’s first purpose-built battery-electric vehicle that will be available throughout the U.S. and globally.
Built on the e-TNGA platform shared with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, the RZ will go on sale this spring. Sizewise, the RZ is technically a small SUV, but it splits the segment between a super-compact and midsize.
Sold in two all-wheel-drive trim levels with two wheel sizes, RZ 450e starting prices range from about $61,000 to $66,000. Because the RZ and BZ-Solterra are built in Japan at the Motomachi Plant (in Toyota City), none qualifies for the federal tax incentive of $7,500. State and local incentives, however, might be available (details below).
Both models have a 71.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack for total system horsepower of 308. RZ’s DIRECT4 all-wheel-drive system has two eAxle motors, a 150 kW front motor and an 80 kW rear.
Entry models with 18-inch wheels have an EPA-estimated electric driving range of up to 220 miles and an MPGe rating of 115/98/107 city/highway/combined. Models with 20-inch wheels have an EPA-estimated range of up to 196 miles or an MPGe of 102/87/95.
“RZ” stands for “Radiant Zero,” such as for “shining” and Zero Emissions. Similarly, Toyota uses BZ for Beyond Zero to brand its battery-electric vehicles.
In a full year of RZ 450e sales, Lexus says it hopes to sell 4,900 units. In the U.S., there are around 240 Lexus dealerships.
6 Intriguing RZ Features
Steering By Wire
The optional steer-by-wire system eliminates the mechanical steering column to the front axle and, with it, the transfer of vibration. Instead, electrical signals communicate steering inputs for much quicker steering response. And instead of a steering “wheel,” Lexus uses a steering yoke. A yoke will help train drivers to use smaller steering inputs rather than hand-over-hand movements to rotate a wheel. The system’s steering ratio constantly adjusts to the speed of the vehicle. Steering by wire provides more “agility in slow-speed situations and impressive stability at higher speeds,” Lexus says.
The steer-by-wire system also has a different gauge cluster that sits higher (1.5 inches) and farther away (1.4 inches) from the driver. The change in positioning is to minimize the driver’s line-of-sight movement.
Dealerships will provide initial testing to familiarize owners before sending them down the road. And it will take time for new users to adapt, but not just to the quicker steering response.
It was an odd initial experience in my testing of the yoke system. That was primarily due to my muscle memory of rotating a wheel. The yoke requires the driver’s hands to be in a 9-and-3 position. There will be fewer positions to rest hands on longer trips.
The system, however, is still being refined and is expected to be available in the U.S. at a future date. Pricing has not been set.
Electrochromic Dynamic Sky panoramic roof
All models of RZ have a panoramic glass roof, but the Luxury model has the option ($550) of an electrochromic function. The so-called smart glass transitions from opaque to clear at the touch of a button at the top of the windshield header. The goal is to eliminate the need for a sunshade.
It takes less energy to heat occupants than to heat the entire cabin, so Lexus added radiant heating for the front seat, standard in the Luxury model. The heaters at the base of the dashboard warm legs and feet and are in addition to seat heaters (and ventilation).
Radiant heat might have more value to buyers in colder regions. The radiant heater on the passenger side replaces the glove box, removing any interior locking storage.
With the loss of the glove box, materials that typically are kept in the glove box, such as owner’s manuals, can be stored in the under area of the shift console peninsula. But even this space required an adjustment. To help keep items from slipping off the shelf and into the driver’s foot space, the console has about a 2-inch taller lip on the driver’s side versus an inch lip on the passenger side.
Part of Lexus’ plan to redefine luxury is using shadow illumination. The upper front door panels are embedded with a span of light that creates a decorative pattern. Trouble is, the pattern is only visible at night. During the day, the door panels are rather bland looking. In the Luxury model, users have a choice of 50 ambient interior colors and 14 themes.
At the roof’s end at the back glass, the so-called vortex generators channel airflow down the glass, eliminating the need for a rear wiper arm. In theory, the downward flow of air could be effective at highway speeds. But in town, those vortex generators will do nothing to clear away rain, heavy morning dew, or frost.
The RZ will be recognizable at night by the optional lighted front Lexus logo, $200. The logo also illuminates when charging.
Lexus RZ Pricing and Warranties
Starting prices listed below include the $1,150 freight charge from Motomachi Plant in Toyota City, Japan.
Premium with 18-inch wheels: $60,800;
Premium with 20-inch wheels: $62,040;
Check here for current pricing and incentives.
Competing EVs to the RZ 450e include the Audi etron, Genesis GV60, Jaguar iPace, Polestar 2, Tesla Model Y, and Volvo XC40 Recharge.
The RZ has a selection of five paint colors, including the new Ether blue. Four of the hues are $500 each, and only Caviar (black) is a no-cost choice. There also are two two-tone choices of Ether and Black Onyx or Cloudburst Gray and Black Onyx, $1,200 each.
And there are three interior color options: Thunderstorm and Macadamia, Palomino, and Dapple Gray.
Lexus RZ Warranties
- 10-years/150,000-miles high-voltage battery;
- 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper;
- 6-years/70,000-miles powertrain;
- 2 free scheduled maintenance service appointments at 6-months/5,000-miles (whichever is earlier) and 12-months/10,000-miles;
- Roadside assistance: 4-years/unlimited mileage
RZ Incentives and Rebates
The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e does not qualify for the Federal Electric Vehicle Tax Credit because it is built in Japan, not the United States. And because Lexus and Toyota have exceeded the government’s 200,000-unit limit. However, the RZ does qualify for some state and regional perks. The California Clean Fuel Reward amount has been temporarily reduced to $0 from $750.
As of this posting, information for the California Clean Vehicle Rebate for the Lexus RZ 450e was unavailable. When active, the rebate was $2,000. Participants are eligible based on gross annual income, as stated on their federal tax return.
Toyota created this incentive finder for federal, state, and municipality incentives.
The RZ 450e also qualifies for California (and other states) High-Occupancy-Vehicle freeway access, with the green DMV decal
This new Lexus Reserve program aims to reduce “range anxiety” for drivers who don’t want to plan a driving trip around stops at charging stations. RZ 450e owners and lessees can rent another Lexus vehicle from their dealer for free. The program provides 30 days of a rental that can be used for three years from the date of purchase or lease. RZ 450e owners also will have access to a concierge guest experience to answer BEV questions.
Lexus RZ Buyer Demographics
Lexus expects the target customer for the RZ 450e will be:
- Highly educated professionals and city and suburban residents;
- Higher than average household income of $175,000-plus;
- Older millennials and couples or families, with an even split of male and female buyers.
- Lexus loyalists moving up from the comparably sized RX SUV or compact NX, and Toyota-brand move-ups.
- First-time EV buyers who waited to make an intentional, refined choice.
Redefining Lexus Luxury
Lightweight materials are essential when building an EV. The lighter the curb weight, the farther the battery range. But the traditional materials that define a luxury car are heavy — leather upholstery, wood or metallic trim, and extensive power-operated features.
Instead, Lexus presents new interior design and materials, with special lighting effects to create a luxurious impression.
NuLuxe synthetic leather (half the weight of leather) is the standard upholstery in Premium models. And manufactured Ultrasuede fabric is standard for the Luxury. Luxury models also have access to an optional Tsuyasumi film, which has a shiny charcoal effect on the center console.
The minimalist interior treatment, however, might not appeal to the traditional buyer accustomed to Lexus’ pampering features.
More standard features are highlighted in the specs box at the end of this story.
There are five USB charging ports in the RZ cabin. Three USB Type-C ports with a wireless charger are on the lower instrument panel. Back-seat passengers have two Type-C USB ports at the base of the center console.
A standard 14-inch touchscreen has high-definition clarity for infotainment, navigation display, and the panoramic view monitor. The Luxury adds a 10-inch-wide head-up windshield display.
Tall headroom of 39.8 inches with the pano roof is spacious enough for 6-foot-6 occupants. Legroom is a comfortable stretch at 42.1 inches.
Driver controls are traditional with intuitive function and reach. And sightlines are open at the side windows and across the hood. Rearward views are slim out the back glass, but the panoramic view camera system is a great enabler in tight parking situations.
There is a standard 10-speaker sound system or an optional 13-speaker Mark Levinson Surround Sound system.
Back seat space is reasonably accommodating, but legroom of 38 inches is not limo-like, depending on who is sitting ahead.
The fast slope of the roof crops some cargo space, but Lexus says there is width for a golf bag at the tailgate entry. Or fold the second row for up flat space of 48 cubic feet.
Driving the RZ
At the recent media launch in San Diego, journalists could drive both trim levels of RZ in 18- and 20-inch wheels. The RZs were preproduction models but appeared production ready. Still, it is the procedure for preproduction media vehicles to be well-prepped for the perception of full function. The production version, however, might have differences. The following observations came after driving various short routes in the area.
The first thing prospective buyers will notice about the RZ 450e is its styling. Lexus embraced its “spindle” grille treatment but as a complete spindle body design. The RZ exterior is a movement of angles, arcs, and aerodynamic twists and turns.
Noise Calmed Cabin
Once buckled in place, the second aspect of the RZ will be the cabin’s quietness. Lexus is proud of its ability to filter out unpleasant noise and harshness. In my experience, this cabin might be the quietest of any in the high-luxury segment. The quiet is so penetrating that it is relaxing.
While the Premium model is luxuriously calmed, the Luxury model adds acoustic front and rear side window glass for the vault feel.
Another quieting aid is the tires. For the stable ride quality Lexus wanted, the RZ has staggered-width tires, wider at the rear. The Luxury model preserves its hushed cabin with ultra-high performance Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 060 20-inch tires 235/50. These are soft and grippy tires. But know that the treadwear rating (UTQG) for these ultra-performance Dunlops is a low 280. That number translates to a tread lifespan of around 25,000 miles or so. And plan on purchasing snow tires for driving in winter weather.
The Premium model is fitted with 18-inch Bridgestone Turanza EL450 (235/60) all-season touring tires. The Turanza EL450 has a more durable treadwear rating of 400. For a UTQG (Uniform Tire Quality Grading) comparison, a midsize all-season touring tire for a crossover SUV will have ratings as high as 700 to 800.
Parking is uncomplicated with a turning circle of 36.8 feet or a little more with 20-inch tires. And there is the Advanced Park system as part of the $1,475 Technology package. Use Advanced Park to find and automatically park horizontally or nose-in. The package includes the Digital Key app and the 10-inch head-up display.
RZ Safety Technologies
Under its skin, the RZ 450e has an advanced neural network of safety and driver-assist technologies. Lexus’ driver-assist systems are among the most steady and predictable for lane-centering and vehicle control, without frightening alerts to potential intrusions from other vehicles.
Leading the lineup of tech is the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0. Among its assist features are:
PCS — Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection.
DRCC — All-speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control: In highway driving, the adaptive cruise system uses radar and camera technology to help keep the vehicle at a preset speed and distance from vehicles ahead, even in stop-and-go traffic.
CSM — Curve Speed Management, within DRCC. A new feature to help manage speed in curves when cruise control is engaged.
LTA — Lane Tracing Assist. Lines on the road or a preceding vehicles give active assistance to keep the vehicle centered in its lane;
LDA w/SA — Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist;
PDA — Proactive Driving Assist: Initiates gradual braking into curves or braking and steering to maintain distance control between the vehicle and a preceding vehicle, pedestrian, or bicyclist;
Risk Avoidance Emergency Steer Assist: Objects in the lane can be avoided by gentle braking and steering under certain daytime conditions;
Left Turn Oncoming Vehicle Detection/Braking.
Lexus RZ Powertrain
The Lexus RZ 450e has a total system power of 308 hp, generated by two dual permanent-magnet synchronous motors. The dual-motor setup has a 150 kW motor at the front and an 80 kW rear. Transferring power is a single-speed e-Axle.
Either model, Lexus says, can launch to 60 mph in 5 seconds.
A “skateboard” style battery pack is positioned under the floor, extending from about the engine-bay firewall to just ahead of the back seat. The 96 cells of lithium-ion batteries generate 355 volts for total battery power of 71.4 kWh; the battery capacity is 201 Ah (ampere-hours).
Lexus uses water-cooling and water-heating systems to protect the battery pack from temperature swings.
RZ acceleration can be brisk and forceful, depending on how hard the accelerator is used. RZ performance can be manipulated by four drive modes of Normal, Sport, Eco, and Range. Range mode switches off the air-conditioning system and applies a more rear-wheel-drive bias.
I’m always conservative when driving an EV, but Sport is a go-to in heavy traffic to help guard my line.
There is no “e-pedal” driving, in which the vehicle can be slowed to a stop by lifting off the accelerator pedal. Instead, paddle shifters at the steering wheel can be used to vary the amount of regenerative braking force.
Lexus RZ Charging Times
Under ideal conditions, the RZ can fully recharge in about 9.5 hours with a Level 2 charger, and from 0-80 percent in approximately 30 minutes with a DC fast charger.
The RZ comes with a Level 1 vehicle-charging cable for 120-volt outlets. And all models are equipped with a Combined Charging System (CCS) socket for at-home and public charging.
For at-home charging, most Lexus dealers offer an option to purchase a ChargePoint Home Flex Level 2 charger ($749, not including installation) at the dealership or directly from ChargePoint. ChargePoint Home Flex is Energy Star certified and Wi-Fi connected. The charger can be installed indoors or outdoors and comes with a 23-foot charging cable. The home charger can add up to 25 miles of range per hour and fully recharge the battery when plugged in overnight.
For help in charger selection and installation, Lexus recommends Qmerit.
The installation service can help locate a certified electrician to install the EV charger and provide an initial free quote. Customers will be provided information on Qmerit during their purchase checkout process at participating dealers.
Heavy electric cars are not always dynamic to drive. While the RZ is not exactly sporty in its handling, sportiness was important in suspension engineering.
Lightweighting features and technologies in developing the RZ have made it among the lighter EVs in its size segment. The RZ weighs 200 to 300 pounds less than competitors such as the Volvo, Mustang Mach-e, or the VW ID.4. The RZ weighs a whopping 1,296 pounds less than the Cadillac Lyriq.
The RZ Premium model weighs 4,586 pounds with 20-inch wheels, and 4,619 pounds for the Luxury model. Hefting that weight smoothly is a challenge, especially with SUV height. But the suspension engineering creates a truly svelte ride quality. There is no objectionable bottoming-out jounce and rebound as the dampers adjust to catch and control the heave of weight.
RZ Suspension, Steering, Braking
The RZ suspension is not overly sophisticated. It is comprised of front MacPherson-type struts and a rear trailing arm multi-link configuration. Both assemblies are tuned and located for handling balance, roll posture, and ride comfort.
At the rear, Frequency Reactive Dampers alter the dampening force on the extension stroke in response to road surface frequency input. The FRD works to provide a high level of handling stability, Lexus says.
Also neatly dialed in with the suspension are the steering response and braking engagement. The drive-by-wire steering is constant in turns, but I could not discern any road feedback.
Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes have 12.9-inch front rotors and 12.5 inches rear. The regenerative braking has no on-off effect as the brake pedal is applied and pushes through to the engagement point. Drivers will value the smooth engagement when nosing their RZ into a parking space with a vehicle or wall ahead.
Reinventing the Wheel
The automotive industry is in the middle of a once-in-a-century transition from internal-combustion propulsion to electric. And Lexus, too, is in a pivotal moment of major transformation, said Greg Kitzens, Lexus marketing GM.
Lexus aims to sell fully electric vehicles worldwide by 2035, with the hope of selling 1 million EVs globally in 2030, Kitzens said at a recent media test drive. (According to industry reports, Toyota targets global sales of 3.5 million EVs in that time frame.)
Electrified vehicles are not new to Lexus. The brand launched its first gasoline-electric hybrid RX SUV in 2004 and today has seven hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles in its lineup.
Electrification of existing Lexus and Toyota vehicles was the faster route to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to help slow climate change. The world’s largest automaker is now being criticized for not launching more battery-electric models.
It was a simple business plan, with some consideration of the planet, Kitzens said on the sidelines of the RZ media drive.
“The battery resources to build one battery-electric vehicle could instead be used to build six plug-in electric Lexus vehicles or 90 gasoline-electric hybrids,” Kitzens said. He was citing research by Gil Pratt, Toyota Motors’ chief scientist and executive fellow for research.
Today, Toyota Motor is at work on a wholly re-engineered, next-generation platform dedicated to battery electric vehicles arriving in 2026. It is a “BEV-first mindset,” but with a balanced approach that will include plug-ins and hybrids.
With lithium as scarce as it is, automakers can reduce carbon emissions more quickly through a multipronged approach to electrification that includes hybrids rather than focusing exclusively on fully electric vehicles, said Pratt in an Automotive News report.
Why Buy the Lexus RZ 450e?
The RZ 450e doesn’t set any charging speeds, driving range, or powertrain efficiency benchmarks. But Toyota and Lexus focus on the real-world range for reliability and battery life.
Don’t get hung up on competitors’ claims of 300 or more miles of battery driving. With a home charger, it really doesn’t matter if your EV has a range of 200 or 350 miles. You’ll both meet at the public charging station on a long driving trip.
Either RZ model is favorably priced as a luxury electric SUV.
A nicely equipped Premium model will cost around $63,415. A nicely optioned Luxury model with such extras as two-tone paint ($1,200), the cold-weather package ($200) and another $200 for the illuminated Lexus grille logo, and the Dynamic Sky roof ($550) will run $67,300.
For the $3,885 pricing difference, I prefer the Luxury model for the complete Lexus luxury treatment.
2023 Lexus RZ 450e Specifications
Body style: midsize, 5-door, 5-seat electric SUV with standard AWD
Motors: dual permanent magnet synchronous, 150 kW front, 80 kW rear
Total system power: 308 hp
Transmission: e-Axle single speed
Battery: 355-volt lithium-ion with 71.4 kWh total battery power from 96 cells
EPA-estimated driving range: 220 miles with 18-inch tires; 196 miles with 20-inch tires
Fuel economy equivalents: 115/98/107 mpg-e city/hwy/combined with 18-inch tires; 102/87/95 mpg-e with 20-inch tires
Top speed: 99 mph
0-60 mph acceleration: 5 seconds
AC Charging Times
Level 1, 110-120 volts, from 0-100 percent, around 50 hours;
Level 2: 240-volt, 32 amp (7 kW), around 9.5 hours
DC Fast Charging Times
400-amp, 150 kW: 0 to 80 percent, around 30 minutes
Charger output: 6.6 kWh
BY THE NUMBERS
Cargo space: 24 to 48 cubic feet
Front head/leg room: 39.8/42.1 inches
Rear head/leg room: 39.7/38 inches
Length/wheelbase: 189.2/112.2 inches
Premium 18-inch wheels: 4,564 pounds
Premium 20-inch wheels: 4,586 pounds
Luxury: 4,619 pounds
Turning circle: 36.8 feet
Standard Luxury model equipment includes: Panorama glass roof, NuLuxe-trimmed seats and interior door trim, 14-inch touchscreen infotainment-navigation display, panoramic view monitor, 10-inch head-up windshield display, wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, wireless phone charging pad and 5 USB charging ports, single-color ambient lighting with Shadow Illumination, electric parking brake, heated and ventilated front seats, paddle shifters with regenerative braking force indicator, memory presets for driver’s seat-steering wheel-side mirrors, digital rearview mirror, power liftgate with kick sensor, 10 air bags;
- Premium model: 18-inch Bridgestone Turanza EL450 all-season touring, 235/60 front, 255/55 rear
- Luxury model: 20-inch Dunlop SP Sport Maxx ultra-high performance, 235/50 front, 255/45 rear
Safety features and technologies include: 10 air bags, Advanced Park and Intuitive Parking Assist with auto braking, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, Lexus Safety System+ 3.0
Where assembled: Motomachi Plant, Toyota City, Japan
- 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper;
- 6-years/70,000-miles powertrain;
- 2 free scheduled maintenance service visits at 6-months/5,000-miles and 12-months/10,000-miles;
- High-voltage battery warranty: 10-years/150,000-miles;
- Roadside assistance: 4-years/unlimited mileage