Lexus has always been something of an oddball in the electrified space. Since 2005 (starting with the RX 400h), the Japanese manufacturer has released a plethora of hybrid cars that have set the standard for electrified luxury that very few could touch. In many ways, it made perfect sense; They were beautifully made, reliable, economical, environmentally friendly(er) and didn’t rely on new electric charging infrastructure.
But when many luxury manufacturers started rolling fully electrified vehicles off their factory floors, Lexus sat patiently, sticking to its hybrid guns. It wasn’t until late 2021 when the first BEV dropped, the UX 300e, which many thought would open the fully electric floodgates. But alas, it was back to hybrid town.
Fast forward to May 2023, and we now have a new Lexus BEV gracing our shores, the ‘RZ’. So, has the time waiting in the wings led to a paradigm-shifting luxury SUV? Or is it a case of catch-up for the Japanese marque? Well, in order to answer these questions (and many more), I thought it would be best to fly down to Adelaide and test the new Lexus RZ on some of Australia’s best driving roads.
Table of Contents
Lexus RZ Design
At first sight, there’s no escaping the fact that there is a lot happening with the exterior design. With a departure from traditional grills and intakes, the hallmark Lexus ‘Spindle’ now manifests itself throughout the body. You still get a closed faux grille of sorts that matches the body colour, but the front end now prioritises aero efficiency and stature.
The sculpted lines then chisel their way throughout the bonnet and side profile, eventually tapering to a visually raised rear end. I wouldn’t say it’s a beautiful silhouette by traditional standards, but it certainly looks unique and progressive. The sloped rear roofline and subtle lip spoiler further add to the bold profile with a muscular rear end that looks staunch yet is proportionally challenging against the small rear window.
Continuing the Lexus rear lighting trend (and most modern manufacturers, for that matter), the RZ features a thin full-width LED light strip that spans the vehicle’s rear, accompanied by bold ‘LEXUS’ lettering instead of the usual logo. The tail lights incorporate the iconic L-shaped signatures that gracefully flick upwards at the edges, creating a visual sense of width when viewed from behind.
Inside the cabin, things look and feel beautifully Lexus. The RZ’s interior pivots around a stunning 14.0-inch high-resolution touchscreen display that integrates the latest cloud-based navigation, voice recognition, and wireless Apple CarPlay. The base model boasts a more than adequate 10-speaker Panasonic speaker system, but audiophiles might want to option for the 13-speaker Mark Levinson-equipped Sports Luxury package.
When it comes to upholstery, the RZ has nailed the brief on sustainable luxury. While the ‘NuLuxe’ branding seems a little naff, the end product is exquisite. Lexus compares the material with untreated leather, but the vegan textile looked and felt truly unique. The Sports Luxury variant utilises a (still vegan) Ultrasuede material made partly from biomaterials and recycled plastic, which exudes an almost Alcantara-like finish. Both options are meticulously stitched to strike a nice balance between opulence and pragmatism.
The standard colour schemes for the base model are dark grey (safe) or tan-coloured hazel (rogue). While the dark grey will probably dominate preferences, as the RZ has so much going on, the hazel leans into the vibrancy and surprisingly suits the character of the SUV more. Of course, if you opt for the Sports Luxury Ultrasuede, you’ll receive dirt-adverse light grey seat upholstery with white synthetic leather on the centre console, door armrests, and door upper.
The only strange feature, or lack thereof, was the omission of a glovebox. While it probably won’t be a dealbreaker, it might rub some Lexus traditionalists the wrong way.
With the expertise gained from 20 years of battery powertrain technology, the hardware onboard the RZ constitutes a combination of pragmatism and reliability. At its heart, the RZ houses a pair of robust ‘eAxle’ electric motors and an efficient lithium-ion battery pack below the floor. Lexus engineers have set an ambitious target of retaining 90 per cent battery capacity after 10 years, which is a reassuring statistic for customers on the fence about long-term BEV ownership.
When it comes to topping up the battery, the 71.4kWh lithium-ion unit can be charged a few ways; For Type 2 AC charging, an 11kW onboard charger is included (A Type 2 GPO cable is also provided). For fast charging, a CCS2-compliant DC charging system boasting 150kW charging capacity enables the RZ’s battery to reach 80 per cent capacity in just 30 minutes. According to the NEDC cycle, the battery range is good for 470km, but you’d be looking at numbers closer to 400km in many scenarios.
Once I’d familiarised myself with all the tech and info, it was time to push the RZ through the Adelaide Hills. The dual eAxles have an interesting arrangement that puts the more powerful electric motor at the front, implying a front-wheel-drive-feeling ride. But once I got moving, it felt far more neutral through the twisty roads.
The 230kW/435Nm powertrain claimed a respectable 0-100km/h time of 5.3 seconds, but the car’s ability to slingshot in overtaking manoeuvres really impressed me. The package still felt heavy under braking, but the chassis predominantly hid its weight well with so much of it tucked below the belt. Of course, much of the modern driving experience hinges on calibrating your setup, and the RZ is no exception. Normal mode strikes a balance between performance and energy consumption, while Eco mode conservatively adjusts powertrain and air conditioning parameters at the price of some fun.
Range mode seems practical for the numbers, but unless you plan on driving without the air conditioner, I suggest saving this drive mode until your range anxiety turns into a range attack. Not surprisingly, Sport mode offered up the best combination of steering feel, accelerator response, and braking regen, and although the RZ isn’t exactly a sports car by traditional measures, there’s enough punch to have a little fun.
At this price point, some might expect adaptive dampers (especially on the optional 20-inch wheels), but the stock setup does an amicable job of sorting most road surface indiscretions.
Lexus RZ Price and Variants
- Model Price (+ORC)
- RZ 450e Luxury $123,000
- RZ 450e Sports Luxury $135,000
- RZ 450e Sports Luxury with two-tone finish $139,200
The Lexus RZ is a tricky one to categorise. In a way, I was hoping that with all that time sitting on the bench, Lexus would have created a motoring version of Emi Martinez. But that isn’t the case. It has less range and is more expensive than a BMW iX3 or Tesla Model Y; it’s less attractive than both the current Polestar 2 and the upcoming Polestar 3; and freakishly, it’s not too far away in price from the base model Porsche Taycan.
But, it’s still a Lexus.
And what Lexus does so well is produce reliable luxury cars that march to the beat of their own drum. The RZ combines exceptional build quality, progressive design, painstaking craftsmanship, and meticulous engineering; all wrapped up in an opulent package you can trust. For loyal Lexus customers looking to buy their first BEV, the RZ will be a no-brainer. But for newcomers to the brand, many will wonder if there’s enough kit for their dollar.
DISCLAIMER: The author of this article, Justin Jackie, was invited as a guest of Lexus to drive the new RZ for the purposes of this review.