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Lexus enters fast-filling premium electric SUV club with jazzed-up Toyota bZ4X

With so many cars spuriously purporting to be sporty or have racing genes, it’s refreshing when the presentation for a new one hardly even mentions sportiness. The RZ is Lexus’s flagship EV, and instead it ought to offer “confidence, control and comfort”, says Lexus. Mind you, it still has 309bhp and will out-accelerate quite a few hot hatches.

With the Lexus RZ 450e, Lexus is getting serious about EVs. It’s had the UX 300e for a while, but that has never been a heavy-hitter. This new car is a luxurious alternative to a Ford Mustang Mach-EPolestar 2Audi Q4 Etron or Nissan Ariya - albeit a surprisingly pricey one.

I got used to the steering-by-wire surprisingly quickly. The adjustment that took the longest was unlearning to move my hands around the wheel for sharp turns – there’s just no need.

The RZ new car shares its e-TNGA platform – which is bespoke to EVs – with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, as well as its fairly small battery. After its sibling brands were more coy on the subject, Lexus has now confirmed that the quoted 71.4kWh figure is the total capacity, of which 64kWh is usable.

Trouble is, 71.4kWh was already smaller than key rivals, and a 7.4kWh safety buffer is much more than the industry average. Lexus says that this ensures the battery should retain 90% of its capacity after 10 years. It’s a noble goal which we applaud – although whether people running cars on a four-year PCP deal will care is another question entirely.

Lexus RZ 450e

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The small battery is compensated by the low energy consumption of the two motors, claims Lexus. What’s more, under normal driving, the RZ mainly uses the smaller, less power-hungry 108bhp rear item. When you ask for full power, that naturally combines forces with the 201bhp front one, but the software sends power back and forth as it sees fit for the prevailing situation.

Indeed, the official consumption figure of 3.4-3.7mpkWh is Tesla-like, but the end result is still a pretty disappointing WLTP claimed range of 272 miles, which drops to 252 miles on the 20in wheels that the vast majority of UK-bound RZs will have. The car's rapid-charging rates are also unimpressive, 150kW being the bare minimum we would expect from a new premium EV. At least it goes through a standard CCS port, rather than a Chademo one, as on the UX.

Either way, neither range nor charging speed is a particular strength of the RZ 450e. In real-world driving, it advertises around 210 miles of usable range on a full charge, dropping to about 165 miles as soon as you turn on the air conditioning (just as both the Toyota bZ4x and Subaru Solterra will). And any usability quirk that encourages you to drive around on a warm day in a luxury car with a large glass roof, leaving the air conditioning switched off, can't be a good one.

So the RZ joins a very busy and competitive market segment on the back foot in one key respect: range. It redeems itself somewhat on the road, because that promise of confidence, control and comfort rings true. Despite not being offered with adaptive dampers, this is a very smooth and quiet-riding car that’s reassuring, satisfying and surprisingly plush-feeling, though not exciting, to drive.

You can genuinely feel the effects of what Lexus calls Direct4, a new system whereby power and braking force are rapidly shuffled between the front and rear axles to control and reduce the pitch and dive that normally accompanies acceleration and braking. It stops short of being transformative, but does introduce a pleasant calmness to the way the car drives.

Lexus RZ 450e

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Although the software can cleverly distribute torque, the front motor is more powerful than the rear one, so the RZ feels at best neutral when cornering under power. That’s fine, though: it’s not trying to be sporty, remember. And even so, the RZ musters adequate grip, while its standard steering is well weighted.

On UK roads, it rides quietly and in fairly supple fashion, with a tautness to its body control and a pleasing heft to its steering that speaks of plenty of dynamic fine-tuning. It's a car sufficiently well differentiated from its Toyota and Subaru production-line-mates in how it drives to feel worth a premium, at least in how it drives.

We also tried Lexus’s One Motion Grip steer-by-wire system on the European press launch. This system isn't due on UK sale until late 2024, and the engineers said they were still tweaking some aspects, particularly the behaviour at low speeds; but even in its current form it worked impressively well and added some sense of occasion.

Having just 150deg of movement between locks ensures you never have to take your hands off the steering ‘wheel’, which is why the yoke shape works.

Weirdly, it seems to impart ever so slightly more information about grip levels than the conventional steering. The widely variable ratio robs you of the last 5% of precision, which would be a problem on a sports car but isn’t on a comfy SUV.

Lexus RZ 450e

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The yoke will actually benefit Toyota’s bZ4X even more, since its driving position seems completely set up for it, with that Peugeot-style high-set gauge cluster. The RZ is more conventional in that respect, with clear digital gauges and a relatively low driving position for an electric SUV.

Its materials are a cut above the bZ4X’s too, thankfully, although they are very spec-dependent. Higher trims bring the soft leather and interesting technical materials to rival the GV60, but lower ones introduce some coarser leather and cheaper plastics.

Every time I looked at the RZ’s spec sheet for this review, I was surprised at the outside dimensions. At 4805mm in length, it’s a fair bit longer than the bZ4X, Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Skoda Enyaq, yet I’m struggling to figure out where that extra length has gone, because the RZ doesn’t feel any more spacious inside than those cars. Sure, adults won’t be short on rear legroom and the 522-litre boot is decent, but that’s equally true of those smaller cars.

Lexus RZ 450e

Where the RZ is decidedly behind the pace is the rather basic infotainment. Especially since a lot of drivers will simply default to phone mirroring for navigation and media, the car’s settings are needlessly hard to reach. And given there are quite a few irritating bongs to turn off, you’re confronted with that on every drive.

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The RZ heralds some interesting new technology and is all the better for it on the road. At £62,600 basic, or £66,600 for the version that you actually want, it would compare fairly well with the Audi Q8 E-tron 50, Jaguar I-Pace and Genesis Electrified GV70 - if only it were a true rival for those cars. However, the iX3 and the cheaper and only marginally less roomy Genesis GV60 might prove hard to ignore, since they offer more range, better multimedia and, in the case of the Genesis, much faster charging.

UK driving impressions by Matt Saunders

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester
As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.