Lexus RZ 450e review: Smooth operator
Driving on electric is old news to Lexus customers. The premium car brand has majored on hybrids for years – cars that, at slower speeds, often switch into pure electric mode for silent and emissions-free motoring. Today, Lexus scarcely sells a car that isn’t a hybrid.
The RZ is the next step in this journey, as the marque’s first ground-up electric car (the entire range will be EVs by 2030).
It occupies the space between the smaller Lexus NX and larger RX, although, at 4.8 metres long, it’s closer to the RX in terms of size. And yes, all these Xs and Zs are bound to get confusing.
Colour that pops
It debuts in RZ 450e guise, with a 71.4kWh lithium-ion battery that, impressively, has a 10-year warranty – after which, it is expected to retain ‘at least 90 percent’ of its capacity. Compare that to how exhausted your mobile phone battery is after a couple of years.
There are three versions, prices start from £62,600 and rivals include the Audi Q8 e-tron, BMW iX3 and Mercedes-Benz EQC. The Jaguar I-Pace is another alternative, as is the Tesla Model X – if you could actually buy one. As you can’t, the Teslarati must make do with the cheaper Model Y.
To Marseille, then, and the exclusive, art-filled Chateau La Coste. Bono stayed here just before me, apparently, but he took the weather with him, as it was far from a beautiful day when I arrived. Still, my Lexus RZ certainly stood out in vivid Sonic Copper. As the Instagrammers would say, it really ‘popped’, even as the rain tried to turn into snow.
As seen on screen
This was a top-spec Takumi model, so it had 20-inch wheels and a contrasting black upper half, including the bonnet, pillars and roof. Throw in an aerodynamic appearance, blended with Lexus’ bold and expressive design traits, and it’s more than a match for other SUVs. I love how the ‘spindle’ grille is now fully integrated into the front end, while the split roof spoiler looks like it was sculpted in an F1 wind tunnel.
Inside, the premium materials and tactility are divine. Our Takumi test cars had Ultrasuede upholstery, which is deliciously soft to the touch, while other aspects, such as the precise ‘click’ of the electric door latch system, feel suitably high-tech and futuristic. Lexus has built in a richness to its first clean-sheet EV that is absent in many of its rivals.
Like all new cars, it’s a heavily digital interior, dominated by a gloss black centre console with a huge HD touchscreen. But Lexus has also modernised and integrated something familiar from the 1970s: the convection heater. The RZ has so-called ambient heaters built into the dashboard, which warm your knees and chew through far less power (and therefore less range) than a regular heater. It’s a lovely feature.
We’re used to Lexus cars whirring along in silence, so the RZ doesn’t feel too different at first. What does stand out is ongoing quietness; there’s no sudden roar as a four-cylinder hybrid engine kicks in. Just a blissful hush.
The Lexus RZ’s supple ride also appeals, particularly on the base 18-inch wheels that nobody will buy in the UK. There’s still a good amount of comfort on 20s though, helping the Lexus flow ably along gnarled road surfaces.
It has two motors and all-wheel drive. With 313hp, it’s quick – 0-62mph takes 5.3 seconds – but it delivers this shove with polite purpose rather than an aggressive surge. And no matter how hard you press your foot to the floor, refinement remains unspoilt. Lexus has gone electric to enhance its USP, brilliantly.
Can’t beat the heat
It’s just a pity about the range. Lexus claims battery efficiency is class-leading. The RZ will travel 3.7 miles for every 1kWh of charge from its 71.4kWh battery: 30 percent better than all-wheel-drive rivals such as the Audi Q8 e-tron. However, the Audi is offered with a huge 114kWh battery, giving it an official range of 330 miles. The Lexus, on the 20-inch wheels most will choose, can only manage 245 miles.
That’s not disastrous, but the RZ also suffers the issue that befell the closely related Toyota BZ4X. Namely, if you turn on the heater, the indicated range drops significantly. There was snow on the side of the road, so of course I had the heater on. This bizarre quirk is being fixed in the Toyota; here’s hoping the same changes are rolled out for the Lexus.
Overall, the RZ feels like the most ‘Lexus’ car the company has ever produced. Beautifully refined and notably luxurious in feel, even alongside its premium rivals, it offered a relaxed and cosseting experience. It deserves for this haven of serenity not to be shattered by unnecessary range anxiety.
Richard Aucock writes for Motoring Research
PRICE: From £62,600
TOP SPEED: 99mph
RANGE: Up to 271 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS: 0g/km