2023 Lexus RZ450e arrives with 308 HP, modest range and steering yoke
For years, when German luxury car makers were heavily committed to diesel engines, Lexus instead relied on hybrids to improve efficiency. After the Volkswagen emissions scandal put all diesel engines – even the majority that failed exhaust tests – under a dark cloud, German automakers jumped on the electric vehicle bandwagon in an attempt to atone their real and imagined sins. The resulting regulatory and competitive pressures created an inexorable push for electric vehicles, and Lexus could no longer hold its own. So, at a time when most German luxury brands have already introduced three or four electric vehicle models, Lexus is launching its first, the RZ450e.
The new entry is a crossover sized between the familiar Lexus NX and RX models, the brand’s two best sellers in America. The RZ is built on a new platform called e-TNGA, which is also shared with its sister ship Toyota bZ4X and the closely related Subaru Solterra, which just went on sale. Although the RZ is about three inches shorter than the RX, its 112.2-inch wheelbase is two and a half inches longer, designed to improve interior space. The RZ is also about three inches lower than its larger Lexus sibling.
The powertrain, similar to that of the bZ4X, uses separate electric motors for the front and rear axles. However, instead of the twin 107hp engines of the all-wheel-drive Toyota, the all-wheel-drive Lexus drives its front wheels with the 201hp engine of the front-wheel-drive bZ4X, making a total of 308hp, Advantage of 94hp compared to the twin-motor bZ4X.
A 65.6 kWh liquid-cooled battery pack shared with the all-wheel-drive bZ4X, which uses prismatic lithium-ion cells produced by a joint venture between Panasonic and Toyota, resides in a block about six inches thick. under the RZ passenger compartment. That’s not a huge battery capacity in today’s market, and Lexus estimates a range of just 200 to 225 miles, depending on wheel size.
Takashi Watanabe, the RZ’s chief engineer, says this battery size was a conscious choice, designed to limit weight and maximize electrical efficiency. He says tests indicate the RZ gets 15-20% more mileage per kWh than its competitors, a laudable goal, but perhaps not at the expense of range. We look forward to testing this claim.
Lexus didn’t provide any charging times for the RZ, but it can only take a maximum of 150kW on a DC charger, so it won’t be high in the fast-charging rankings. And the on-board charger is rated at just 6.6kW, less than today’s standard of around 10-11kW, so a full Level 2 charge will likely take around 11 hours.
Watanabe seems indifferent to such modest statistics, insisting that the RZ will offer a good compromise between range, efficiency and performance. Speaking of which, Lexus didn’t offer any predictions on acceleration, but we’d expect 60mph times in the mid-five-second zone.
Instead of using state-of-the-art electrical infrastructure, the RZ seems more focused on new features, the main one being the available drive-by-wire steering, which uses a yoke-style steering wheel. A highly variable ratio is so quick at low speeds that only 300 degrees of rotation (less than one turn lock-to-lock) provides full travel. This is possible because there is no mechanical connection between the electrically assisted steering rack and the steering clevis. (Originally dubbed One Motion Grip, this setup will be renamed, as the folks at US HQ concluded that the OMG steering isn’t the best name in the US.)
Another interesting choice, given the emphasis on overall efficiency, is the use of an unmixed, purely hydraulic brake. Regenerative braking is controlled exclusively by releasing the throttle and is adjustable but limited to a maximum deceleration of 0.15g. This allows for conventional pedal operation and feel, but at the sacrifice of some efficiency and potential range.
We had a brief opportunity to drive examples of the RZ, with both conventional and electrically operated steering, at an old circuit near Barcelona. Both cars felt surprisingly good at fast speeds. Body roll is limited, braking feel is excellent, and acceleration is healthy, but hardly mind-blowing. And understeer was limited despite the power up front, which is unusual among all-wheel-drive EVs. One explanation is that the Direct4 control system varies the torque split from 75% front to 80% rear, depending on conditions.
The RZs were also quiet and felt tight, thanks to things like a front strut tower brace, double-layer acoustic door glass, heavier gauge steel, and generally more sound insulation than Toyota does not apply to the bZ4X.
The electrically-operated steering model performed well on the track, where speeds were high enough that its variable ratio was similar to that of conventional steering. Neither steering system had a great feel, but it seemed easier to bend the power-operated RZ into a corner and precisely get to the top.
The yoke-steered version also gets a different instrument cluster that’s an inch and a half taller and slightly further from the driver. The idea is to take advantage of the missing top part of the thumbwheel to slightly reduce the angular and focus adjustments needed when moving your view from the windshield to the instruments.
There was also a very tight autocross course to test the steering systems, and although the electric-driven car eliminates the many manual mixes required by conventional steering, it felt unnatural. The lightning-fast gear reacted so quickly at low speeds that it was hard not to over-correct, and the front end of the Lexus felt like it jolted from side to side rather than swaying. be turned.
But the faster gear paid off in a short slalom test on a low-friction surface designed to induce oversteer. It was noticeably easier to grab the RZ slide with the wire-drive system and avoid spinning. Living with this system in real-world driving, however, will be the best test of its ultimate value and comfort.
That will happen with RZs closer to production around November, shortly before the cars go on sale in America. Toyota plans to import just 4,900 units for the 2023 model year, so expectations are modest. Pricing has yet to be set, but with the all-wheel-drive bZ4X starting at $45,295, a base of perhaps $55,000 would seem reasonable for the RZ. We probably won’t get the yoke-steered version in the first year, and a front-wheel-drive model might eventually appear at a slightly lower price. When considering costs, keep in mind that Toyota has built enough Prime plug-in models to start losing its federal EV tax refunds later this year. And since Lexus falls under the corporate umbrella for this perk, you’ll likely pay close to the list price for this model. Sometimes arriving late to the EV party doesn’t pay off.
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