Lexus’s first all-electric offering, the RZ 450e, is scheduled for release in the US late November of 2022. It’s based on the Toyota bZ4X and, like the Suburu Solterra, the RZ 450e shares many of the same powertrain and battery components. The RZ 450e is a purpose-built electric vehicle with a bespoke chassis and utilizes Toyota’s electric e-TNGA platform, which was co-developed with Subaru.
That is, it will be all of those things when it’s actually ready.
Lexus invited me to learn more about the RZ 450e and take a prototype out for a couple of laps on the track at Circuit Parcmotor Castelloli, located on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain. However, the vehicles available were actually very early prototypes, far from being ready for series production, and therefore not suitable for a fair and comprehensive driving assessment.
But that doesn’t mean I wasted a trip. I did get a chance to sample the RZ 450e with the new steer-by-wire system and yoke-like wheel, as well as with a traditional steering wheel. In fact, the event was set up so that we would continuously swap vehicles with other journalists, trading between the two types of steering systems as we conducted a variety of driving maneuvers.
Having had the opportunity to drive a number of Tesla Model S – both Plaid and Long Range versions – that have a steering yoke instead of a wheel, I entered the driving comparison event with more than just a little skepticism. After driving over 500 miles behind the controls of three different yoked Teslas, my takeaway was that, at best, the yoke was as good as a traditional steering wheel but certainly not better.
Quite honestly, after spending some time with it, I felt like saying, “OMG, this is so much better than the Tesla yoke.”
I’m all for change, but only when it’s an improvement over what we already have. And after my miles in the Model S, it seemed Tesla’s system was change for the sake of change itself.
The Lexus folks were quick to point out that they aren’t calling the new steering apparatus a steering yoke, even though that’s what it is. The company hasn’t yet announced naming in North America, but for the European market the system will be called One Motion Grip, or OMG for short.
Quite honestly, after spending some time with it, I felt like saying, “OMG, this is so much better than the Tesla yoke.” That’s because the Lexus steer-by-wire uses a progressive system in which speed and driver input determines the appropriate amount of steering angle applied to the wheels. There’s no mechanical link between steering and the wheels, and the result is faster response and much more precise steering control.
The only trouble that I had with the system was in low-speed maneuvers. During a cone course exercise I found the steering a little too quick, and as a result, my inputs were a bit excessive. However, I imagine if I had more time with the vehicle I’d probably adjust with practice.
Meanwhile, steering feel at speeds over 30 miles per hour was excellent, and response was very direct at highway speeds. Now I know how a proper yoke steering feels and believe it only makes sense when incorporated into a variable steering ratio system.
The only trouble that I had with the system was in low-speed maneuvers.
The progressive system means you never have to turn the yoke hand over hand as you do in the Model S, which doesn’t employ a progressive turning system. When making low-speed U-turns and K-turns in the Model S, it’s necessary to turn the wheel more than 180 degrees, and until you’ve had practice, it’s cumbersome and can be dangerous in certain situations.
Lexus knows that not all of its customers are ready to transition to the Formula 1-style setup, so the steer-by-wire system will be an option on the RZ 450e. Interestingly, that option also moves the driver’s display 1.44 inches farther away and 1.5 inches higher than the display on vehicles that have the traditional steering wheel.
Range And Performance
The RZ 450e doesn’t have EPA range estimates but Lexus expects the vehicle to deliver a 225-mile driving range when equipped with the 18-inch wheels. Unsurprisingly, that’s similar to what Toyota is quoting for the all-wheel-drive version of the bZ4X. When fitted with the optional 20-inch wheels the estimated range drops to 200 miles.
We asked chief engineer Takashi Watanabe why Lexus decided on 225 miles of range when other premium EVs offer considerably more and he explained that Lexus believes that the RZ 450e offers “the best balance of weight, efficiency, and cost.”
The RZ 450e will initially only be available in a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive trim and boasts a 201-horsepower (150-kilowatt) motor in the front and a 107-hp (80-kW) motor to power the rear wheels. The combined output is 308 hp (230 kW) and 321 lb-ft of torque. We asked Lexus about the possibility of a front-wheel-drive option (as the bZ4X offers), and company minders couldn’t confirm it… but they didn’t rule it out either.
Lexus calls the RZ450e’s all-wheel-drive system DIRECT4. The system makes use of a newly developed high-output electronic axle (eAxle) motor that continuously controls the power sent to all four wheels with a high degree of precision. DIRECT4 works according to the ground contact load of the vehicle regardless of road surface and driving conditions and is designed to achieve an optimal driving experience under a variety of different conditions.
With this test being so limited in duration and scope, it’s hard to give detailed impressions of how the system works, but I’m excited to get another run at it when the RZ is fully baked.
Charging Up And Slowing Down
The RZ 450e uses a 71.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and the battery cells are provided by Prime Planet Energy Solutions, a joint venture between Toyota and Panasonic. It's the same battery pack and cells as used in the front-wheel-drive bZ4X. However, the all-wheel-drive bZ4X uses battery cells supplied by the Chinese battery manufacturer, CATL.
We asked Watanabe about the charging times and were told the vehicle will have a maximum DC fast charge rate of 150 kW, and charge from zero to 80 percent in 30 minutes. We specifically asked if he meant 10 to 80 percent in 30 minutes, which is typically the charging segment that manufacturers highlight. But Watanabe reiterated that the vehicle will charge from zero to 80 percent in 30 minutes when plugged into a DC fast charging station that can deliver 150 kW.
That means the RZ 450e needs to accept about 60 to 62 kWh in 30 minutes (57 kWh to the pack and roughly 3 kWh to 5 kWh of charging losses). That’s an average charging rate of 120 kW from zero to 80 percent. It’s attainable, but it would be an extremely flat and aggressive charging curve and we’re skeptical that the RZ 450e will actually deliver it, especially based on the early reports from those that have charge tested the bZ4X. I asked about the Level 2 charging rate for home charging and was told that Lexus wasn’t releasing that information just yet.
As for regenerative braking, the level of regen force will be controlled by paddle shifters on the steering wheel or yoke. The paddle on the left side increases the amount of regenerative braking force and the one on the right reduces it… in theory. I can’t report on how well the different levels work because they were not functioning on the prototype vehicles we drove.
There’s no added regenerative braking force when the brake pedal is depressed. Lexus explained that the company philosophy is to keep the friction brake pedal separate from the regenerative braking system.
There will not be an option for one-pedal driving and it’s not a blended braking system. The friction brake is just that; there’s no added regenerative braking force when the brake pedal is depressed. Lexus explained that the company philosophy is to keep the friction brake pedal separate from the regenerative braking system.
The only other all-electric vehicles in production that don’t utilize a blended braking system are Tesla’s vehicles. Every other electric vehicle sold today incorporates some level of regeneration when depressing the friction brake pedal.
Is The RZ 450e The Best Lexus Can Do?
On paper, the RZ 450e doesn’t really impress when compared to some of the other all-electric vehicles with which it will be competing. It has some really nice tech; the DIRECT4 all-wheel-drive system sounds promising, and we can’t wait to fully test it out. The steer-by-wire yoke system left us wanting to drive it more and has restored my faith that a yoke, when properly done, can be a wonderful thing.
However, Lexus is a premium brand. In the world of electric vehicles, “premium” must include great driving range and recharging speed. If the RZ 450e can deliver the 0-80 percent charging time of 30 minutes, (my skepticism has been registered) then that’s acceptable. And even still, the paltry 225-mile range will make it one of the lowest-range new EVs to hit the market this year.
If the RZ 450e can deliver the 0-80 percent charging time of 30 minutes, (my skepticism has been registered) then that’s acceptable.
Additionally, I was told that Lexus will only be supplying the US with about 400 RZ 450e per month, and the total allotment for 2023 will be 4,900 vehicles. The good news is that it will have nationwide availability, unlike some other low-volume EVs that are offered in the dozen or so ZEV states. However, to put the volume into perspective, Tesla ships about the same number of Model Ys to US customers every week as the number of RZ 450e that Lexus is promising for the entire 2023. And make no mistake about it, those two vehicles will be cross-shopped.
Is this the best that Lexus can do? I won’t give my final verdict until I have ample time driving and charge-testing a production RZ 450e. But at this point it’s hard to believe the company couldn't have entered the BEV market with a more compelling offering, given the staggering resources of the brand. Time will tell all.
Gallery: 2023 Lexus RZ 450e Prototype First Drive
2023 Lexus RZ 450e Prototype