With a sport utility lineup that’s enjoyed immense success over the last few years, Lexus has fully hopped on the electric vehicle (EV) train.
The 2023 Lexus RZ is the brand’s first foray into full electric motoring rather than the hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models it’s been building for years, working as an emissions-free complement to the hot-selling NX and RX models. And while it carries the torch of SUV excellence established by its siblings, it comes up short as an EV.
All-new for this year, the RZ shares a platform with both the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra. The Lexus is 115 mm (4.5 in) longer and features a sleeker and less stubby design, and right off the bat, it’s one of the better-looking Lexus models in recent memory. The brand has taken the last decade to refine the look of its so-called “spindle” grille, while this tester’s two-tone paint job adds to the aesthetic delight.
Plenty more elegance can be found inside, with a somewhat minimalistic aesthetic that combines matte, high-gloss, and metallic surfaces well. The panoramic sunroof with electronic opaque dimming is a neat party trick, and this tester’s Thunderstorm interior scheme brings blue back into style; this isn’t your sea of blue plastic from the 1990s.
Utilizing the brand’s latest safety suite, the Lexus RZ has a ton of standard driver-assist capability. The base Signature trim comes standard with proactive driving assist, forward collision warning with automatic braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, road sign recognition, junction turn assist with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control with curve speed management, and pedestrian, bicycle, and motorcycle detection. The flagship Executive trim adds traffic jam assist, panoramic camera views, a front cross-traffic alert system, and lane change assist.
In practice, the systems work well together and offer added safety without being too intrusive. The proactive driving assist system is helpful for automatically managing the gap between preceding traffic, even when adaptive cruise control isn’t active. The automated lane change assist system works well, if not a bit slowly. Child seat installation is user-friendly, with readily accessible anchors.
With the Executive trim, standard features include a sizeable 14-inch infotainment screen, synthetic suede seating surfaces, a 13-speaker stereo, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof with dimming, head-up display, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, autonomous parallel and perpendicular parking, and 20-inch alloy wheels. No additional options or packages are available on the Executive besides colour choices.
Against others, the RZ is best compared with the Lexus NX compact and RX midsize SUVs. Size-wise, the electric RZ sits in between and is closer to the NX on the inside. The RZ and NX have similar feature sets in terms of materials, technology, and safety, and both are among the better entry-level luxury choices in that regard.
The 2023 Lexus RZ is easy to live with. While the electronic door handles take a little time to get used to, the RZ’s ergonomics and controls are reasonably intuitive. The seating position feels natural, and outward visibility is good. However, an identifying marking or dimple on the charge door would be handy, as it can be frustrating to open if you don’t push it in the right spot.
The 14-inch infotainment screen is clear and easy to read while driving, and now that Lexus has ditched the goofy touchpad, it has one of the better systems out there. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are great to look at, and your music’s album art will never look better thanks to the high-resolution screen. While initial start-up time takes a few seconds after turning the car on, the system performs well once it gets going.
Cabin temperature adjustments are neatly integrated as dials at the bottom of the touchscreen, and while the heated and ventilated front seats don’t have dedicated buttons, they have an automatic function so that you can set it and forget it. Three USB-C ports and a wireless charging pad are situated under the touchscreen.
As a sport utility that straddles the line between compact and midsize, the RZ is practical for small families looking to get in and around town. There’s enough room to fit four adults comfortably, and a space-eating child seat in the rear doesn’t impact front-seat passengers too severely. Head- and legroom figures closely match the NX and RX, but the RX will win on width (hip- and shoulder room).
The cargo area fits a child’s stroller without complaint, and when hauling longer items, the second row is of the split-folding type. Unfortunately, towing is not recommended with the RZ, and Lexus doesn’t list any official towing capacity. Hitch-mounted carriers are not recommended, either.
Instead of leather seating, Lexus has gone with synthetic suede seating surfaces, which feel extra supple to the touch, and the seats offer plenty of support for longer trips. Wearing shorts in the summer is much more pleasant since your legs won’t stick to the seat in the heat. The air conditioning performed well, even when using the default eco cooling mode that preserves electric driving range. There’s also a function that directs air to occupied seats only, reducing demand on the battery system whenever possible.
Without an internal combustion engine, powertrain noise, vibration, and harshness are non-existent since the electric motors hum away as it provides seamless acceleration. At highway speeds, tire noise from the 20-inch wheels and tires is a little too noticeable — a less aggressive touring all-season tire may do better for comfort but will come at the expense of performance. On ordinary roads, the ride stays smooth beyond the noise from the tires, but when going over rougher roads, the extra mass from the batteries results in excessive head-bobbing motions. Despite having such good interior comfort, the ride keeps the RZ from getting a perfect score here.
Electric vehicles offer a torrent of low-end torque compared to their gasoline and hybrid counterparts. With a smooth yet firm shove of acceleration from a stop, the RZ merges and passes like a rocket ship. With 308 hp of power on tap, getting up to speed is brisk, and the RZ enjoys a 93-hp advantage over the all-wheel-drive Toyota bZ4X. The all-wheel-drive system is seamless, too, offering consistent traction in most driving conditions.
Driving Feel: 9/10
For the same reason that the comfort score couldn’t be a perfect 10, the RZ’s driving feel is undone by its suspension tuning. The steering is precise and well-weighted, there’s not a lot of body roll, and the RZ does have good turn-in response when hustling into a corner. There is, however, extra body motion when the road surface is anything but perfect.
With hybrids and EVs, light to moderate application of the brake pedal utilizes regenerative braking, which slows the vehicle down while also charging the battery. Under heavy braking, the conventional hydraulic brakes come into play to assist, and both systems integrate seamlessly. One-pedal driving — where lifting off the throttle pedal results in more regenerative deceleration — can be adjusted by the paddle shifters mounted to the steering column.
Fuel Economy: 6/10
In base Signature trim, the RZ is good for 354 km of range, while the flagship Executive is rated at only 315 km due to its extra mass and 20-inch alloy wheels. The RZ has a relatively small 71.4-kWh battery, and it gets outdone by the BMW iX (500 km, 105 kWh), Cadillac Lyriq (494 km, 102 kWh), Tesla Model Y Long Range (497 km, 80 kWh) and Genesis Electrified GV70 (383 km, 77 kWh).
Maximum charge speed is 150 kW at a DC fast charger, which matches BMW and Cadillac. Still, it doesn’t approach the 250 kW capability of Tesla or the 350 kW capability of Genesis. In practice, 150 kW is usually more than enough, and there was an observed peak of 131 kW during this test when the starting state of charge was about 18 per cent. At that speed, it took 21 minutes to get to 70 per cent.
In real-world mixed driving, about 15 per cent of range was lost with summertime air conditioner use for about 270 km net range versus the nominal 315. In the winter, expect to lose about 20 per cent (250 km net). To compare apples to apples versus gasoline cars, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates the RZ at 2.3 Le/100km in the city, 2.7 on the highway, and 2.5 combined.
While the base RZ Signature begins at $70,530, the Executive trim was $84,510 as-tested including $2,205 destination and $1,255 for the two-tone paint. It’s not eligible for federal rebates, but provincial or territorial ones may apply, depending on where you live. While those numbers are thousands of dollars cheaper than the competition, the relatively limited driving range doesn’t do it many favours.
Compared to other Lexus models, the NX 450h+ PHEV has 61 km of electric-only range and is nearly $79,000 with the Executive package. The larger RX 500h hybrid is $82,000 for the base model. Taken together, the RZ is better suited for travelling shorter distances in urban environments.
Overall, the 2023 Lexus RZ is a great SUV but it could be better as an EV due to its limited battery range regardless of price. It pairs excellent interior and exterior design with generally good driving dynamics, although the ride quality could be slightly more polished. It’s nicer, faster, and better proportioned than the mainstream Toyota bZ4X that it shares underpinnings with and compares well against other hybrid and PHEV SUVs in the Lexus lineup. Even so, the RZ is probably best reserved for Lexus die-hards only.
|Engine Displacement||150 kW front, 80 kW rear|
|Engine Cylinders||Dual electric motors, 71.4-kWh battery|
|Peak Horsepower||308 hp (230 kW)|
|Fuel Economy||2.3 / 2.7 / 2.5 Le/100 km, 20.3 / 24.1 / 22.4 kWh/100 km cty/hwy/cmb; 315 km est. range|
|Cargo Space||988 L|
|Model Tested||2023 Lexus RZ 450e Executive|
|Price as Tested||$84,510|
$1,255 – Executive Two-tone, $1,255