While Lexus and its Toyota parent company have had huge success with hybrids both have been a little slow launching fully electric cars, the UX300e feeling like little more than a stop-gap conversion of an existing model. The RZ 450e is a much more resolved product, and builds on Toyota bZ4X foundations with a distinctively Lexus combination of luxury, refinement and tech, the latter including the option of a yoke-controlled ‘steer-by-wire’ system for a properly futuristic driving experience. Performance is strong and quality typically high, which it needs to be to stand apart the Polestar 2, Kia EV6, Tesla Model Y and Hyundai Ioniq 5. The RZ 450e feels suitably premium in this company, though that comes at a cost while range and performance are both somewhat underwhelming.
“Disappointing efficiency and range figures also mean you’ll be more dependent on expensive public charging”
While electric cars can still be cheaper to run than petrol, diesel or hybrid equivalents rising domestic energy costs have narrowed the advantage, unless you’re smart with your home charging. If you can get it through a salary sacrifice scheme or score the Benefit In Kind advantages of running it as a company car there are still significant savings out there, but the RZ 450e still looks pricey. Lexus would argue it’s a premium brand and it delivers a suitably luxurious ownership experience, which is fair. But with Kia and Hyundai raising their ambitions in the EV space, and newcomers like Polestar and Genesis offering more style and performance, the RZ has some work to do. Slightly disappointing efficiency and range figures also mean you’ll be more dependent on expensive public charging if you regularly travel long distances, which will make it more costly to run than the likes of a Tesla Model Y.
Expert rating: 4/5
Reliability of a Lexus RZ 450e
“The battery is guaranteed to retain at least 90 per cent of its capacity for up to 10 years or 620,000 miles”
Toyota already has a generally strong reliability record but Lexus takes this further and has a reputation for really looking after its customers. This is backed up by the option to extend the standard three-year warranty to a full 10 years of cover if you commit to in-house servicing. Whether you opt in or not the battery is guaranteed to retain at least 90 per cent of its capacity for up to 10 years or 620,000 miles, which should help reassure used buyers down the line and, with it, the RZ’s residual values.
Expert rating: 5/5
Safety for a Lexus RZ 450e
“The adaptive cruise control was particularly impressive, with confident lane keeping control”
While we’re used to driver aids keeping us in lane, stopping us from crashing into vulnerable road users and even tweaking the steering to stay out of trouble the RZ’s systems take this to the next level of sophistication. Impressively all the stuff you want is included on all three trim grades, so every car gets features like blind spot warnings and cross traffic alerts if you’re backing out of a space or tight driveway. The adaptive cruise control was particularly impressive, with confident lane keeping control that tracks straight and true without the annoying ricocheting between the white lines you get on some systems. We were less taken with its reactions on country roads, though, and in one instance it attempted to steer us into an oncoming vehicle when it detected painted cycle lane markings on the nearside. The constant bonging of the zero-tolerance speed limit alerts were also pretty tiresome.
Expert rating: 5/5
How comfortable is the Lexus RZ 450e
“We found the seats generally comfortable, if a little short in the cushion and lacking in lateral support through the bends”
Lexus prides itself on providing a luxurious, calming driving environment, so silent electric power suits the brand well and progress is peaceful and refined. Up front we found the seats generally comfortable, if a little short in the cushion and lacking in lateral support through the bends. It’s better in the back, thanks to tons of legroom, plenty of head space and a two-step reclining backrest. If a little flat the centre position on the rear bench is even viable for full-size passengers, which isn’t always a given. The boot is a good size as well, with stash space under the floor for mucky charging cables. Very Lexus.
There’s no adjustable suspension as you get on some rivals but the standard arrangement makes the most of the low-slung battery pack to keep the RZ flat through the corners and planted over lumps and bumps. There are two wheel options for the RZ, an 18-inch on the base spec and then 20s for the flashier trims. The smaller wheel is both more comfortable and, thanks to eco tyres, increases the range by as much as 20 miles – after chatting with Lexus it agreed it would be sensible to offer a ‘downgrade’ option to 18s on the middle Premium Plus level for buyers who prioritise comfort and range over blingy wheels. It’s an offer few will likely take up but we’d fully endorse!
Expert rating: 4/5
Features of the Lexus RZ 450e
“It ditches the steering wheel for a ‘yoke’ style control and a totally adaptive ‘steer by wire’ system with no physical steering column”
One of the RZ’s most distinctive and intriguing features won’t be available immediately, but Lexus was keen we tried it out anyway. Called One Motion Grip, it ditches the steering wheel for a yoke style control and ‘steer by wire’, with no physical steering column. It certainly looks funky, and means you can go to full lock for low-speed manoeuvring with no need to go ‘hand over hand’, while as speeds rise it relaxes and filters out bumps and other intrusions. Lexus engineers are still refining the system and it takes some getting used to but, when available, will be a definite USP that puts clear ground between the RZ and its Toyota bZ4X cousin.
Meanwhile, the model line-up is simple to understand with even the base spec (all things relative) very generously equipped with a panoramic roof, power adjustable seats, ‘kick’ actuated power tail gate and the fully connected Lexus infotainment system through a large central screen. Although it’s a new system the text-heavy menus look a little outdated compared with the glitzier, tile and widget-based systems used by rivals like Mercedes, BMW and Audi. You can, of course, connect your phone apps if you prefer, wirelessly if you’re an Apple user or on a cable for Android. All models get an energy saving heat pump so you can stay warm without impacting your range, the two top level ones also getting a ‘radiant heat’ system acting like a virtual blanket for the driver and front-seat passenger. A head-up display and, on the top model, a fancy Mark Levinson stereo are additional nice-to-haves.
Expert rating: 5/5
Power for a Lexus RZ 450e
“Our efficiency on the day fell a long way short of that claimed by Lexus, meaning the best-case range of 270 miles was – literally – a distant dream”
Like more powerful versions of the bZ4X the RZ 450e uses a twin-motor arrangement driving all four wheels, and the same battery pack powering them. Thanks to a stronger motor at the front the Lexus feels decisively quicker, and has a sense of effortless acceleration lacking in the Toyota. True, it’s not quite up there with the 400 horsepower plus of some rivals, and if 0-60 bragging rights matter to you a Tesla Model Y, Polestar or faster versions of the Kia EV6, Hyunai Ioniq 5 and Genesis GV60 will all thwack your head into the seat with greater force under full acceleration. But the novelty of that soon wears off and, frankly, the performance here is more than adequate. A shame the same can’t be said of the range, though. True, it’s hard to really measure this on a short test and we’ll hope to score a more meaningful drive as soon as possible. But even when driven at a considerate pace and using as much regen as possible our efficiency fell a long way short of that claimed by Lexus, meaning the best-case range of 270 miles was – literally – a distant dream. There is a special ‘Range’ mode that switches off the air-con and reduces the power, and we’ll look forward to putting that to the test properly in due course.