2023 Lexus RZ 450e

HERNDON, Va. — As you’d know, long before Tesla began to electrify the marketplace Toyota — with its worldwide distribution of the Prius hybrid — was the Electric Company. Of course, a Prius wasn’t offered as a full electric, and only later supplied with a plug-in capability, but it became the vehicle of choice for those interested in either economy of operation — given its efficiency — or a smaller carbon footprint, given its efficiency. 

All of that’s a long way of saying that Toyota and Lexus have taken their time in establishing their full EV presence. That time, however, is now — and the Lexus RZ 450e is one of two new offerings from the Toyota/Lexus stable.

In your first sighting you’ll know the RZ 450e emanates from a Lexus showroom. While lacking the twin-spindle grille that populates the gas-powered and hybrid lineup, the front fascia — now described as the Lexus spindle body —  is immediately recognizable, with an aggressive angularity and largish(?) front overhang. With its steeply raked windshield leading to an almost coupe-like profile, the RZ 450e is an aggressive meet-up of convex and concave sculpting, and almost impresses as an SUV-ish take on Chevy’s mid-engined Corvette. It isn’t, of course, but you could see them in the same showroom.

The 4-door coupe vibe is underpinned by the RZ’s relatively low roofline, an almost fastback-like rear hatch and, in profile, a footprint that looks compact, more Lexus NX than RX. Stretching some 189 inches, the result isn’t the mashup you might think, but neither will it be invited to the Museum of Modern Art as a rolling exhibit. But beauty is — and remains — in the eye of the beholder, and there are enough hand-raisers for the various RX iterations that I’m sure no one is going to not take home the RZ based on its styling.

Inside, from this narrow perspective, Lexus has hit on all cylinders, if – of course – an EV had cylinders. Despite its relatively small footprint, once inside you have an impression of real space, helped in no small (big?) part by expansive buckets (which, in our Luxury trim, were covered in Ultrasuede), a low hood with maximizes forward visibility and a panorama glass roof.

And in discussing the cockpit, it must be noted that the cockpit design is based on the concept of tazuna, or a horse’s rein. The design philosophy imbues the RX 450e with the same communicative relationship as between a horse and rider. (Texas A&M’s Aggies, I’ll assume, will love it…) In our week with the RZ 450e I liked most of it, while wishing the nanny aids had been a little less intrusive. But ventilation and audio are reasonably intuitive, and the 14-inch touchscreen doesn’t overwhelm the cabin. Go ahead — pull the Trigger.

Of course, your foremost impression behind the wheel is the immediacy of the platform itself. Employing a new lightweight e-TNGA (yup, that’s Lexus speak…) steel platform, the RZ 450e delivers a total system horsepower of 308 via its 71.4 kWh battery, and will keep going – according to its EPA estimate – for up to 220 miles with 18-inch wheels, just under 200 miles with the 20-inchers. And if those numbers look a tad underwhelming it’s because they are; most OEMs, at this point, have 300 miles on their radar, if not an actual deliverable.

Lexus customers, however, are more apt to book airfare than a Motel 6 – the RZ 450e will be used for commutes and carpools, not overlanding. And for an all-in suggested retail of between $60K and $65K, this electrified Lexus strikes a better than decent value, especially when considering the GT-like feel you enjoy behind the wheel, and level of comfort your passengers will enjoy while you’re rockin’ to its lack of vibe.

Finally, a word about service. It’s no secret that Tesla has upended the dealer model, having few showrooms and a similar scarcity of service centers. In its 30+ years Lexus has established the benchmark for a retail environment, and that — perhaps obviously — extends to its service departments. Despite the oh-so-common wisdom, EVs do need service, and will need it in the future. A Lexus store is there to provide it, something you can’t yet say about Tesla, and will perhaps never say about the other start-ups…or upstarts.

— David Boldt (MyCarData)