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Driven: The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e Is a Great Lexus But a Not So Great EV

Look past the range and you'll like what you see

2023 Lexus RZ 450e on the road
  • The RZ 450e is Lexus' first electric vehicle sold in the U.S.
  • It's a small crossover roughly the size of an NX and based on the Toyota bZ4X.
  • Edmunds' real-world EV test showed 204 miles of range.

Lexus has been lagging in the electric space. Since Lexus and its parent company, Toyota, sell hundreds of thousands of hybrids a year, you'd think these automakers would be all over electric vehicles, but that hasn't been the case until now. Toyota's bZ4X broke cover late last year, and now it's that car's more posh sibling turn to take a bow. Meet the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e, the brand's first globally available EV.

The RZ 450e rides on the same e-TNGA platform that underpins the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, but in true Lexus fashion, it aims to elevate the level of comfort and luxury offered by those two. Unlike the Toyota and Subaru, which have exterior and cabin designs distinct from other vehicles in their respective automakers' lineups, the RZ looks like a typical Lexus SUV — it just happens to be electric. It has an hourglass-shaped grille, squinty headlights and proportions that are quite similar to those of the recently redesigned NX, but it's slightly longer, lower and wider overall.

Lexus is clearly taking on the Tesla Model Y with its new premium EV crossover. But it will also have to face the Genesis GV60, Audi Q4 e-tron, Volvo XC40 Recharge and the upcoming electric Porsche Macan in the battle for small luxury EV supremacy.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e profile

The obvious downside

The RZ 450e features two electric motors, one on each axle, that are powered by a 71.4-kWh battery pack. Combined, the two motors produce 308 horsepower and give the RZ all-wheel drive. The power output is unremarkable compared to what you get from a dual-motor GV60 or Model Y, but it's 94 more hp than the dual-motor bZ4X and comparable to what you get from the Q4 e-tron. It also helped our test RZ 450e accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, which is quicker than the Q4 e-tron and similar to the more powerful XC40 Recharge.

When it comes to range, the EPA rates the RZ 450e at 196 miles with the larger 20-inch wheels and 220 miles with the 18-inchers. We performed our in-depth Edmunds real-world range test on a car equipped with the 20s and achieved 204 miles — a slight improvement over the EPA estimate. While that is a small piece of good news, the RZ is effectively at the bottom of the pack for driving distance when compared to its rivals. At least charging speed is decent. Lexus says the RZ can charge at a DC fast-charging station at up to 150 kW, which is good enough to get from zero to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes when using an appropriate fast-charging station.

At this time the only configuration available is two motors with all-wheel drive. Lexus reps didn't confirm a single-motor version in the future but said that it's on the table for consideration. Such a model would likely bring the RZ's maximum range potential closer to 250 miles.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e rear

A legit joy to drive

With the range conundrum accounted for, there is nothing but good news to report when it comes to the RZ's driving experience. Lexus developed this car to align closely with its combustion-powered cars and it shows — the learning curve is almost nonexistent. The RZ is soft, controllable and calm, just like the NX and RX from behind the wheel. Beyond that, it has sublime ride quality, even on the 20-inch wheels.

While its 4.8-second 0-60 time is actually quite spry, the accelerator tuning leans much toward a luxury car. Unlike a Tesla Model Y, the RZ responds gradually to throttle inputs rather than immediately. For a current Lexus owner, this is likely great; for an EV enthusiast, it will probably drive you nuts. Same can be said of the brakes; the RZ doesn't offer full one-pedal driving, so you have to use the brake pedal to come to a full stop in any scenario. The regeneration level is variable, but it's less aggressive than the regen on other EVs by far.

This electric Lexus is surprisingly nimble in corners, but it's not a car that inspires you to push harder. The RZ has refinement and comfort in spades, best enjoyed from stoplight to stoplight, not around a mountain road.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e interior

Interior overload

Anyone who's been inside of a new RX or NX will immediately recognize the RZ's interior as similar. But unlike those two, the RZ takes a different approach to materials, using more sustainably sourced options and relying less on wood grain and leather. Our test car had the optional ultrasuede interior, which covers the seats and portions of the door panel. It's very soft to the touch and feels premium.

The overall cabin design feels fresh and forward-thinking for a brand that is obsessed with not pushing the boundaries too far. The build quality feels solid with no major concerns to report with creaks or rattles either. Tesla could learn a thing or two from studying this interior.

Because the RZ 450e shares so much in common stylistically with the RX and NX, it should come as no surprise that the tech is also largely the same. The 14-inch Lexus Interface infotainment system comes standard on both trim levels and includes wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Luxury trim adds to that a head-up display and a wonderful 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. If it's in your budget, the audio upgrade is worth the extra money alone.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e seats

The Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 includes all of the staple features that you would expect on a new luxury car, in addition to Traffic Jam Assist. This feature allows for temporary hands-free driving on the highway when the speed of traffic is 25 miles per hour or less. With BMW, Cadillac and others providing hands-free driving at full highway speeds, we'd like to see that from Lexus in the near future.

Edmunds says

The 2023 Lexus RZ450e is refined to its core and has an impressively comfortable and quiet interior. As a luxury proposition, it is fantastic. However, its subpar range will likely make it a nonstarter for some customers. For that group, there are plenty of better options out there.