The EV Gamble
If you look at the history of Lexus, they very rarely take chances.
We’ve noted Toyota’s luxury arm for producing automobiles that aren’t exactly the kind that would excite us. Things like being ultra-silent on the road, having exceptional fitment of the panels, or near-perfect paint finishing aren’t things we write home about with glee. That’s why the LFA is quite literally a unicorn; because the ultra-conservative management at Lexus took a big risk to build a supercar.
In that logic, the RZ too is a risk, and quite possibly a bigger risk than LFA will ever be. Lexus knew they weren’t going to make money with the supercar, but the RZ is different. They need it to do well, and all while it’s out of their comfort zone. Or are they?
You walk up to the RZ, and it looks… normal. Sure, the body is a bit more sleek with the steep angle on the windshield, the low roof, and the fastback-ish rear, but we’ve seen all this before. BMW took that risk years ago with a coupe-like SUV, and while the market was slow to catch on, the body style caught the attention of luxury automakers who wanted to make something customers liked.
The RZ does look quite nice. The lights, the silhouette, and the fins on the trailing edge of the roof rails look neat. I particularly like the wheel selection and the way Lexus did the rear end. I could look at that clean rear end all day.
Only when you take a peek at the details do you realize that the RZ is different. The spindle grille isn’t open to allow maximum air into what would be the engine bay. It’s sealed and clean; that’s an indicator that this isn’t an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. This is a battery electric vehicle or BEV. One obvious way to tell is if the “fuel door” isn’t at the rear quarter panel but rather on the front fender.
The unusual bit is that when you pop the hood, it almost looks like there’s an ICE in there. It’s just all electronics housed in cast aluminum for maximum protection. Another sure indicator is the presence of orange electrical conduits. That tells you this runs on some kind of electric drive.
The RZ 450e has two motors. Up front, it has a 204 PS electric motor in front and a 109 PS motor in the back. That means this is all-wheel drive, albeit it will be front-biased if we were to base it on the available performance per motor. The primary battery pack, as with any modern EV, is underneath the floor of the vehicle. That’s why there’s about a 5” or 6” space between the cabin floor and the actual underside of the RZ.
The capacity of the lithium-ion battery is 71.4 kWh. To put that in perspective, it’s a bit less than the 74 kWh on the BMW iX3. It’s also much less than the 83.7 kWh battery on the Hyundai Ioniq5 and Kia EV6; no it’s not in the same class, but it’s worth noting that Lexus could have gone for a bigger pack.
Still, even with the smaller pack, Lexus says the RZ (on the 20” wheels) can manage up to 470 kilometers. On paper, that seems good. But we’ll have to see later on if it’s doable in our driving conditions.
Opening the door is done via the grip door handles, but not in the way you normally would. Instead of pulling the handle (which is fixed, by the way) you press a button there on the inside. That’s a bit odd, as I think Lexus could have gone for something more clean and neat like retracting handles like what JLR does. Instead, it’s like half and half. That theme also continues inside.
The interior is nice, and not in the traditional Lexus way. There’s no wood grain; just monotones of black, gray, and dark silver. And the interior too is quite futuristic, as Lexus crafted a rather driver-centric dashboard with everything seemingly canted towards you. If anything, it kind of reminds me of the dashboard of the Honda CRZ from a few years back.
The features list is as you would expect. There’s a huge infotainment system in the middle; easily one of the biggest I’ve seen in a car, and the biggest I’ve seen in a Lexus. It’s got the usual stuff along with the Mark Levinson audio system, and wireless Apple Carplay but just wired Android Auto. That means an Android user like myself won’t be able to use the wireless charger with Waze and Spotify on the screen.
The RZ does come with Lexus Safety System which is their version of Toyota Safety Sense, albeit a bit more complete. You’ll get the expected adaptive cruise, auto emergency braking, and all kinds of detection and preventive intervention systems you will need. There’s even a heads-up display, though you may want to avoid resting your hand on the spokes of the steering wheel because the HUD will indicate what your skin is resting on. It’s a bit distracting, but it can be avoided or shut down completely.
The rear seat is nice. The floor is almost flat, so moving from one side to another is easy. There are several positions for you to recline the rear seat, and there are creature comforts like the armrest, USB-C ports, and A/C vents. Perhaps the coolest feature is the panoramic glass roof that is electrically activated. There’s no way to open it nor is there a retractable sunshade. Instead, you press a button and the RZ passes a current through it to excite some particles, and it goes opaque. It’s pretty cool.
While nice with all the details and features, I do think Lexus was half and half again with the interior. It’s like they wanted to embrace the potential of EV in the open floor plan it gives you with the interior, but they held back. To illustrate that point, you should take a look at the Ioniq5; Hyundai maximized the potential of being free from the constraints of ICE interior design (e.g. transmission tunnel, firewall/bulkhead limitations, etc.) to create an interior that gives you the feeling of freedom.
Nowhere is that more evident than with the trunk of the vehicle. While the design of the liftgate is nice, the moment you open it you realize that there’s a compact (but still huge) spare tire sitting right there on top of the cargo floorboard. There is some space underneath the floorboard, but Lexus didn’t engineer the vehicle’s cargo area to accommodate it. There’s also no space for a frunk or front trunk for it because of the way the electronics were packaged in a rather bulky manner.
So, some things can be improved, but does it still deliver the drive and ride that is expected of something with an L on the grille or in this case, the nose? The short answer is yes.
We expect any mainstream (meaning not performance-oriented) Lexus to be a quiet cruiser, and this one most definitely is. EVs are quiet things, so much so that automakers have to make an artificial sound so pedestrians can hear you coming. There is something about the silence of the RZ 450e, and the EV system just plays to the strengths of the Lexus brand.
And then there’s the ride. It rides well, as expected of Lexus. EVs tend to be on the heavier side because of the battery packs and all the cast aluminum housings required, and a heavy vehicle needs suspension that can support the weight. Still, Lexus did well to give the RZ a good ride even for bad roads like EDSA. It’s not RX level, but still good and quiet.
The acceleration is there too. EVs deliver max torque right at the moment the rotor starts turning, and that bodes well for heavy cars. As such, the acceleration of the RZ may surprise some, as it can do a 0-100 km/h dash in 5.3 seconds. That’s pretty quick for a crossover. You can pull up next to a Civic Type R FL5 and match the acceleration of that car.
The range, perhaps, is what has me a bit puzzled. While Lexus says the RZ can do 470 km, when I received the car the estimated range at almost a full charge (about 90%) was reading at just 300 km. Granted, the range estimates do drop when you’re in the city most of the time, but it’s a bit too far off. On the highway it’ll stretch out with no problem, but still worth noting.
That’s what I’ve noticed with the Lexus RZ 450e: there are a few things that need noting. This is the first effort of Lexus at an EV, and in some aspects, it really shows. They’ve been so used to hybrids and internal combustion that there are bound to be things that we will notice like the lack of a proper (and concealed) space for the spare tire, the bulky electronics under the hood, the cabin space that’s rather tight for an EV, and a few more things here and there. All are indicators of a product design and engineering team that wanted to build something new but somehow held back.
Don’t get me wrong: the RZ 450e is a good EV crossover, especially at the price point of PHP 4.8M, but it can be better. And given that Lexus is all about pursuing these little improvements to strive for perfection, we have no doubts they’re taking notes of our notes to make it better.