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First Reviews2023 Lexus RZ first drive review: Traditional Lexus with a few surprises

2023 Lexus RZ first drive review: Traditional Lexus with a few surprises

Our first review of the 2023 Lexus RZ finds a fully electric luxury SUV that is exactly what you expect from a Lexus vehicle, with a few surprises.

 

Positive 2023 Lexus RZ First Impressions

 

  • Very comfortable and refined
  • High-quality interior
  • Fun to drive and strong performance
  • Innovative Steer by Wire steering great at higher speeds

 

Poor 2023 Lexus RZ First Impressions

 

  • Disappointing range
  • Underwhelming charging capability
  • Steer by Wire steering needs improvement at lower speeds

 


 

Aix-en-Provence, France – The 2023 Lexus RZ is the first fully electric Lexus vehicle which will soon arrive on the market. Sandwiching the Lexus NX and Lexus RX in size, the Lexus RZ looks like a Lexus product inside and out and drives like one. Performance, however, takes full advantage of the benefits of electrification. At the same time, Lexus engineers have put together a new fully electronic steering system with much to offer if they can get it right.

 

2023 Lexus RZ
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

On the other hand, the Lexus RZ disappoints in all-electric range and charging capability, two critical success indicators for an electric vehicle. We will get into that in a second; first, let’s start with what makes the Lexus RZ stand out in a positive way.

 

Great balance of traditional Lexus comfort and surprising performance

 

The new 2023 Lexus RZ is built on the Toyota-shared e-TNGA platform, and it delivers all-wheel drive in every version courtesy of two electric motors located on each axle. Both motors combine to deliver 313 hp. While official torque numbers, in traditional Lexus and Toyota fashion, aren’t divulged, this first drive of the new RZ confirmed that there is plenty of it to go around, whatever the number may be. The AWD system is an electrified version of the Direct4 system introduced on the redesigned Lexus RX. It constantly varies power distribution between the axles, from 100:0 to 0:100, depending on conditions and driving behavior.

 

2023 Lexus RZ
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

The RZ is quick off the line and keeps pushing confidently like no other Lexus SUV ever did. Quite a refreshing experience to be pushed back in your seat driving a vehicle with the Lexus emblem. On the other hand, power is delivered in a very smooth and linear fashion, making the overall experience quite refined despite the ample power under your right foot. A feeling of confidence and solidity emanates from the Lexus RZ. It is composed even on rough pavement, and whether you opt for the base model with 18-inch wheels or mid-level and upper-level trims with 20-inch wheels, the RZ delivers a great balance of agility and comfort.

 

2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

Steering is precise, and the RZ feels much smaller around corners than it actually is. You can have a lot of fun driving the 2023 Lexus RZ on a winding road, something we did plenty of in the south of France. Equipped with an adaptive suspension system called Frequency Adaptive Dampers, the RZ adapts damping force based on road conditions, improving both stability and comfort. The Active Hydraulic Booster-G braking system, another complex feat of engineering, adapts braking pressure again based on conditions to provide the exact pedal feel for the situation at hand.

 

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New Steer by Wire system

 

And then there’s the RZ-exclusive and industry-first fully electronic Steer by Wire system. A lot is going on here, but the nitty-gritty of this new steering technology is that there is absolutely no physical link between the steering wheel and the axle. It is a 100% electronic system designed to adapt to provide the most natural steering feel possible while also significantly reducing steering wheel movements. The steering ratio changes and adapts to the speed, in theory reducing the turning radius, eliminating the need for hand-over-hand movements at low speeds, and providing quicker, sharper handling at higher speeds.

 

2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

The most discerning feature of this new technology, or at least the one you notice immediately, is the video game-like half steering wheel that, in my opinion, looks a lot better than the Tesla Yoke steering wheel. It feels better in your hands as well. Lexus says this design isn’t just meant to be cool but also functional. The instrument cluster sits higher, providing better overall visibility. The flat bottom makes getting in and out easier as well. You can’t cruise with one hand on the top of the steering wheel, but we really shouldn’t do that anyway. The steering wheel design forces you to keep your hands where they should be, and it also makes driving the RZ in a sporty fashion a lot more engaging.

 

Test driving the system at higher speeds on winding roads was conclusive. Steering is sharp, taught and direct, and the feel is not betrayed by what is essentially a computer-controlled artificial connection with the wheels.

 

2023 Lexus RZ
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

Lexus says the technology is coming, but it’s not ready just yet. I suspect or, at the very least, hope that will give time for Lexus engineers to fine-tune how the system operates at lower speeds around parking lots, for example. Unfortunately, it proved to be quite jerky around parking lots. My co-driver and I enjoyed the system at higher speeds, but there’s still work to do to smooth out the steering ratio when maneuvering at lower speeds.

 

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Typical Lexus comfort and refinement

 

In true Lexus fashion, the RZ envelops driver and passenger in a cocoon of comfort, silence, and premium materials. Lexus has a tried-and-true formula of providing comfort first and foremost, and the RZ doesn’t deviate from the norm. Among the premium luxury electric vehicles that I have driven so far in this segment, including the Tesla Model Y, Audi e-tron, and BMW iX, the RZ is by far the most comfortable. Oddly enough, it felt more comfortable with the 20-inch wheels than it did with the 18-inch wheels. But, regardless of which version you choose, you will be impressed by how refined the new Lexus EV is on the road.

 

2023 Lexus RZ
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

Lexus also added some unique comfort features Canadians, in particular, will love. A new radiant heating system takes some of the pain away from those cold February mornings by warming up the cabin faster and reducing energy consumption. Every Lexus RZ has heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless charging, and a 14-inch centre display with the latest Lexus infotainment system.

 

Disappointing range and outdated charging capability

 

Comfort and performance-wise, the 2023 Lexus RZ has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, many of the positives are erased by the disappointing range provided by the 71.4-kWh battery. Lexus says you will get 354 km of range in the base model and 315 km on range top-of-the-line models with larger wheels. Lexus also says the smaller battery was chosen because it was lighter and provided an optimal range, balance, and efficiency combination. I’m not sure the market will agree.

 

2023 Lexus RZ
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

Few EV owners ever need the full range provided by their vehicle, but that’s not the point. If you have $80,000 to spend, do you really want the model with the lowest electric range in its segment? It was -3 degrees outside when we started our test drive, and the posted range showed 266 km with a full battery. I can’t imagine what it will be at -20 degrees. The RZ would have benefited tremendously from offering over 400 km in the base model and over 350 kilometres in the top trims.

 

This disappointing range would have been mitigated slightly if the Lexus RZ could match its competitors when it comes to charging. Unfortunately, Lexus outfitted their new EV with a 6.6-kW charger while models like the e-tron and BMW iX have an 11-kW unit onboard. Even a Chevrolet Bolt has an 11-kW charging unit. This means that charging the RZ at home takes nearly 10 hours. That’s just not good enough for an EV in this price range. Fast charging is limited to 150 kW and gives you 80% range in 30 minutes.

 

2023 Lexus RZ
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

The 2023 Lexus RZ does offer a unique Range mode alongside the traditional ECO mode most EVs offer. The Range mode pushes efficiency to another level, namely by turning off the A/C to give the maximum possible range from the battery. Still, the RZ’s limited range and charging capability will likely turn away some consumers, which is unfortunate because the first Lexus electric vehicle has a lot to offer.

 

It’s one of the most comfortable EVs you can buy and a lot of fun to drive. It has a lot of technology, but it is well executed. It enhances the driving experience instead of taking away from it or making the drive feel artificial. Inside, the RZ is spacious and welcoming, and the cargo area is vast. And given Lexus’ reputation for reliability, this is one EV you can hope to own long-term with relative confidence. If you have owned and loved a Lexus SUV previously and are looking to make the switch to electric, the 2023 Lexus RZ won’t disappoint. And if you are looking for a near-perfect balance of comfort and performance in a luxury electric SUV, the RZ should be the first model you consider. You have to get over the range and outdated charging capability.

 

2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

2023 Lexus RZ Pricing and Trims

 

The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e Signature is the base model starting at $64,950. The vehicle features 18-inch alloy wheels, Lexus Interface with a 14-inch display, NuLuxe upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Qi wireless charger and ten speakers.

 

The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e Luxury is the next step up in the range and starts at an MSRP of $73,550. It has 20-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic moonroof, power liftgate, ventilated front seats, Lexus ambient lighting and Panoramic View Monitor, and advanced driving assistance such as Traffic Jam Assist Lane Change Assist and Front Cross Traffic Alert.

 

Finally, the top-tier 2023 Lexus RZ 450e Executive model has an MSRP of $80,950 and offers all the luxury amenities found on the other models plus additional features for added convenience. This includes 20-inch gunmetal alloy rims, ultra-suede upholstery, heated rear seats, dimming panoramic moonroof, 13-speaker Mark Levinson system Head Up Display Advanced Park adaptive high beams and Digital Key.

 

2023 Lexus RZ
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur
2023 Lexus RZ interior
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur
2023 Lexus RZ
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur
2023 Lexus RZ First Drive | Photo: Charles Jolicoeur

 

 

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Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur was studying to be a CPA when he decided to drop everything and launch a car website in 2012. Don't ask. The journey has been an interesting one, but today he has co-founded and manages 8 websites including EcoloAuto.com and MotorIllustrated.com as General Manager of NetMedia360. He also sits on the board of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. Send me an email

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