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2023 Lexus RZ 450e: This is not bZ4X part 2 [First Drive]

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Yeah, the side profile of the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e looks a little like the Toyota bZ4X. But this first electric Lexus is not a rebadged bZ. At least not completely. Sure, it’s built on the same e-TNGA platform but other than size and the vague shape, you’d be hard pressed to find any other big similarities.

These two vehicles have very distinct personalities, and Lexus has done an excellent job of creating a unique product with similar ingredients.

Lexus handling

One of the biggest changes to 2023 Lexus RZ 450e is going to be how it handles because Lexus wanted to ensure this vehicle had a sportier Lexus driving signature. With suspension tweaks, stiffer body rigidity, thicker steel and a staggered-wheel stance, the RZ has excellent building blocks for its sporty nature. Adding in the extra 100 horsepower, the standard all-wheel drive and the dual high-output, high-torque eAxle units, the RZ has a completely different feel than the bZ.

Both my drive partner and I commented on the peppy 308-horsepower output, and we were thrilled with the instantaneous acceleration. While you may think that latter is a given with electric vehicles, it isn’t. There are some vehicles like the VW ID.4 and even the bZ4X that seem to be detuned – and they lope along at a slow pace rather than give you that heart-thumping burst of speed.

The RZ 450e delivers on both comfort and fun factors.

Lux-level materials

Another big difference between bZ and RZ is going to be the material quality. Even though the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e has a vegan interior (no leather here), the textures still feel high-quality and even sumptuous. That’s not always the case with faux suede and leather. The base premium trim gets the NuLuxe leatherette seats while the up-level Luxury model gets the Ultrasuede. Both are tactility pleasing.

Frankly, all the touch points in the RZ feel good – from the HVAC dials to the etched metal ring on the gear shift.

One of my favorite “textures” isn’t a texture at all – it’s the lighted accent you can see projected out onto the smooth leatherette door material.

More tech

In addition to more power, sportier handling and better materials, the 2023 Lexus RZ 4503 also gets more safety features and other tech features. The one that speaks to me directly: the radiant heat. I’m always cold, and this clever heating system that warms your feet without blowing air on your face. The heaters are placed on the underside of the dash and are quite powerful. One note: This heating system removes the glove box, so your primary storage will be under the armrest.

The RZ will also available high-tech features like a head-up display, fixed panoramic roof that will turn opaque with a touch of a button, low-speed hands-free traffic jam assist, Mark Levinson premium audio and advanced park assist.

Both the Premium and Luxury trims will come standard with things such as a 14-inch touchscreen display, Lexus’ new infotainment system, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Digital Key (with subscription) and five USB-C charge ports.

2023 Lexus RZ

About that yoke

Though it will not be available for the 2023 model year, Lexus is bringing steer-by-wire technology to the U.S. in the RZ 450e. With that comes a steering yoke instead of a wheel.

While I got a lot of comments on social media about the impracticality of a yoke, it’s important to note this yoke doesn’t simply replace a wheel like the Tesla yoke. You cannot do a full turn of the yoke, and your arms never cross over. Minute maneuvers bring big turns – which makes sense since this “wheel” is racing-inspired.

This steer-by-wire tech does away with a mechanical link between the steering column and the wheels, and instead uses electrical signals. And before you ask, yes, there are back-up systems in place so you won’t lose steering control while driving if the system fails.

Because I’m a 9-and-3 driver, I thought the yoke (Lexus hates it when you call it that, by the way) was very intuitive and easy to use. The system works well, and frankly, I like the operation better than an actual wheel – especially because you don’t need a full rotation to make big turns.

Another bonus, for someone who is short, the slimmer, flat bottom makes it easier to get in and out of the vehicle.

It definitely does take some getting used to, and the one weird thing I noticed: The turn signal stalk doesn’t pop out enough to reach easily with an outstretched finger. You have to tilt your hand in a bit of an unusual position to reach it – but this is something you’d get used to over time.

The one problem with RZ

The biggest problem with the 2023 RZ 450e: Range. You’ll max out at 220 miles – and that’s with the base Premium trim with 18-inch wheels. If you opt for the up-level Luxury trim and 20-inch wheels, you’re looking at 196 miles. Max.

Considering the fact you’ll lose a certain amount of range due to driving habits and inclement weather, this doesn’t bode well for a road trip. I certainly couldn’t take this car from Chicago to Indianapolis to see my parents.

So, while this will be a great around-town, running-errands kind of vehicle – it’s not an EV you’d own in place of a gasoline vehicle. It’s an “in addition to” kind of vehicle.

While Lexus does offer the “Lexus Reserve” program that will allow you to get 30 days of complimentary rental vehicles in a year, that’s not enough for someone who drives a lot or takes frequent road trips.

The bottom line

The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e is a great first EV from Lexus. It’s fast, fun, comfortable, luxurious and whole host of other good positive adjectives. Plus, with a base price of $60K and maxing out around $66k, this is well within the range of a luxury EV price tag.

But. The RZ needs more range for it to be ready for prime time. Considering that Lexus doesn’t intend for this to be a volume seller out of the gate, however, maybe it works. And maybe there’s an extended-range battery in the works. I hope.

Editor’s note: Driving impressions in this “First Drive” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Lexus covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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