Lexus chose to launch its new Lexus RZ 450e crossover at Château La Coste, just outside Aix-en-Provence. Paddy McKillen’s Provençal art playground is scattered with cutting edge architecture, art and sculpture (including a pavilion by the late Oscar Niemeyer) making a more cerebral backdrop than your typical car industry shindig.
But Lexus has always kept an eye on the creative arts, as evidenced by its regular presence at the Salone (see its 2023 event) and its frequent collaborations (notably with Formafantasma). As a result, we’re pleased to confirm that the RZ is one of the most beautiful cars produced by the brand in recent years. Aiming squarely at the space between the Lexus NX and RX models, the RZ differentiates itself by going all-electric, joining the first purely EV Lexus, the UX (yes, Lexus names its cars in a very confusing way – even company officials have stumbled).
Like its parent company, Lexus was early to hybridisation, starting with the RX model nearly 20 years ago. Since then, hybrids have been an absolute mainstay of almost every Lexus product range, with over 2.4m hybrid light and plug-in hybrids sold to date. It has not, however, been quick to go electric.
The RZ has a sister car in Toyota’s Bz4x, the parent company’s first dedicated battery-electric platform. Despite both models sharing substantially the same underpinnings, the Lexus does more than its sibling, with much more equipment and more advanced systems. As the luxury arm of the business, it’s unsurprising that it should get these advantages, but there’s also an emphasis on driving fun that hasn’t featured too heavily in most recent company communiqués.
Admittedly, Lexus has made sports cars before (the epic LFA), as well as sporting grand tourers (the stately LC500), but it could never truthfully be described as a ‘performance brand’. Nevertheless, the RZ has arrived with an inescapable focus on power delivery and dynamic ability without compromising what the brand likes to call its three ‘C’s, confidence, control, and comfort.
Power delivery is as smooth and whooshy as we’ve come to expect from larger electric vehicles; Lexus are quoting a range of between 395 and 440 km (about 245 to 273 miles), depending on specification and road conditions. Purists and hyper-milers should know that the car rides best and drives furthest on the optional 18in wheels. Despite this, Lexus expects 80 per cent of all RVs to come with the bigger spinners fitted.
It is a remarkably quiet vehicle, wafting along silkily and smoothly. The whole package feels weighty and solid. The taut, creased bodywork is a distinct aesthetic step up from Lexuses gone by, which regularly appeared to be over-bodied and ungainly, with proportions and details that often struggled to sympathetically align.
Lexus has managed to expand its voluminous standard specification with even more optional extras, like a dimmable panoramic roof that lets just the right amount of daylight in, and 64-colour ambient lighting for evening illuminations. Other extras include radiant seat heaters that warm you up using infrared radiation to save on precious battery power. The latter can be conserved with the use of the ‘Range’ setting (in addition to ‘Normal’, ‘Eco’, and ‘Sport’), which throttles performance and minimises all kinds of power use to help the car achieve its absolutely maximum mileage.
The regular steering has a pleasing directness to it as well, although it doesn’t feel as snappy as the yoke. The hefty battery block is set low down in the chassis for a usefully ground-hugging centre of gravity. Coupled with four-wheel drive, all this makes the RV is an easy and predictable car to drive. Approaching the limit, the tyres scrub somewhat against the weight, but ultimately this isn’t really that kind of car. By laying bare the correlation between speed achieved and energy used, EVs are fast rewriting the way performance is perceived. Far better to simply cruise and enjoy the ambience.
The RV’s next upgrade, which we got to sample in Provence, is the One Motion Grip steer-by-wire system, signalled by the replacement of the traditional steering wheel for an airplane-style ‘yoke’. In essence, this means the steering rack has no mechanical linkage to the steering column, only an electronic one to save weight and space. With fewer turns to lock and sharper responses on the road, it takes a bit of getting used to, but the unrestricted view of the instruments and flight-like sensation make it worth the effort.
The Lexus RZ is exceptionally well put together and supremely refined, while also being uncompromising in its search for maximum efficiency. In all honesty, you really can’t ask for more.