In the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of Southern France, Lexus, the luxury brand of the mighty Toyota Motor Corporation, assembled international media to unveil the all-new electric crossover Lexus RZ 450e. The RZ 450e is a landmark model for the brand, as it is the first Lexus to be designed from the outset as a battery-electric vehicle.
Why Aix-en-Provence? Perhaps because the remarkable history of the city runs parallel to the remarkable rise of the Lexus brand. Aix-en-Provence was the birthplace of Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne. During our time there, we were treated to a walking tour of parts of the city where Cezanne’s childhood home, Jas de Bouffan, and his former studio Atelier Cezanne are located. The stunning white sandstone cliffs of Mount Sainte-Victoire overlooking the city were frequent subjects of Cezanne’s works.
The Lexus story, while not historic, is very impressive as well. In 1990, Lexus entered a luxury market in the U.S. dominated by Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and BMW. Lexus hit the ground running with models that offered luxe interiors, decent styling, and most importantly, ultra-reliable drivetrains. Lexus is now a preferred luxury brand, with very high resale values.
The RZ is the latest electrified vehicle in the Lexus lineup, which includes seven hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The portfolio expansion moves Lexus toward another essential goal: the realization of a sustainable global society. Lexus intends to contribute to a carbon-neutral society by aiming to offer 100% BEVs globally by 2035.
The statement “aiming to offer 100% BEVs by 2035” makes a whole lot of sense as “aiming” is the key operative word. Frankly, if by 2035 the infrastructure and demand for EVs is simply not there amongst consumers in large numbers, Lexus and Toyota have an “out,” as their hybrid vehicles offer outstanding fuel economy, and have lessened impact on the natural resources needed to make a battery electric vehicle. For example, Toyota can build 90 Prius Hybrids with the nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium, manganese, and graphite needed to make a full-electric vehicle battery-pack for one full-electric vehicle. Toyota also offers another “green” automobile the hydrogen-powered Mirai.
So what’s the RZ all about? It is a true Lexus in every sense of the word. Lexus is now known, in addition to stellar reliability, for its high technology. With the RZ 450e, it all starts with the new e-TNGA vehicle platform.
The lightweight platform employs high-tensile steel panels and an aluminum hood to reduce weight and increase rigidity. To join the body and platform, innovative technologies, including laser screw welding and laser peening, short-pitch spot welds, and high-rigidity expansion joints are employed.
The lightweight platform offers enhanced stability and ride comfort by mounting the battery pack under the vehicle floor, creating a low center of gravity which translates into better handling.
RZ 450e Road Manners
RZ 450e road manners are impressive, but some will scoff at the mid-pack EPA estimated range numbers. The 71.4 kWh 96-cell lithium-ion battery pack delivers 308 horsepower and a 0-60 acceleration time of 5.0 seconds. It has an EPA-estimated range rating of up to 220 miles when equipped with 18” wheels and an EPA-estimated MPGe rating of 115/98/107 (city/highway/combined). With the 20” wheels on premium trim levels, the RZ has an EPA-estimated MPGe of 102/87/95 with an EPA-estimated range of up to 196 miles.
The RZ 450e utilizes DIRECT4, an all-wheel drive system first introduced with the 2023 Lexus RX, which features a rear eAxle coupled with the engine and front motor. RZ’s DIRECT4 system utilizes two high-output, high-torque eAxle units that each drive a wheelset, one in the front (150-kW) and the other at the rear (80-kW).
On the roads of Southern France, we found the overall handling and ride quality to be outstanding. Lexus will offer a steer-by-wire system on the RZ, and we were fortunate to test that system back to back with standard electric rack and pinion steering. The steer-by-wire system utilizes an aircraft-style yoke steering system that Lexus calls “One Motion Grip,” and lock-to-lock steering can be accomplished with a 180-degree turn of the yoke. It takes a little while to get used to the system, as small inputs mean a lot of front-wheel travel, but once acclimated, it’s impressive and a feature I would opt for.
RZ 450e Styling
The new RZ 450e is in a word, gorgeous. Lexus’ identifiable spindle grille is replaced by the Lexus spindle body, as introduced with the 2023 Lexus RX, showcasing a distinctive roof spoiler to suppress aerodynamic force. The roof, trunk and undercover are shaped to reduce aerodynamic drag and allow air to flow smoothly across the vehicle.
Having no engine to cool results in a low hood design and minimal front grille opening. The grille uses a grille shutter to improve aerodynamic efficiency. When cooling air is not required, the grille shutter is closed to reduce air resistance.
An available illuminated front “L” emblem indicates charging status and houses a millimeter wave radar sensor for dynamic cruise control. The Lexus logo resides on the horizontal rear combination lamps. The lowered center portion of the red lens accentuates the logo type and emphasizes a sharp look.
RZ 450e Interior
The RZ 450e interior is based on the concept of Tazuna, or a horse’s rein. It features a driver-focused interior layout inspired by the communicative relationship between horse and rider. Key Tazuna elements include steering wheel-mounted switches, an optimally positioned instrument panel for an improved field of view, and an available 10-inch head-up display.
My favorite interior feature is the spectacular Dynamic Sky panoramic glass sunroof. The optional roof is a must have, as it eliminates the traditional rolling sunshade in favor of a smart-function low-e coating that suppresses radiant heat on hot summer days. If it’s too much light or heat coming in, a dimming function which instantly reduces the amount of light entering the interior.
Another super cool interior feature is the radiant heaters for the driver and front passenger. Located beneath the steering column and dashboard, the system uses 8% less energy than conventional climate control systems.
Of course, the rest of the interior is full-luxe in typical Lexus fashion. And without the noise of an internal combustion engine and extra efforts to combat cabin noise by Lexus designers and engineers, the interior is serene. Lexus adopted the Japanese concept of Oto-Kukan (sound space) when fine-tuning interior sound and noise levels. Noise abatement features include a slimmer A-pillar cross-section to reduce wind noise; a continuous hood seal rubber that reduces wind entry and turbulence; sound-dampening carpets, glass, and foam; and Active Sound Control that directs EV system sound frequencies into the cabin to cancel out unwanted outside noises.
Mark Levinson premium audio, a 14-inch high-definition touchscreen with cloud navigation, digital key, remote connect and remote charging, and several safety and service connect features are standard or available equipment. Five USB ports and wireless charging up front provide myriad options to keep your Android or Apple products fully charged.
The RZ has three interior color options: Thunderstorm and Macadamia, Palomino, and Dapple Gray. Ambient illumination compliments the interior with a thematic multi-color option standard on the Luxury grade that gives users a choice of 50 colors and 14 themes. An all-new and standard Shadow Illumination creates a decorative pattern on the door trim.
Premium grade interiors have NuLuxe trim, while Ultrasuede trim, an upholstery material made from bio-based sustainable materials, is standard on Luxury grade. In addition, Luxury grade also has available all-new “Tsuyasumi” film, which brings a shiny charcoal effect to the center console. The film overlays layers of individual veins and a natural cinder-like black color to create the final highly textured, modern expression.
RZ 450e Safety
Lexus has been a world leader in safety, and the new RZ 450e keeps that critical factor a major priority with the standard Lexus Safety System+ 3.0. The system includes:
- Pre-Collison System with Pedestrian Detection
- Risk Avoidance Emergency Steer Assist
- Left Turn Oncoming Vehicle Detection and Braking
- All Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
- Lane Trace Assist
- Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist
- Road Sign Assist
- Proactive Driving Assist
Additionally, expected safety items like multiple airbags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes are standard equipment. The e-Latch electronic door release system with Safe Exit Assist helps prevent accidents caused by opening a door into the path of approaching vehicles or cyclists. Great feature!
RZ 450e Charging
The RZ comes with a Level 1 vehicle-charging cable for 120v outlets, and participating Lexus dealers offer an option to purchase a ChargePoint Home Flex Level 2 charger at the dealership or directly from ChargePoint online. With the ChargePoint charger, expect up to 25 miles of range per hour. Under ideal conditions, the RZ can charge from 0-100% in approximately 9.5 hours with a Level 2 charger and from 0-80% in approximately 30 minutes with a DC fast charger.
RZ 450e owners and lessees have access to a concierge guest experience with a dedicated team available via phone to answer BEV questions.
RZ 450e owners are also enrolled in the all-new Lexus Reserve program, which provides an exclusive complimentary rental service to anyone who purchases/leases the 2023 model. The dealer-based Lexus Reserve program awards guests with 30 complimentary reserve days to be used over the course of three years from the date of purchase/lease.
RZ 450e Pricing
The 2023 RZ is offered in three trims:
- Premium with 18-inch wheels – $59,650
- Premium with 20-inch wheels – $60,890
- Luxury – $65,150
Delivery, Processing, and Handling fees total $1,150.
The all-new 2023 Lexus RZ 450e represents the “Next Chapter” of electrified for the brand. Based on the excellence the new RZ offers, the future of the Next Chapter is bright.
After departing beautiful Aix-en-Provence, we traveled to Marseille.
Marseille is a port city in southern France, and has been a crossroads of immigration and trade since its founding by the Greeks circa 600 B.C. At its heart is the Vieux-Port (Old Port), where fishmongers sell their catch along the boat-lined quay. It’s a great walking city with myriad landmarks, great restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife scene.
We stayed at the ultra-luxe Intercontinental Hotel, with stunning views of this beautiful city.
Pursuitist automotive and lifestyle contributor Brian Armstead has been involved in print, radio, web and television for over 47 years. Brian has traveled to 79 countries. He is a North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year (NACTOY) Juror.