Lexus RZ450e prototype review

Published:02 May 2022

Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast

► First bespoke Lexus EV driven
► Pre-production spec for now
► Uses OneMotion Grip like the Toyota bZ4X

Located just outside Barcelona, the ParcMotor cicuit might not be as popular as the Catalunya one, but it’s arguably got more character. A mixture of fast flowing bends, inviting hairpins and decent-sized straights, it’s the perfect place to test a racecar. But this we’re behind the wheel (and yoke) of the new, electric Lexus RZ450e crossover.

The what?

The Lexus RZ450e is the first dedicated BEV from the brand, and uses the same, bespoke e-TNGA platform as the Toyota bZ4X. But where the Toyota aims to conquer steep hills and off-road conditions, the Lexus takes a more premium spin and keeps a more road-centric focus. 

Like the bz4X, the Lexus uses a 71.4kWh battery to power two motors (201bhp on the front axle and 107bhp on the rear) but now for a combined output of 309bhp. That’s good enough for 0-62mph in just 5.6 seconds, a range of around 250 miles WLTP, and an eventual top speed of just 99mph. 

There are currently three prototypes in the world, and two of them are here in Spain; it turns out Lexus is using our feedback to further hone the car’s steering systems (which we’ll get to later) and other areas.  

Steering?

First confirmed when we drove the bz4X, the OneMotion Grip is Toyota and Lexus’ spin on steer-by-wire. It can be divided into two parts – the yoke you use to steer, and the technology between it and the wheels. Both cars can be fitted with conventional steering or with the new steer-by-wire system.

Designed as a butterfly-shaped control the yoke offers 150-degrees of movement to lock, with everything on the wheel – including the indicators – moving with your hands. This is the key difference compared to Tesla’s system; although the Tesla wheel is a yoke, everything between it and the wheels remains conventional, so it requires lots of turning. Lastly, the space-saving above and below the drivers’ hands means the cockpit dials are higher, easier to see and not interrupted by the rest of the wheel. 

So how does it work?

After a turning input is made, data is sent to the steering control actuator where it’s then decoded into steering movement. Road surface information is then collected by the steering control actuator and represented through the yoke using a steering torque actuator. In effect, this is where the road feel gets added. 

Steering this way has two benefits; firstly, it prevents  unwanted vibrations and information from the road surface coming through the wheel and unsettling the driver. Lexus engineers have tuned how much they feedback they think is appropriate for an SUV. Later, we’re told that the same system could transmit far more information and torque if it was used in a supercar, for example. In contrast, off-road driving (like the bz4X’s) would require far less information to be transmitted both to and from the wheels, giving a more relaxed driving experience. 

The other benefit? Steer-by-wire means engineers can tune the steering response depending on the speed: higher speeds dull response, while lower speeds give you more control. 

Thanks to this torque motor and extra redundancy systems, the steer-by-wire system is actually heavier than the conventional one.

How is it?

To understand the effect of the steer-by-wire, it’s worth understanding how the rest of the chassis performs. Although it’s based on the same platform as the bz4X, and also uses the same Subaru developed four-wheel-drive system (called Direct4 here) as the Toyota, the Lexus is a touch stable at higher speeds, and feels more composed in faster driving. Combine that with smooth electric power delivery (more Mazda MX30 then Tesla snappiness) and you’ve got a surprisingly well-mannered crossover. 

Steer-by-wire slots neatly into this formula, and it takes just a few corners to acclimatize to on track. Long-flowing bends require minimal input, and just a few degrees of extra turn swing you around the tighter ones. If you’ve raced on sim games, or real life, it’ll soon prove relatively natural.

In many ways it matches the way you apply power when driving an EV. Efficient steering matches smooth throttle inputs, and after a few laps threading the RZ450e through the ParcMotor circuit is pretty relaxing. In contrast, using the conventional wheel is busy, and ultimately means I’m carrying less speed through corners. That’s not essential in a family-orientated crossover but could be relevant when Lexus drops this system into sports cars. 

Lexus also set up a slow speed course with cones, and here, the yoke felt less intuitive – at least to begin with.  It took longer to understand and process what each degree of turn meant at the tyres, though it did get better each time. Here, using a conventional wheel gave me more confidence, and I was better able to understand what each turn of the steering wheel would do.  

Early verdict

The Lexus RZ450e is the more premium version of the Toyota bz4X for better or worse. In prototype form it’s nicely balanced, features a clean interior and also has more upmarket styling compared to its e-TNGA sibling. But like the Toyota, the Lexus suffers from a conservative spec sheet – and that could prove an issue in the constantly changing landscape of EVs.

What isn’t conservative, is the yoke system, which really does feel like the perfect match to an EV powertrain. Easier and more economic, it feels like a true counterpart to the Lexus’ linear power delivery. At times it felt a little less connected than we’d like, though it’s possible that’s more down to the fact it’s been tuned for an electric crossover, rather than an all-out sports car.

Lexus and Toyota’s main issue won’t be the technology itself, but how to convince customers it’s best for them in a test-drive environment.

Specs

Price when new: £0
On sale in the UK: 2022
Engine: AC synchronous electric motor/generators, (150kW + 80kW)
Transmission:
Performance: 309bhp, 321 ft lb, 5.6 seconds 0-62mph, 99mph, 0g/km (from tail pipe)
Weight / material:
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4805/1895/1635

Photo Gallery

  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review
  • Lexus RZ450e prototype review

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast

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