It Whispered in My Ear and Stirred My Soul: I Wasn’t Prepared to Like the Lexus RZ Electric Car This Much

Featured Image Lexus Rz

But then, Lexus knows how to build a luxury experience. 

Oh… electric cars. People focus on the battery range and speed of recharging. The tax credits and cost of electricity. The instant acceleration — or lack of acceleration. If you’re looking at the Lexus RZ this way, the first electric car from Lexus and priced from $58,500 to about $64,000, you’re looking at it the wrong way. 

This car is about quality of life you will live in this car. How the steering wheel feels in your hands. How the seats cradle your frame. How the upholstery feels against your skin. The sunroof that floods the cabin with graceful light. Technology that jumps to attention just by asking.

Your overall opinions of a car are comprised from the small details that define it. Such as wireless Apple CarPlay that instantly recognizes your phone. The driver’s seat that resets to your preferred position when you get into the car. A wide, comfortable rear seat with air vents and USB ports so your companions can relax. A quiet ride that leaves you feeling relaxed and unfazed by whatever else is going on outside the car. 

When a car does these things like a thoughtful partner, then adds mindful touches and exquisite details, it leaves you feeling enamored and anticipating each moment with it.

Then, add unprecedented details like suede seating, cream accents and acceleration that sweeps you away in an electric tingle, and you’re left feeling a bit stirred. 

Related: There’s a new Lexus RX Hybrid SUV (or Gas, or Performance) for 2023, and It’s Everything a Makeover Should Be

Scotty Reiss In The Lexus Rz

Scotty Reiss in the Lexus RZ. Photo: Scotty Reiss

To Surprise and Delight is the Luxury — and Lexus — Mantra

There were some things I expected to see in the Lexus RZ with the full line of Lexus models being redesigned. Such as the new multimedia system with voice activated “Hey Lexus” assistance, the touch-sensitive steering wheel controls that highlight buttons and systems in the head up display. And the familiar hourglass shaped front grille re-interpreted as a flat-faced front anchored by the Lexus logo badge (which lights up in the dark). 

But then, the surprises were pure delight. Let me just start here: microsuede interior upholstery. In Thunderstorm Blue. Oh, my. I just wanted to wrap myself in this loveliness and stay there all day. 

Many other details in the RZ are rethought. The gear selector is a textured metal dial that you push and turn to select your gear. It is demure and elegant and adds to the overall style of the cabin. 

Heated seats are a must (and they are standard) and include not just the seats, but also, a radiant heat panel in front of the driver (just under the steering wheel) and in front of the front passenger (just under the dash). Touch the heated seat button and the panel soon glows with heat too. 

The passenger side heat panel replaces a glove box— there isn’t one. However, there is storage in the arm rest and under the center console, which is open to both the driver and passenger side.

Related: The Lexus NX Just Got An Amazing Makeover, Making it the Lexus to Drool Over

The Front Cabin In The Lexus Rz

The front cabin in the Lexus RZ. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Sustainable Materials Evolve the Definition of Luxury

The Thunderstorm Blue microsuede is framed by cream-colored Macadamia NuLuxe leatherette and showcases not just a beautiful aesthetic, but a central theme in the RZ: all man-made sustainable materials, many of which are made from renewable sources. There are no leather or wood components in the RZ. 

As man-made materials become stronger, more supple and resilient, they can replace woods and leather that is growing increasingly unsustainable to produce. And, they can become a truly luxury experience, the product of artistic vision and innovation.  

All RZ models have either microsuede or leatherette seating and interior appointments. And, a centerpiece is the textured striated console surface that looks and feels like wood but is actually plastic with textured overlay. The treatment is refined and elegant. 


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Another Innovation: This Sunroof

Also refined and elegant is the transitional sunroof that goes from opaque to clear with the touch of a button. To be fair, Toyota rolled this out in the Venza last year and we loved it just as much then. It provides an elegant diffused light when opaque and a bright skylight when clear. 

The sunroof does not have a retractable cover, which might be a good idea in sunny climates; we found that the interior heated up quickly even with the sunroof in opaque mode. But owners can buy a screen that pops in place.

Related: Lexus LX 600 Luxury SUV: Go Big and Go Fancy

The Lexus Rz In Ether Blue

The Lexus RZ in Ether Blue. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The RZ Looks Like a Lexus SUV- Because It Is

Overall size and shape of the RZ is iconic Lexus. It’s actually the same length as the Lexus RX, the familiar SUV from Lexus. But inside it’s large and spacious with a huge rear seat (37.5” of legroom) that is very roomy and comfortable; this is typical of electric cars due to the battery storage under the body of the car. Rear seat passengers will feel comfortable and relaxed here. 

Probably the most incredible surprise, though, is the steer by wire. Geeky, futuristic, video game-like and … I was instantly infatuated. 

Steer By Wire Steering Wheel

Steer by wire steering wheel. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Steer by Wire? What the Heck is This?

When we arrived at the test drive, we were told that Lexus had a new technology for us to try out, something that may be implemented in its cars in 2024 or 2025… they were not sure yet. So, they lost my attention. If  I can’t have it now, do I even want to know?

But, they set up a demonstration in a parking lot, so I had to try it out. And I was instantly smitten. 

Steer by wire, which might be better dubbed electronic steering, is a fully electronic and computerized steering system, akin to a video game joystick or an airplane’s yoke. It allows for small movements in the wheel to accomplish the job of steering. I’m terrible at steering a car on a video game with one of these, so I didn’t have a lot of confidence that it would be easy. But once in the driver’s seat, I knew I would easily get this. I did, and it is life changing.

The 14&Quot; Touch Screen Is Standard In The Lexus Rz

The 14″ touch screen is standard in the Lexus RZ. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Why? Because the Visibility is Truly Incredible

The steering wheel essentially has its top and bottom removed, creating an oblong shaped wheel. Paddles, turn signal stalks and light switches are diminutive. Even the touch pads and radio controls, head up display controls and cruise control are smaller. All this adds up to a large, wide view of the driver’s information screen, HUD and the road that are completely unblocked and easy to see. It’s as if everything just got larger and clearer and suddenly much more vibrant. 

Once I was out on the course, I found it easy to command the car. I did have to dial back my habit of sweeping turns and full spins of the wheel; the steering yoke only needs tiny tips in either direction to make a full 90 degree turn.

Later, I was able to take the Lexus RZ with steer by wire out on the road and found it simply delightful. Making a u-turn was easier because my arms and hands didn’t get in the way. I just spun the wheel 180 degrees and boom: turn completed.

It’s hard to really explain the dramatic difference until you try it for yourself. But once you drive a car with steer by wire and a yoke that allows a full view of the dash and road, you’ll be smitten too.

The Front Face Of The Lexus Rz

The front face of the Lexus RZ. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Driving the Lexus RZ: Fast and Elegant 

Pulling myself back into the realm of reality from the steer by wire fun, we took the RZ with a standard steering wheel out for a drive up in to the hills outside San Diego and through some of the seaside neighborhoods. In the city, the RZ is a breeze; it’s quiet and accelerates easily. On the highway, even in Eco mode, it accelerates surprisingly fast. Once in Sport mode it’s even faster and more thrilling. It’ll make on ramps and off ramps a highlight of daily driving.

The RZ has a dual motor system that delivers 313 horsepower and all wheel drive. There are several drive modes designed to enhance your experience, either emphasizing the efficiency of the battery system or the sport driving experience. 

To access sport modes, tap the vehicle icon on the multimedia screen and Drive Modes are the first menu item; drive modes are displayed on the screen so you can just pick the one you want. They include normal, sport, econ, range and custom. Normal gives you a drive experience similar to any gas car. Same with sport: more power more quickly. Range allows the Lexus to adjust systems for max battery efficiency; it may adjust climate control, power and more to get the most out of the range. And, custom lets you set  things up however you’d like. 

The Panoramic Sunroof In The Lexus Rz

The panoramic sunroof in the Lexus RZ. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Regenerative Braking To Maximize Your Battery Range

You can also regulate battery usage and regenerate power to go back into the battery by using the paddles on the back of the steering wheel. While the RZ does not have true one-pedal driving, if you pull the left paddle several times, max regen mode is set and the car will slow significantly by lifting off the accelerator (you’ll see down-pointing arrows indicating this in the driver information screen and head up display). 

I noticed that when in max regen mode the car quickly came to a near full stop from about 40 MPH. I had to brake for the last few miles per hour of slowing. With the brake hold button set, I tapped the brake and the car held with my foot on the brake until the traffic light turned green. 

I didn’t have enough time to really test out the max regen mode to see how much range it might add back to the battery, but with the speedy slowing of the car once I let off the accelerator, my guess is it will be significant. And putting the RZ in max regen mode on a downhill drive will no doubt also contribute to the range. 

The Lexus Rz Has A Heat Panel On The Dashboard Instead Of A Glove Box

The Lexus RZ has a heat panel on the dashboard instead of a glove box. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Up to 220 Miles of Range On a Charge

Here is where some pundits find fault with the RZ: the range. Now, keep in mind that the Tesla Y’s Standard range is about 245 miles. And many of RZ’s competitors, including the Genesis GV60, Audi e-tron and Jaguar i-Pace have similar ranges.

The truth is, for daily driving, charging at home and the occasional trip to a DC fast charger, a 220 mile range (196 for models equipped with the larger 20” wheels) is probably fine.

And if you need to drive further than the range or a long distance where there are no chargers? Lexus will provide a loan vehicle for up to 30 days in the first 3 years of ownership. 

The Front Cabin In The Lexus Rz

The front cabin in the Lexus RZ. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Elevated Lexus Experience

Loaner vehicles are just the start of the Lexus electric car experience. Lexus is investing in training dealership experts so that all your questions can be answered locally, so that they can demonstrate the RZ’s features and explain all the details. Also, Lexus is ensuring that there will be a demonstration model at every dealership so ideally, you can go back several times to learn about the RZ in person. 

The Rear Seat Of The Lexus Rz

The rear seat of the Lexus RZ. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What the Lexus RZ Costs

The RZ comes in two trims and has two wheel options. It does not (yet) qualify for any federal tax incentives and the steer by wire option is not yet available. Here’s how the pricing breaks down: 

  • Lexus RZ Premium AWD, with 18” wheels, panoramic sunroof, smart key, leatherette seating, white ambient lighting, heated and vented front seats, heated steering wheel, Lexus Safety System 3.0, wireless phone charging and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, about $58,500
  • Add 20” wheels, $1,240
  • Lexus RZ Luxury AWD, with 20” wheels, acoustic glass, digital phone-as-key, microsuede seats, multi-color ambient lighting, radiant front seat heat panels, rear heated seats, head up display, Mark Levinson premium sound and advanced self parking technology, about $64,000
The Front Cabin In The Lexus Rz

The front cabin in the Lexus RZ. Photo: Scotty Reiss

More to Love Than You Might Expect

Anyone making a quick assessment of the RZ might underestimate the true value here: the luxury details and experience add up to more than the sum of the miles on the battery range. While yes, the range isn’t stellar against its competitors, the innovative details, luxury features and promise of a great dealer experience — loan vehicles for road trips are a great advantage— set it apart from the pack. Add to that the microsuede upholstery, the dynamic sunroof and head up display, and it’s a cocoon you never want to leave. And the quiet ride, thrilling acceleration and soothing interior will echo in your soul: You want to live life in a car like this. 

Disclosure: I was a guest of Lexus for this test drive; all travel and accommodations were provided, but my opinions are my own. 

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss