Lexus RZ 450E Auto Review: ‘A Bland Middle Ground’

Either my tastes have become impossibly refined, or Lexus has turned into something utterly ordinary.

The 2024 Lexus RZ 450E Luxury. NATHAN LEACH-PROFFER

In the not-so-distant past, an electric Lexus would have been my dream car. 10 years ago, it seemed that Lexus had figured out the secret sauce to the car industry: it was relatively fun to drive, plushly comfortable, competitively priced and far more reliable than its American and European competitors in the mid-luxury range. Fast forward a decade, and we’re in the electric car era

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Well, now the electric Lexus is here, and I drove it for a week. If this was my dream, then my dreams were pretty bland. Either my tastes have become impossibly refined, or Lexus turned into something utterly ordinary along the way. 

The Lexus RZ 450E Luxury is a small SUV, which is the worst current segment of the electric market. For an electric car to be at its best, it either needs to go big, like the Ford F150 Lightning, or go very fast and slick. The RZ occupies a bland middle ground. 

A look at the back exterior. NATHAN LEACH-PROFFER

First, and most importantly, is the range. The RZ, at full charge, can run for 196 miles, maximum. If you’re driving on a highway, you’d be hard-pressed to get it to more than 180. At this point in the evolution of the electric car, that is not nearly enough. 200 miles can’t even get me to Dallas from where I sit in Austin. You’d be hard-pressed to get from Los Angeles to San Diego. New York to Boston in under seven hours? Given the tough time that non-Tesla owners have finding a fast charger that both works and is actually available, forget it. When competitive cars in the segment have 250 miles of range, why bother? 

It’s also not a particularly attractive car, somehow both boxy in the rear and tapered in the front, so it’s got no identifiable personality. Lexus and Toyota have made it clear for years that they’re all in on fuel-cell development for cars, so they don’t really care about their electric line. This is a compliance car, hastily designed, and it shows. 

The interiors weren’t a favorite. NATHAN LEACH-PROFFER

I’m sure that the highest-end version of the RZ has the creamy, relaxing interior that I knew and loved in Lexus cars a decade ago, but the version I had was shot through with mediocre ultrasuede canvas and indifferent dashboard features. I did like the panoramic roof, and the sightlines overall were good, but when it comes to a car like this, the ceiling should not be the best part. 

My driving diet has been mostly electric lately, so I know, like anyone who’s making the transition, how fast these cars are out of the box. Not so for the RZ. It’s certainly faster than a non-electric, but it doesn’t have the crazed rip that most EVs deliver. Like everything else about this car, the driving dynamics are smooth and vaguely pleasant, but basically unremarkable. Even as EVs enter their second decade, you can still feel a kind of frisson when you get out of a good one. You are shaking; truly electrified. When I got out of the RZ, I mostly felt mild disappointment. 

The car does have a nice suite of safety features and good driver’s assist technology; the kind of thing that comes almost industry standard these days. The Apple CarPlay worked fine and integrated with my phone nicely, which is, again, industry standard. But the driving dynamics and, especially, electric range, were far below standard. 

No longer the car of my dreams… NATHAN LEACH-PROFFER

This is a Lexus, known as a reliable value bet in the mid-luxury space. They are less expensive to maintain than many European cars and tend to hold their value well. But I’m not sure that this one will. I didn’t get to drive it for a decade, so it’s hard to tell—but it’s pretty easy to predict that a decade from now, if you have an electric SUV that struggles to get 180 miles of range, you’ll be way behind the pack. The version I drove tops out at $67,000, with a few, but not many, add-ons. Even by today’s standards, that is a fairly expensive vehicle, but it’s not an aspirational one. I think I’ll be seeing other brands in my dreams from now on. 

Lexus RZ 450E Auto Review: ‘A Bland Middle Ground’