Worries about whether latest Lexus will go the distance

Peter Atkinson |

A mid-size SUV from Lexus, the RZ, includes an all-electric option.
A mid-size SUV from Lexus, the RZ, includes an all-electric option.

Among the numerous appealing reasons to buy Lexus’s new electric vehicle, there remains one compelling reason not to. Range.

That word – Range – is to an EV what Kryptonite is to Superman.

Over the past 12 months or so EV makers big and small have managed to squeeze additional distance from their electric motors.

Therefore it’s a fair assumption that this car – the latest to wear the respected Lexus badge – would be up there with the highest of ranges.

But it’s not.

For all of those brands that have stretched their market appeal by stretching how far a car can go between recharging, that logic apparently hasn’t yet hit home in Japan.

At first blink this sharp-looking RZ450e ticks all the Lexus boxes: beautiful, comfortable, stylish and outwardly one of the most technologically blessed and brilliantly engineered cars on the road,.

But is it fit for purpose?

When collected from the Lexus dealership, the test car showed about three-quarters full on its battery gauge, suggesting a remaining range of just under 300km.

Not far into a round trip to the Sunshine Coast – an estimated 234km – it became apparent the charge would be cutting it fine.

Driving with one eye on the road and the other on a steadily shrinking “range” readout makes for a nervous journey.

Switching to “eco” mode helped – adding about 30km to its estimated range – but still there wasn’t going to be much margin for error.

After finally spotting a “range” button on the digital display screen, which made a recalculation, Lexus suggested the car would make it back with about 30km to spare.

The most economical setting is brutal. It turns off every non-essential function, from air conditioning to daytime running lights and anything that might draw on the car’s battery.

In so doing it adds a further 90km or so to the range, but don’t expect it to be particularly comfortable.

Driving with no air conditioning to be sure of reaching the destination might be acceptable in one of the cut-price EVs, but it’s not a good look for a $135,000 vehicle from one of the world’s most ambitious car makers.

And to think that the RZ450e is, in almost every other way, including price, the equal of the mid-sized European EV SUVs.

Lexus has been a champion in the “electrification” of its fleet for decades, with hybrid petrol-electric versions of pretty much every model that they make.

It’s easy to understand that with such a long history in the hybrid market it’s no surprise that the Japanese maker is loathe to just join the EV revolution.

So it has invented a new naming protocol for EV models – calling a fully-electric version a BEV (battery electric vehicle), as distinct from a hybrid electric vehicle – ensuring all that hybrid credibility, and popularity, isn’t forgotten.

So, what about that puny travelling range of the RZ?

Could it be that Lexus might be gilding the lily in the way it measures its BEV models?

Lexus says the RZ’s performance can be measured by a “worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure”, which for this car promises 395km of electric range. Not in normal driving mode, it doesn’t.

Otherwise there’s also the “new European driving cycle” which claims 470km of driving for the Lexus. Again, experience suggests that’s BS.

But here’s the fine print: Lexus specifies that 470km result was “achieved in laboratory test conditions, using sample vehicles, and DO NOT REFLECT REAL-WORLD DRIVING”.

Does that make the new Lexus electric flagship a failure? Not quite, but it’s carrying a big handicap, particularly because it’s the first ground-up EV from the Japanese maker.

Lexus does offer the smaller, compact UX model, but that’s not going to drag high-end buyers into those flash dealerships.

The RZ will be offered in two versions Down Under – the $123,000 RZ450e Luxury; and Sports Luxury variant tested here (costing $133,000 drive away).

And it’s a perfectly nice thing – in so many ways level-pegging with vehicles like Mercedes-Benz’s EQE35 SUV, as well as BMW’s iX3, and Audi’s E-tron.

But it seems it can’t compete in the most important test of them all – getting home.

It’s a pity because there are very few other reasons not to like the RZ.

In normal driving conditions it is perhaps the most refined and sophisticated Lexus model. And that’s a serious compliment.

It’s also possibly the prettiest Lexus on the market and impresses in its size and road presence.

This handsome big SUV isn’t exactly a waste of time. If weekly driving distance is moderate (a few trips around town) it works fine and is everything that’s come to be expected from Lexus. And it’s possible Lexus knows enough about its own buyers to know that long journeys are not such a big issue.

But it’s not possible to go more than, say, 300km at a time. Lexus will even install a wall-box at buyers’ homes to help recharge more quickly, and cheaply.

The RZ also allows for a charging schedule so the vehicle only restocks at selected times of the day (avoiding peak periods). Lexus says that on the complementary home charging station RZ will fully charge within 6.5 hours.

Not so bad, as long as the car is parked in the shade .with the windows down.


* HOW BIG? It’s bold and powerful-looking with an impressive road presence and ample space for five adults.

* HOW FAST? It will silently whisk to the speed limit in an impressive five seconds.

* HOW THIRSTY? Teetotaller.

* HOW MUCH? The model will be sold in two specifications, each with a drive-away price. The Luxury model costs $123,000 while the higher specified Sport Luxury costs $133,000.