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The New Lexus RZ 450e is Toyota's Answer to the Tesla Model Y and Raises the Bar for Battery-Powered SUVs

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【Summary】Although Toyota's luxury division Lexus launched the RX 400h hybrid in 2005, the brand has yet to deliver a purely electric model to compete with Tesla. But that’s soon about to change with the upcoming launch of the new Lexus RZ 450e fully-electric SUV. For legacy automakers entering the electric SUV and crossover segment for the first time, Lexus has certainly set the bar high.

Eric Walz    Apr 21, 2022 9:30 AM PT
The New Lexus RZ 450e is Toyota's Answer to the Tesla Model Y and Raises the Bar for Battery-Powered SUVs
The fully-electric 2023 Lexus RZ 450e will launch later this year.

Although Toyota Motor Corp launched the hybrid Prius back in 1997 and its luxury division Lexus launched the RX 400h hybrid in 2005, the automaker has yet to deliver a purely electric model to compete with Tesla and other legacy automakers that have already launched fully-electric models in the U.S.

But that's soon about to change with the upcoming launch of the Toyota Bz4X and Lexus RZ 450e fully-electric SUVs, the latter was just unveiled yesterday for the first time. Based on its looks, the new Lexus RZ 450e could become a big seller for Toyota's luxury brand, as more consumers shop for electric vehicles for the first time.

The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e is the first global Battery EV (BEV) from Toyota's luxury brand. It is the first of many purely electric and hybrid vehicles from Lexus. Under the brand's "Lexus Electrified" vision, Toyota's luxury unit will offer a full lineup of hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) by 2023, which will be targeted at a more diverse set of luxury buyers.

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The 2023 Lexus RZ marks the beginning of this transformation for Lexus and the automaker is off to a strong start one one of the most popular vehicle segments: compact SUVs and crossovers. It's safe to say the Lexus RX raises the bar in the electric luxury SUV segment that's currently dominated by Tesla's Model Y.

At the moment, Toyota is not looking to launch EVs with 300+ miles of range. Part of that reason is to make EVs more affordable and practical for everyday driving needs, which rarely exceeds driving over 200 miles per day for most people.

The Lexus RZ is an all-wheel-drive electric SUV that comes packed with advanced safety technology. It's equipped with a 71.4 kWh battery pack with an estimated driving range of 225 miles. The front electric motors put out 140 kW of power, while the rear is equipped with a 80 kW e-motor.

In lieu of range, the Lexus RZ offers an engaging, driver-centric experience, a high-performance electric powertrain and a strong focus on safety and refinement.

The newly developed eAxle for the RZ integrates the motor, transaxle and inverter within a compact unit. The front eAxle is packaged with a short front/rear system layout, while the rear eAxle features a low-profile layout to increase interior and rear cargo space. In addition, the use of a high-efficiency inverter in the rear also contributes to an increase in range.

"We believe that Lexus, an established luxury automaker, should continue pursuing the creation of exciting cars while respecting nature and the global environment to achieve a carbon-neutral society," said Takashi Watanabe, chief engineer, ‘Lexus Electrified,'Lexus International. "The RZ has been developed with the aim of creating a uniquely Lexus BEV that feels secure to ride in, is pleasing to the touch, and is exhilarating to drive."

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The Lexus RZ 450e is built on Toyota's dedicated (e-TNGA) electric vehicle platform. The platform is mated to a lightweight and highly rigid body, which enhances performance of the RZ by achieving optimal weight distribution through the ideal placement of the battery and motor in the vehicle. 

The body is strengthened by reinforcing the radiator support area and adding a V-shaped brace, which Lexus says offers excellent handling performance. In addition, the RZ's fender braces improve steering response, while the reinforcement in the lower rear section improves rear tracking.

The body of the RZ is joined to the frame using laser screw welding, structural adhesives and laser welding technologies to improve handling, stability and ride comfort. 

The front suspension of the RZ uses MacPherson struts, while its rear uses a trailing arm double wishbone configuration. In addition, Lexus uses what it calls "Frequency Reactive Dampers" (FRD), which are shock absorbers that control the damping force in response to road surface frequency input. 

The FRD setup gives a high level of handling stability without compromising ride comfort, which has been a focus of the luxury Lexus brand since its inception. 

With FRD and optimized dedicated BEV platform, key Lexus Driving Signature traits such as the precise control of sprung weight, tactile steering feel and the linear responses of steering, braking and acceleration is greatly improved.

The DIRECT4 all-wheel drive system of the RZ controls front and rear drive force based on road surface conditions. DIRECT4 and the newly developed high-output electronic axle (eAxle) motor continuously control the drive force of the four wheels with high precision, according to Lexus. 

The DIRECT4 all-wheel drive system also features a steer-by-wire system that enables vehicle control that is more true to the driver's intention, according to Lexus. The steer-by-wire system enables the electronic exchange of steering and road surface information between the advanced steering control and tires via electrical signals, not mechanical linkage like a conventional steering system.

The steer-by-wire system helps drivers make turns without the need for hand-over-hand operation at intersections, U-turns, parking, winding roads and other driving situations, therefore Lexus engineers could make the steering wheel a bit smaller. 

The compact shape of the steering wheel is complimented by a lowered instrument cluster placement, which is intended to encourage driver engagement and heighten environmental awareness by opening up the field of view in front.

The steer-by-wire system provides nimble and agile performance on winding roads and high-speed stability on the highways by optimizing the steering gear ratio according to the current road conditions. The steer-by-wire system also blocks out unnecessary vibrations from the tires and brakes, only relaying vital road information to the driver.

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Another innovative feature on the RZ is "Lane Tracing Assist". When it's activated, the wheels are electronically controlled by the steer-by-wire system as needed, allowing for gentle steering and vehicle movement. 

Lexus calls the driving experience of the RZ the "Lexus Driving Signature" (LDS). Its designed to achieve predictable, linear response according to the driver's intentions. In the RZ, the high-precision motor torque control and optimal battery and motor placement help to achieve ideal weight distribution while delivering instantaneous throttle response.

The DIRECT4 electric all-wheel drive system uses the vehicle's wheel speed, acceleration and steering angle sensor information to control front-to-rear drive force ratio distribution between 100:0 and 0:100. 

Other information, such as cornering speed and steering angle help to optimize drive force distribution according to various driving conditions and helps attain excellent handling stability. This precise level of control contributes to improved start-up acceleration, handling stability and low power consumption to help improve range. 

Lexus engineered the front-to-rear drive force ratio distribution of the RZ between 60:40 and 40:60 to minimize vehicle pitch during launch and straight-line acceleration.

When the steering wheel is turned, drive force is focused on the front wheels distributing drive force between 75:25 and 50:50. This is to ensure that the RZ responds nimbly and provides excellent steering feel. 

When exiting a corner for example, torque distribution to the rear wheels is further increased (between 50:50 and 20:80) to increase traction and control the vehicle's pitch. For the RZ, Lexus said its engineers achieved a refined driving feel with these systems.

Lexus also developed a regenerative braking system with independent front and rear hydraulic control. The new system aims to provide direct and controlled braking. The regenerative braking system is based on Lexus' hybrid electric technology experience over the years. 

The regenerative braking system improves regenerative energy efficiency to increase cruise range, while enhancing brake feel. Front nose dive is eliminated by optimizing the distribution of braking force to the front and rear wheels in response to the amount of braking by the driver. Furthermore, ergonomic brake pedal pads are used for easy pedal changes and pedal depression.

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A Quiet and Refined Interior Space

Since the electric powertrain of the RZ is nearly silent, Lexus engineers created in-cabin sounds to convey the exhilaration of driving. Engineers matched sound frequencies to the vehicle's speed and sound levels during dynamic actions such as acceleration. In addition, the underfloor battery functions as a sound barrier and the entire perimeter of the hood opening is sealed to eliminate noise caused by turbulent airflow. 

Unwanted noise is also suppressed through the use of sound dampening acoustic glass for the front and rear seats to help create a quiet, conversation-friendly cabin, even when driving at highway speeds.

The overall design of the RZ's interior space offers a sense of refinement combined with high-quality craftsmanship. The RZ's cabin is minimalist, yet airy and bright, thanks to the large panoramic glass roof. Lexus offers an electronic dimming function for the glass to instantly reduce the amount of light entering the cabin area.

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The door trim and console passing between the driver and passenger seat creates a clean, wide-open feel. In addition, Lexus added finishes such as ultra-suede door trim ornamentation, seats and an upper wood-grain console.

The front cockpit for the driver is based on the tazuna concept, which Lexus says represents the reins riders use to control horses. The steering wheel switches are synced with the available Head-Up Display (HUD) so drivers can control functions such as navigation, audio, and drive mode select without taking their eyes off the road.

The RZ will feature the North American-developed Lexus Interface multimedia system recently launched on the Lexus NX and LX SUVs. The system will be accessible via voice commands and a 14-inch touchscreen.

The Lexus RZ's Advanced Safety Technology

The fully-electric RZ includes the latest Lexus Safety System+ 3.0. It includes standard Pre-Collision System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert and Emergency Driving Stop System.

The Pre-Collision System monitors the driver. If it's determined that the driver is distracted or drowsy, the system will provide an earlier timing alert and braking to prevent a collision.

The Dynamic Radar Cruise Control also monitors the driver to see if the driver is attentive. Its used to set the distance away of a vehicle traveling in front. Drivers can select from four settings. The systems will automatically brake the RZ if the vehicle in front gets too close.

The Lane Departure Alert feature  detects the driver's level of alertness, and, if it determines the driver is not paying attention to the road ahead the system activates either an alert or the steering assist to intervene.

The RZ also features what Lexus calls an "Emergency Driving Stop System". If the driver monitor system determines that the driver becomes unable to continue driving the vehicle for some reason, the system will decelerate the vehicle and stop within the current lane to help avoid a collision or reduce the impact of a collision. The system first warns nearby drivers by activating the vehicle's hazard lamps while gently decelerating the vehicle until it comes to a full stop.

The 2023 Lexus RZ 450e is expected to go on sale towards the end of 2022. When its does, the RZ will be a strong rival to Tesla's Model Y. It will likely cost much less than the Model Y, which starts at $62,990 in the U.S. 

Although Lexus has not revealed pricing, Toyota's bZ4X, which is built on the same EV platform, starts at $43,215. So we expect that the RZ will start around $53,000. Compared to the Model Y, the RZ will be a bargain with all of its advanced technology, refinement and standard safety systems.

For legacy automakers competing with Tesla and entering the electric SUV and crossover segment for the first time, Lexus has certainly set the bar high with the new RZ 450e.


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