First Electric Lexus SUV Doesn't Have Controversial Yoke Steering Wheel, Yet

Lexus introduced its first battery-electric vehicle (BEV) on Wednesday. The 2023 Lexus RZ is smaller than its popular RX in length and height and features a new all-wheel drive system called Direct4. The RZ gets a play on the company's current design language, but with a new spindle grille in front that the company is calling "spindle body."

The new SUV is one of the first steps of the Lexus Electrified vision, which will expand its selection of hybrids, plug-ins and BEVs, with an aim of offering a full slate of BEVs in all categories by the end of the decade. Lexus says that five years after it plans to sell 100 percent BEVs globally.

"We believe that Lexus 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 in a press release. "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. We will continue to take on the challenge of providing customers with new experiences and a uniquely Lexus BEV driving experience."

The Lexus RZ will ride on the company's EV-specific e-TNGA architecture and will use the company's eAxle, which combines the motor, transaxle and inverter into one unit. That saves space and adds to the cruising range.

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That system can distribute 100 percent of the power to either the front or rear wheels depending on the situation. Lexus says the usual distribution is between 60:40 and 40:60, but when turning up to 75 percent of the force can go to the front. When accelerating out of turn, it sends up to 80 percent of power rearward.

At a future date, according to Lexus, the RZ will be offered with a steer-by-wire system. It is, as it sounds, a system that uses no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and tires, instead using electrical signals. Lexus says that it will reduce the driver's workload and only transmit the important information to the driver's hands.

Lexus says its system eliminates the need for hand over hand steering, leading to the airplane yoke-style wheel the company showed in teaser pictures.

The Lexus RZ comes with front and rear motors making 201 horsepower and 107 horsepower, respectively. It has a battery capacity of 71.4 kilowatt hours (kWh) making it good for an estimated 225 miles of range with the 18-inch wheels.

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The cabin features a low instrument panel thanks to the low hood, offering better visibility that previous Lexus vehicles. It's swathed in Ultrasuede using 30 percent sustainable materials and features a standard moonroof for an airy feel.

A 14-inch glass panel touchscreen features a display with physical climate knobs attached. Lexus says that the RZ also features controls on the steering wheel so drivers don't have to take their eyes off the road. Interior color options include Orage (a gray/blue), Palomino and Dapple Gray/Black.

Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 is standard with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and Emergency Driving Stop System, which stops the car, when Lane Trace Assist is activated, if the driver monitor system determines that the driver becomes unable to continue driving the vehicle. Automatic parking with remote function is optional.

Lexus didn't give out a price for the new RZ battery-electric, but the first model named RZ 450e is expected to go on sale towards the end of this year.