2023 Lexus RZ 450e First Drive Review: The Yoke is No Joke

The yoke is no joke. For those of you who anticipate that the new Lexus “Steer by Wire” system and its yoke-shaped steering device will be the most distinctive, forward-looking and ultimately compelling reason to consider the 2024 Lexus RZ 450e, you would have been in the minority. Most of us rolled our eyes when the pictures of the RZ’s interior were released. Having seen Tesla’s ingenious yoke in action, the skepticism was understandable. In short, this isn’t just a yoke bolted to the steering column for drivers to pretend to be Batman. In fact, it’s an intrinsic part of an entirely new steering concept that could revolutionize the way we interact with a car’s front wheels. That’s why I’m going to talk about it a lot here at the beginning of this RZ review, because, unfortunately, this late-available option is much more important than the electric crossover it’s attached to. (Although if you want to skip ahead, click here.)

2023 Lexus RZ 450e First Drive Review: The yoke is no joke - Autoblog

Basically, there is no mechanical connection between the yoke and the front wheels. There’s not even a mechanical backup like Infiniti’s unloved steer-by-wire system had, but before you get too discouraged by that, it’s almost certain that the last airplane you flew was steered by cable with no mechanical backup. By the way, he also had a yoke. Anyway, that’s not the big problem.

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An angle sensor on the column detects how much you turned and sends that information to the regular electric power steering system, while the car determines how fast you’re going. Those two pieces of information are used to radically alter the steering ratio and therefore how much to turn.

For example, if you’re speeding in a parking lot or turning right at a stop sign, the amount of steering movement you have to make is minuscule, like turning a gentle curve at 40 mph. Performing a U-turn only requires turning your right hand to 11 o’clock and your left hand to 5 o’clock, as in less than one full rotation. That’s full lockout with Steer by Wire, meaning there’s no reason for you to remove your hands from 3 and 9, and therefore a steering wheel is not strictly necessary and in fact can be detrimental, which is why the yoke was devised. . If there were a wheel, RZ assistant chief engineer Tatsuya Ishigaki says drivers would probably turn the wheel unnecessarily, just as I would have done when I went to make a left U-turn with the yoke and instinctively brought my hand left at 2 o’clock just to discover the air.

You can see it in action in the video below.

2023 Lexus RZ450e First Drive: One Electric SUV, Two Very Different  Experiences

What’s not shown, however, is the much longer route I took afterwards through a tight, confined neighborhood (with a nice little roundabout) and several gently winding suburban roads. I adapted to the system very quickly and after getting back into an RZ with normal wheels, I was suddenly surprised by the amount of turning we usually do. From what I experienced, this is not a hack. It really works, could be considered an improvement and could easily be the future. The fact that it provides a clearer view of the IP, which is literally relocated higher up with the yoke, is a plus. Now, yes it is strange at first and you have to reprogram your brain a little, but if you have an open mind, I don’t think it will take long. Believe me, this conclusion surprises me as much as you might be.

Lexus: Lexus RZ 450e: for 77,000 euros, although for now without a 'Formula 1' type steering wheel | Brand

Now, some warnings. I didn’t drive it on a winding mountain road, which I suspect might reveal some oddities and problems. Then it will continue. The turn signal lever remains (unlike the Tesla yoke which uses buttons), but it is much smaller and mounted on the yoke rather than the column, meaning it was constantly not where I expected it to be. It was a problem to quickly turn left after turning right. I was also fine with the yoke because I almost always hold the wheel in 3 and 9; If you’re an over-the-top wrist person or a 2 and 10 player, you may not like the yoke. However, resting your hands on the bottom works.

So that’s the deal with the yoke. About the rest of the car. As you can see just by looking at it, the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e uses the same e-TNGA electric vehicle architecture as the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra. The dimensions are virtually the same, and the differences are largely due to design (rear headroom in the Lexus is noticeably better). Beyond its platform mates, the RZ is roughly the same length as the Lexus RX midsize SUV, but closer in height to the compact NX. Passenger space is therefore generous, and cargo capacity seems more functional than its 23.7 cubic feet of volume would indicate. It sure looks comparable to the Genesis GV60, which also belongs to a set of corporate EV triplets (with Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5).

That’s where the positive comparisons end, however, as those triplets are ultimately the elephant in the room, crushing the RZ on the spec sheet. Now, it’s great that the Lexus RZ 450e features more powerful versions of Toyota’s eAxle (also found in the rear of the Lexus RX 500h) to send 308 horsepower to the front and rear wheels. That’s a clear performance upgrade over the 214-hp bZ4X AWD and similar to the base GV60. There is no doubt, the RZ goes . The problem is that it won’t get very far. It has the same 71.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack as the front- drive bZ4X (long story), which gets 252 or 242 miles of range depending on trim level. That’s right on the edge of what we’d consider acceptable, which should put into perspective the RZ 450e offering 220 miles of range with 18-inch wheels and 196 miles with the optional 20-inch wheels. The GV60 has a range of 248 miles; the similarly priced BMW i4 eDrive40 can do 301.

And remember, that’s under optimal conditions. It was cold and stormy by San Diego standards during our trip, which, among other factors, meant the heat was on. When we left, the distance-to-empty indicator read 138 miles, while the battery indicator showed 85% charge. Range anxiety is usually exaggerated, but you are much more likely to suffer from it in the RZ. Worse yet, its carrying capacity is average at best. It can manage a maximum charging speed of 150 kW, which is certainly the same as the Ford Mustang Mach-E and many other electric vehicles. However, once again, the Hyundai and BMW triplets sweep with speeds exceeding 200 kW that allow them to take advantage of 350 kW fast chargers. Teslas are also superior. Also, even if the RZ’s 30-minute 0-80% recharge time is decent, remember that you have a smaller battery to fill.

In short, there is nothing in the RZ’s EV credentials that is as forward-thinking and progressive as the Steer by Wire system. It seems the goal was to provide an electric vehicle for those used to driving a Lexus RX, NX, or Toyota hybrid, and who were unlikely to abandon their allegiance. However, if you already have an electric vehicle or cross-brand purchases, you will surely be lacking. Another example of this is the car’s multiple levels of regenerative braking. Yes, it brakes much more than usual than a car without much regen, and those coming from an RX etc. should enjoy the benefits in traffic and elsewhere. However, it is not about driving with a single pedal, as is the case in all the cars mentioned above, and which many electric vehicle drivers consider essential.

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Besides power, the interior is the RZ’s biggest advantage over its electric platform mates. Material quality and styling are superior, especially with the Thunderstorm (blue) and Macadamia (white) color combination and the Ultrasuede fabric covering the seats and doors. You can also get a nifty panoramic sunroof with an electrostatic film that makes the glass opaque with the push of a button. An accessory sunshade is also available for even more coverage.

Another new feature is the radiant heating option, also available on the bZ4X, which quickly and efficiently heats the cabin directly in front of the driver and front passenger (if present). Not only does this heat the cabin faster, but it also draws less power from the battery, which is a big deal in the RZ.

Finally, there is the question of price. Our RZ 450e Premium test car, the first of two trim levels, started at $60,890, and with the Technology package and a handful of cheaper options, it costs $63,415. In theory, this price, along with the RZ’s size, performance, range and equipment, puts it in line with the Volvo C40 and Mercedes EQB. The problem is that the bar for luxury electric vehicles is higher than those. The similarly powered GV60 Advanced, which comes with more equipment despite having no available options, costs $60,385. Maybe a less established brand like Genesis should have a discount, but there’s no way these two cars are the same price. The same goes for a BMW i4 eDrive40, even if it is a rear-wheel drive car and not an all-wheel drive SUV-type vehicle. Oh, and a Tesla Model Y starts at $54,990 (well, at least this week) and is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit. None of the luxury EVs mentioned above are due to price and final assembly location (the RZ is built in Japan).

Perhaps that’s why the Steer by Wire system left such a lasting impression. It was really impressive and intriguing. Unfortunately, the RZ 450e is not. Until Steer by Wire arrives later this year, it’s hard to see the RZ being more attractive than the Lexus RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid or any of the luxury EVs mentioned above.

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