The yoke is no joke. For those of you who expect the new Lexus “Steer by Wire” system and yoke-like steering gear to be the most distinctive, forward-looking, and ultimately most compelling reason to consider the 2024 Lexus RZ 450e, you would have been in the minority. Most of us rolled our eyes, harshly, when the interior photos of RZ were released. having seen Tesla’s Clever Yoke in Action, the skepticism was understandable. In short, though, it’s not just a yoke bolted to the steering column for drivers to pretend they’re Batman. It’s actually an intrinsic part of an all-new steering concept that could revolutionize the way we interact with a car’s front wheels. That’s why I’m going to talk a lot about it here at the start of this RZ review, because, sadly, this late availability option is far more important than the electric crossover it’s attached to. (However, if you want to skip ahead, click here).
Basically, there is no mechanical linkage between the yoke and the front wheels. There’s not even a mechanical backup like Infiniti’s unloved steer-by-wire system, but before you got too screwed up about it, the last plane you flew on was almost certainly wire-steered without mechanical backup. There was also a yoke, by the way. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.
An angle sensor in the column detects how much you’ve turned and sends that information to the regular electric power steering system, while the car determines how fast the car is going. These two pieces of information are then used to radically modify the steering ratio and therefore the degree of steering.
For example, if you’re at low speed in a parking lot or turning right at a stop sign, the amount of steering input you need to provide is miniscule, like turning around a gentle bend at 40 mph . To perform a half-turn, simply turn the right hand at 11 o’clock and the left hand at 5 o’clock, less than a full turn. It’s a full lockout with Steer by Wire, meaning there’s no reason for you to take your hands off 3 and 9, and therefore, one direction wheel is not strictly necessary and can actually be an inconvenience – that’s what the yoke was designed for. If there was a wheel, RZ deputy chief engineer Tatsuya Ishigaki says drivers would likely spin the wheel unnecessarily – just like I would have when I went for a left U-turn with the yoke and I instinctively brought my left hand up to 2 o’ clock only to discover air.
You can see it in action in the video below.
What is not shown, however, is the much longer journey I made afterwards through a narrow, confined neighborhood (with a nice little roundabout) and various slightly winding suburban roads. I adapted to the system very quickly, and after jumping into a regular-wheeled RZ, I found myself suddenly surprised at the amount of cornering we typically do. From what I’ve experienced, it’s not a gimmick. It actually 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 with the yoke, is a bonus. Now, yeah it’s weird at first and you have to reprogram your brain a bit, but if you have an open mind, I don’t think it’ll take long. Believe me, I am as surprised as you are by this conclusion.
Now, some caveats. I haven’t driven it on a winding mountain road, which I think could reveal some quirks and issues. To be continued then. The turn signal stalk remains (unlike the Tesla yoke which uses buttons), but it’s much smaller and mounted on the yoke instead of the column, which means it still wasn’t where I got it was waiting. It was a problem turning left quickly after turning right. I was also ok with the yoke because I almost always hold the wheel at 3 and 9 – if you’re a wrist over the top person or a 2 and 10, you might not like the yoke. However, resting your hands on the bottom works.
So that’s the problem with the yoke. On the rest of the car. As you can tell 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 broadly the same, with the differences largely a result of design (the headroom in the rear of the Lexus is significantly better). Beyond its rig mates, the RZ is roughly the same length as the Lexus RX mid-size SUVbut is closer in height to the NX compact. Passenger space is therefore generous and the cargo capacity seems more functional than its volume of 23.7 cubic feet would indicate. It certainly looks comparable to Genesis GV60which also belongs to a set of corporate EV triplets (with Kia EV6 And Hyundai Ioniq 5).
That’s where the positive comparisons end, as these triplets are ultimately the elephant in the room – in that they smash the RZ on the spec sheet. Now, it’s great that the Lexus RZ 450e offers 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 big performance boost over the 214-hp bZ4X AWD, and similar to the base GV60. No doubt about it, the RZ goes. The problem is that it won’t go very far. It has the same 71.4 kilowatt-hour battery as the before– all-wheel-drive bZ4X (long story), which gets a range of 252 or 242 miles depending on trim level. That’s right on the edge of what we’d consider acceptable, which should put the RZ 450e offering 220 miles of range on 18-inch wheels and 196 miles with the optional 20 into perspective. The GV60 is good for 248 miles; the same price BMW i4 eDrive40 can do 301.
And remember, this is with optimal conditions. It was on the cold and windy side by San Diego standards during our ride, which, among other factors, meant the heater was on. As we drove off, the empty distance gauge showed 138 miles while the battery gauge showed 85% full. Range anxiety is usually exaggerated, but you would be much more likely to suffer from it in the RZ. Worse still, its carrying capacity is average at best. It can handle a maximum charging rate of 150 kW, which is admittedly the same as the Ford Mustang Mach-E and many other electric vehicles. Again, however, the Hyundai and BMW triplets explode with speeds over 200kW that allow them to take advantage of 350kW fast chargers. Teslas are also superior. Also, while RZ’s 0-80% cooldown of 30 minutes is okay, remember that it has a smaller battery to fill.
In short, there’s nothing in the RZ’s EV credentials that’s as forward-thinking and progressive as the Steer by Wire system. It seems the goal was to provide an electric vehicle for those who are used to driving a Lexus RX, NX or Toyota hybrid, and who are unlikely to give up their loyalty. If you already have an EV or are cross-shopping, you’re bound to find it lacking. Another example of this is the car’s multiple levels of regenerative braking. Yes, it brakes a lot more than usual for you than a car without heavy regen, and those coming from an RX etc should enjoy the benefits in traffic and elsewhere. It’s not a one-pedal drive, though, like you’ll find in all the cars mentioned above, and which many EV drivers find indispensable.
Besides power, the interior is the RZ’s biggest advantage over its electric platform mates. Material quality and styling are superior, especially with Thunderstorm (blue) and Macadamia (white) colors and Ultrasuede fabric covering the seats and doors. You can also get a nifty panoramic sunroof with an electrostatic film that makes the glass opaque at the press of a button. An accessory sunshade is also available for even stronger coverage.
Also new 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 equipped). This not only heats up the cabin faster, but it draws less juice 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 Pack and a handful of cheaper options, costs $63,415. In theory, this price coupled with the size, performance, range and equipment of the RZ aligns it with the VolvoC40 And Mercedes EQ. The problem is that the luxury EV bar is higher than these. The similarly powered GV60 Advanced, which comes with more equipment despite no available options, costs $60,385. Maybe a less established brand like Genesis should get a discount, but there’s no way these two cars could be priced the same. Ditto a BMW i4 eDrive40, although it is a rear-wheel-drive car and not an all-wheel-drive SUV-like vehicle. Oh, and a Tesla Model Y starts at $54,990 (well, this week at least) and is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit. None of the luxury EVs above are down to price and final assembly location (the RZ is built in Japan).
That’s why the Steer by Wire system has 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 any more compelling than the Lexus RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid or one of the luxury electric vehicles mentioned above.