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The 2023 Lexus RZ450e.Mark Hacking/The Globe and Mail

The engineers in charge of the all-new Lexus RZ faced a stern challenge. How to differentiate the brand’s first dedicated global electric vehicle from the growing number of competitors out there?

The assistant chief engineer on the project, Yushi Higashiyama, said he often needed to remind the team that they were “engineering a Lexus first, an electric vehicle second.” His colleagues were, initially at least, more concerned with creating an EV that just happened to be a Lexus.

Thus, the RZ450e, which starts at almost $65,000, does not have the blistering acceleration of some competitors. Nor does this EV have a single-pedal mode, where the vehicle decelerates rapidly when you lift off the accelerator. The Lexus does have regenerative brakes, they’re just not set to recoup energy in such a powerful way, as is the case with some other EVs.

To my mind, this wave of EVs faces an identity crisis. If you could place a blindfold on a driver and put them behind the wheel of a random mid-level EV, it would be difficult to tell one from the other. Quick response off the line? Check. Goofy artificial engine noise? Check. Numb steering feel? Check. Eco-friendly tires that give up in the corners? Check.

The RZ450e will be available with 308 horsepower and 354 kilometres of range.Mark Hacking/The Globe and Mail

So could Higashiyama and his team give the RZ more straight-line speed and single-pedal driving? Of course. They’ve just chosen not to, a decision made in the pursuit of something called the “Lexus Driving Signature.” This idea incorporates a number of overlapping characteristics including quietness, ride quality, grip and handling response.

In other words, think of the Lexus RZ450e as the all-electric, sport utility version of, say, the Lexus ES sedan. It’s not the most exciting vehicle on the planet, but it’s ultra-quiet, capable and luxurious. In driving the RZ on the snow-slicked roads of Provence, France, nothing seems remotely disturbing about the experience – it’s a perfectly peaceful drive in the country.

The steering isn’t razor-sharp and the turning circle on the RZ feels borderline sloth-like, but the engineers maintain it's within reason compared to the competition. The brake feel is not the most confidence-inspiring, the pulsations under heavier braking make the pedal feel lethargic. I’m a single-pedal aficionado, so I miss that with the Lexus.

The RZ450e shares a platform with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra twins, both of which were introduced last year and start with all-wheel drive at just under $55,000. The powertrain consists of a 71.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack linked to two e-axle motors, front and back, giving the Lexus full-time all-wheel drive. The front motor generates 150 kilowatts; the back, 80. Total output is 230 kilowatts or 308 horsepower, well in excess of the 201 ponies powering the bZ4X. The manufacturer estimates the sprint to 100 kilometres an hour takes 5.3 seconds. The all-wheel-drive system can distribute all the torque to the front wheels or the rear wheels, depending on the situation.

In terms of range and battery performance, the RZ450e is competitive, if not class-leading. When fitted with the standard 18-inch wheels, the Lexus returns an expected 354 kilometres of range; with the optional 20-inch alloys, the range drops to 315. There are four driving modes, including a max-range setting for situations when the air conditioning is not needed and vehicle speed is less than 100 kilometres an hour. Recharging the RZ to 80 per cent takes about 30 minutes at a DC fast-charging station, around 10 hours when hooked up to a Level 2 charger.

The front seats and dash of the RZ, which comes with a 14-inch centre touchscreen.Courtesy of manufacturer

Lexus’s parent company, Toyota, has a massive amount of experience with battery technology; the first-ever Prius celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. When developing electrified vehicles, they have the habit of under-promising and over-delivering, unlike most start-up manufacturers in this space. So the range estimates should be conservative; so, too, is their testing data that shows the RZ battery should retain more than 90 per cent of its capability a decade down the road. If this figure holds true, that’s an impressive figure.

When it comes to exterior styling, the Lexus design team has shouldered its fair share of slings and arrows over the years, but the RZ cuts a handsome figure. The notorious spindle grille is given a more subtle treatment here, and it works. The proportions of this SUV are also elegant compared to most and the optional bi-tone paint makes the RZ look racy.

Inside the passenger cabin, the Lexus tradition for creating a comfortable and luxurious experience holds fast. Interior space is comparable to that of the popular Lexus RX. The now industry-standard centre touchscreen is here; in this case, it’s a 14-inch high-definition screen that proves more intuitive and less manic than others on the market. The nice-to-have optional interior features include a radiant heater that warms the front passengers’ lower extremities and a panoramic glass roof with dimming function.

Pricing for the RZ450e starts at $64,950.Courtesy of manufacturer

All things considered, the Lexus RZ450e is extremely likely to satisfy the traditional Lexus driver looking to make the switch to electric. (In terms of comfort, build quality and sheer luxury, you’re not giving up anything.)

Pricing for the 2023 Lexus RZ450e starts at $64,950. The RZ is on sale at Lexus dealers in British Columbia and Quebec right now; roll-out across the country will begin at a later date.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated the vehicle is available with 313 horsepower. In fact, it is 308.

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