Pretoria News

Lexus RZ’S ‘yoke’ steering is a pleasant surprise


THERE are a number of “firsts” that warrant mentioning when discussing the new Lexus RZ 450e, which I recently spent some good quality time with on its international launch in the picturesque countryside of southern France.

Due to reach South African shores next year, the RZ is the first batterypowered Lexus to be constructed around the new ETNGA dedicated electric car platform.

Although it shares its basic chassis architecture with the Toyota BZ4X, the new Lexus is a larger and more luxurious offering that’s sized between the current Lexus NX and RX models. Like those siblings, the RZ takes the form of a crossover with somewhat edgy and striking lines.

But Lexus clearly doesn’t want it to handle like your typical SUV, which brings us to another first: the “One Motion Grip steer-by-wire system”. Or the “yoke” as many have labelled it.

Lacking a top rim altogether, this butterfly-shaped steering wheel – if you could even call it that – looks like something out of Star Wars. But it does come with a caveat as the new system will not be offered in a production model until 2025 at the earliest, barring any regulatory hurdles that it might still face in certain regions.

Thankfully Lexus had a few prototype vehicles fitted with this yoke on hand at the launch, and we got the opportunity to test it out on some worryingly narrow roads in the vicinity of Aix-en-provence.

Then came the biggest surprise of all – I really liked it. I’ll admit to having been quite sceptical about the idea of a steer-by-wire system, fearing what could go wrong if there’s a sudden system failure while you’re tearing through a bend. But Lexus assured us that it does have an emergency power supply among other back-up systems.

Technically it’s not the world’s first steer-by-wire system, but previous attempts like Infiniti’s have been criticised for their artificial feel.

But the Lexus “One Motion

Grip” feels like a different ball game altogether. It’s extremely direct as well as responsive, and I didn’t feel too disconnected from the overall driving experience.

Without being saddled down by a conventional steering rack, engineers were able to implement a much wider range of steering gear ratios to cater for different driving scenarios. And while you might think that hand-overhand, low-speed manoeuvres could be tricky with a yoke steering wheel, that is actually unnecessary as minimal steering effort is required for those tight turns. Even at speed, it requires smaller steering inputs than are normally required, but it didn’t take too long to get used to this.

In a nutshell, “One Motion Grip” felt like an impressive step forward, and even though the conventional RZ model that we sampled afterwards was a reasonably decent steer in its own right, it still felt like a step backwards.

Following the drive, Assistant Chief Engineer Yushi Higashiyama explained

to us how the steer-by-wire system in the Lexus RZ was designed to complement the ultra-responsive acceleration and braking characteristics that an EV offers.

“By taking the last element that hadn’t caught up, by electrifying the steering system, we’re now able to gather all three elements that you need for perfect car control,” Higashiyama told IOL.

But driving a Lexus is also very much about comfort and smoothness of operation, which is why his team deliberately engineered it to feel different to your regular EV. More like a Lexus in other words.

The RX 450e has a dual-motor, Direct4 all-wheel drive system that produces combined outputs of 230kw and 434Nm, and Lexus claims it’ll surge from zero to 100km/h in just 5.3 seconds, while the top speed is limited to 160km/h.

Flatten the right pedal and the RX 450e delivers brisk acceleration in a refined manner. The experience

is more along the lines of an iron fist in a velvet glove than that brutal, ripyour-guts-out sensation that owners of many performance EVS like to brag about.

What surprised us, though, was the relative lack of regenerative braking force. Although drivers can choose between four levels of deceleration strength, none of them offers true one-pedal driving, and Higashiyama later explained to us that this was a deliberate attempt to ensure the driving characteristics feel familiar to Lexus drivers. Familiar, but better, dare we add.

The RZ also rides like a Lexus

should, at least from what we could gauge on the admittedly smooth surfaces that we encountered on the launch route in France. Although no fancy air suspension systems are offered, the RZ’S shocks do contain new frequency-sensitive pistons that vary the damping force according to the road surface.

Four overall driving modes can be selected, including a Sport setting for livelier driving and the all-important Range mode that maximises driving distance by restricting outputs and turning the aircon off.

Now that we’re talking range, it’s worth mentioning that the Lexus RZ is fitted with a 71.4 kwh (gross capacity) lithium-ion battery. This enables a claimed WLTP cycle driving distance of up to 435km on vehicles fitted with 18-inch wheels, or 395km when 20-inch rims are fitted. Those range figures are a bit on the low side, but Lexus feels its chosen battery size delivers the best compromise when factoring in cost and weight.

The cockpit of the Lexus RZ was designed around the “Tazuna” concept, inspired by horse riders who control their steeds with just small adjustments to the reins.

Thankfully there are no fiddly touchpads in this vehicle like Lexus models of yore, and your main command centre is a new cloud-based 14-inch (35.5cm) touchscreen infotainment system, which also boasts an on-board assistant that responds to “Hey Lexus”.

Other feature highlights, apart from the long list of driver assistance gizmos, include a three-mode head-up display system and an optional 13-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system. We got to experience this on the launch and it offered crystal clear sound reproduction.

Although the South African launch date for the new Lexus RZ 450e has not been set in stone, the local division intends to introduce it during 2024, with final specifications and pricing to be announced nearer to launch.





African News Agency