Toyota, one of the largest and most recognized automakers in the world, is late to the EV party. Its first electric car, the bZ4X, hasn’t exactly enjoyed the smoothest of launches. But now that we’re past that, just what is the Toyota bZ4X like?
Better late than never is a good way to sum up Toyota’s first entry into the rapidly growing high demand BEV segment poised to replace internal combustion cars. Right after it launched, the bZ4X was recalled due to a wheel bolt issue. But it’s here now.
Whether you think this whole EV thing is going to succeed or fail, nearly all major automobile manufacturers have invested big money in it, and the train, in a manner of speaking, isn’t stopping for anyone. Korean and American manufacturers already boast many excellent EV choices for consumers.
Toyota’s bZ4X feels very similar to the VW ID.4, although it has less power and range. Base models get a single 150-kW motor driving the front wheels, and the bZ4X XLE, the top trim, gets two 80-kW motors, one on each axle, giving it all-wheel drive (AWD).
Toyota loaned me an LE, which is a single-motor trim with about 200 hp and a similar amount of torque. The dual motor version isn’t much more powerful but has 248 lbs. ft. of combined torque.
If you make it a numbers game, the bZ4X has less power and less range than the Kia EV6, Hyundai IONIQ 5, Nissan Ariya, and the ID.4. The Toyota can charge at a maximum rate of 150 kW (kilowatts), or 100 kW for AWD models, which is also slower than some of its rivals, but that’s assuming you can find a charger capable of reliably supplying that output, and, in my experience, that happens far less often than it should.
I’m not a fan of the bZ4X’s unpainted fenders, but, on my dark blue tester, they blended in and weren’t very noticeable. Its design is definitely EV-forward, in the form of a grilleless front end and styling and proportions that sit somewhere between the Tesla Model Y and the Kia EV6. (If you took the badges off, it would be hard to identify what brand it came from.)
Inside, the bZ4X looks and feels of high quality. It’s got fabric-covered dashboard panels, a large centre screen, logically laid out controls, and large windows, which provide great visibility. The 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen is standard equipment and runs the latest Toyota software, which is easy to use and quick to respond. A gauge cluster, high and far away from the driver, is said to be better for keeping your eyes on the road, but I found the steering wheel cut some of it off. It’s still better than consolidating everything into a large centre screen. Rear seat passengers get lots of legroom and the cargo area is generous for a compact crossover.
By Toyota’s estimates, a fully charged, front-wheel-drive bZ4X can travel about 400 km, which is midpack. All-wheel drive models are rated for 367 km. My tester was at 100-per-cent charge when I picked it up, and the range estimate was sitting at 390 km on a chilly spring day. However, turning off the climate control system added an extra 100 km to that range, a rather shocking jump I haven’t encountered on any other EV.
Toyota spent a lot of time making the bZ4X as efficient as it could be, so a heat pump comes standard. This heats and cools the cabin much more efficiently and greatly conserves range in colder weather. The climate control can be configured to send warm or cool air to the driver alone, when there aren’t any passengers. Then there are radiant foot well heaters (on LE and up), which I haven’t seen before. They’re basically pads affixed to the bottom of the steering wheel, where a glove box would be, and they quickly warm up the driver and passenger footwells. Between these, the heated seats, and the heated steering wheel, I found little need to run the climate-control system, even when it was below zero outside — that is, except to defog the windshield.
The bZ4X isn’t the fastest EV in its class, but, even with its modest power, it feels quicker than a RAV4 or Toyota Venza, which are both similar in size. It also handles really well for what it is, and a big part of that can be attributed to its low centre of gravity and a suspension that absorbs most lumps and bumps, but still exhibits excellent body control through a corner.
The steering has no feel, but it’s precise, and, to be fair, no one buying a bZ4X is going to care. I found it rather fun to drive and the thought of more power didn’t cross my mind. Neither did the fact that my tester didn’t have all-wheel drive. I would personally be happy with a good set of winter tires and the additional range.
At the end of the week, I was averaging 20 kWh (kilowatthours) per 100 km, a good figure that should only improve as the weather warms up. That estimate of nearly 500 km in range was actually pretty accurate, providing the climate control was switched off, which it was about 50 half the time for me.
Toyota’s goal for the bZ4X was to balance power, battery size, and range, and I’m fully behind it. Big batteries and big power make EVs heavier and less efficient, and they take longer to charge.
The carmaker wants to ensure the bZ4X is as reliable and as long-lasting as its famously bulletproof cars and trucks.
Toyota may have been late to the EV game, but the bZ4X, despite its initial teething problems, is a solid effort and another excellent BEV for consumers to choose from. If you’re already a Toyota fan, it’s absolutely worth checking out.
Editor’s note: Please be aware that availability of vehicles depends on supply.
2023 Toyota bZ4X LE
Type: Five-door, five-passenger electric crossover; front-wheel drive battery electric vehicle (BEV)
Engine: Single motor (150kW), 71.4 kWh lithium-ion battery; 200 horsepower; 196 lbs.-ft. of torque
Range: 406 km
Energy: 1.8 Litre equivalent/100 km in the city; 2.2 Le/100 km on the highway; 2 Le/100 km combined
Cargo: 784 litres, or 27.6 cubic feet
Price: $49,990 (base); $52,006 (as-tested)