Review and road test of the Toyota bZ4X
Toyota's first EV, the bZ4x mid-sized SUV, is a strong contender, thinks Jonathan Crouch.
Ten Second Review of the Toyota bZ4X
To date, Toyota has sold over 70 million electrified vehicles, but they've virtually all been hybrids. This bZ4X mid-sized SUV is the brand's first purpose-built EV. Since its engineering draws on over two decades of electrified automotive experience, you'd expect it to be a very complete product indeed. You shouldn't be disappointed.
What kind of purpose-built EV might the world's biggest car maker bring us? We've been wondering that for the last few years because while other mainstream brands have been busy unveiling full-electric vehicles, there's been little from the Toyota Motor Corporation. Apart from a small Lexus crossover with the lowest driving range in the class and a couple of Toyota vans borrowing someone else's technology. Not too impressive - but Toyota's future plans are. The brand has now unveiled a sneak look at 15 of the 30 full-EVs it'll be launching between now and 2030 - by which time the corporation says it'll be selling 3.5 million EVs a year.
This is the first of them you can actually order now, the bZ4X - a mid-sized SUV, the 'bZ' element of its name referring to the Japanese maker's 'beyond zero' electrification strategy. As part of this, the company aims to achieve carbon neutrality for all its new vehicles throughout their entire life cycles - from supply to disposal.
There are two powerplants available, both of which use a 71.4kWh battery pack giving a WLTP range of just over 280 miles. Things kick off with an entry-level front-driven variant, which has a single motor with 201bhp and which gets to 62mph in 8.4s. The version Toyota wants to talk about though, is the one with the new four-wheel-drive system the brand has developed with Subaru. It's called X-MODE and is supposed to give the bZ4X what the brand calls 'class leading off roading driving capability'; which is presumably what Subaru felt they needed for their version of this car, the Solterra. Having motors driving each axle boosts the power output of the AWD version of this bZ4X, but not by as much as you'd think. Total output rises to 216bhp, which takes seven tenths of a second off the 0-62mph sprint time. In AWD form, the bZ4X also has settings for tackling mud, snow and other forms of tricky terrain.
The steering is interesting, Toyota having chosen to implement an innovative 'steer-by-wire' system which removes the mechanical link between the steering wheel and the front axle. Toyota reckons that this enhances control because the directional influences of rough services and braking are minimised. And, to suit the EV mood of the moment, there's a 'single pedal' driving mode, which maximises regenerative braking to the extent that you'll hardly ever have to use the actual brake pedal unless coming to a complete stop.
Design and Build
This bZ4X has been designed as part of a five year project, with input from Toyota stylists around the world. A radical concept car emerged from that process for Toyota to display at the Los Angeles Motor Show in early 2021 and it's hardly been altered at all for production. The front-end exchanges a conventional grille for what's called a 'hammerhead' look with beady LED headlamp 'eyes'. A conventional lower grille channels cooling air to the battery when needed. It's pretty revolutionary beneath the skin too, this being the first outing for Toyota's new e-TNGA electric vehicle platform, shared with Subaru and used by that competing brand's rival Solterra model.
Inside the bZ4X, there's a compact instrument pack behind the wheel with a 7-inch screen. And the usual large wide infotainment monitor at the top of the centre stack. It's all very modern and feels particularly light and airy with the twin sunroof arrangement fitted. But what's most impressive about this cabin is the amount of space you get in the back, thanks to this design's particularly long wheelbase. Toyota says legroom here is comparable to the 900mm figure you'd get in a top Lexus LS boardroom-level limo. The boot capacity isn't quite as eye-catching as that, but there's 452-litres of it with the three-person rear bench in place.
Market and Model
Perhaps inevitably, the pricing for this car can get nowhere near the level required for it to benefit from the government's Plug-in grant: the asking figures start from around £42,000 and range up to around £52,000. The base price gets you the entry-level front-driven 'Pure' derivative, but most customers will want the mid-range 'Motion' model, which prices from around £46,000 and offers the option of X-MODE AWD for an extra £2,500. The plushest trim level is 'Vision', which has the same choice of front wheel drive or all-wheel drive. To begin with, Toyota will also offer a top 'Premier Edition' variant at the top of the range in AWD form only.
All versions are well equipped. Even the base 'Pure' model gets 18-inch alloy wheels, a multimedia system with an 8-inch display, a 7-inch digital Combimeter screen in the instrument binnacle, a reversing camera, smart keyless entry and a climate control system with a remote operation function that lets owners warm up or cool their car ahead of a making a journey. Options include roof rails and a towing pack. If you want more, mid-range 'Motion' spec gets you a powered tailgate, privacy glass, parking sensors and electrically adjustable heated front seats. Top 'Vision' trim includes 20-inch alloy wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, Remote Control Parking Assist and a heated steering wheel.
Cost of Ownership
Toyota is changing - and quickly. By 2025, the company's line-up will include 70 electrified vehicles - mainly still self-charging hybrids and PHEVs, but also hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and 15 full-electric models, this being the first of them. We gave you the driving range figure for this car in our 'Driving Experience' section - around 280 miles. An 80% charge of the 71.4kWh battery takes around 30 minutes, if you can find a suitably rapid charger. An optional 11kW AC charger in future will help with overnight charges for those with a compatible wall box.
The brand says that the battery will hold 90% of its range for the first ten years of its life, aided by water cooling for the cells (something Toyota has never done before), with active thermal management of the battery further aiding durability and range. That range is optimised courtesy of an on-board solar charging system that aims to minimise the effect of cold weather on usability.
Plus, as with all Toyotas, the bZ4X is covered by a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, which owners can extend at no cost through the 'Toyota Relax' programme simply by having their vehicle serviced at an authorised Toyota centre, gaining an extra year and 10,000 miles of cover up to a limit of the vehicle reaching 10 years and/or 100,000 miles.
There are lots of questions to ask when developing a full-EV. Does it make sense to have a big heavy battery that gives lots of range but costs more to buy and impedes agile handling? What about recycling? And carbon neutrality over the full production cycle? With this bZ4X, there's evidence that Toyota has carefully considered each of these issues. And produced a carefully considered result.
Future automotive history may well show us that the Japanese brand was wise to wait a little before bringing us its first bespoke EV. The engineering here is certainly complete enough to make other mid-sized full-electric crossover rivals feel a bit 'first generation'. In the future with Toyota, we'll see more extreme electric vehicles than this. But for the slowly evolving target market, right here, right now, we think this bZ4X will work just fine.
Toyota bZ4X review by Jonathan Crouch