VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Toyota invited us to the first drive of the all-new 2023 Toyota bZ4X, their first full electric vehicle to be sold in the North American market. bZ4X doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but if you break down the name it begins to make more sense. “bZ” stands for “Beyond Zero” emissions and 4X denotes the vehicle class, in this case a crossover– you can liken it to the 4 in “RAV4”. It should all become clear as more bZ models roll out; a total of seven are planned by 2025.
Toyota will give consumers a choice between four grades for the bZ4X – two front-drive Single Motor trims (L and LE) and two all-wheel-drive Dual Motor trims (XLE and XLE Technology Package). The bZ4X makes a strong visual statement with an ultra-modern design sporting angular character lines and functional aerodynamics. Function follows form as we find all the pieces of aero– vents in the front bumper direct air into the wheel wells, underbody panels, little winglets on the side mirrors, a rear roof spoiler and rear ducktail spoiler all add up to achieve an impressive 0.29 coefficient of drag.
The bZ4X wears its Toyota badge on top of the hood allowing the front end to have a clean sculpted design that doesn’t look like it’s had its grill awkwardly blocked off or deleted. Thin Bi-LED projector headlights and two-tone hood add a modern twist to Toyota’s familiar hammerhead design. The profile is dominated by the large over-fenders that for better or worse seem to be the hot trend in crossover design; here they are painted a satin black. All grades come equipped with 18-inch wheels with two-tone covers, except for the top XLE Technology Package which includes a set of extra sharp looking 20-inch alloy wheels.
XLE models get an even more premium look and feel with multi-led projector headlights, a unique large split roof spoiler and two-tone paint where the roof, hood and most notably the over-fenders all get a gloss black paint treatment. Overall we really like the proportions and styling, especially the XLE Technology Package.
As with the exterior, the interior has some novel design elements. The first thing that draws the eye is the seven-inch digital cluster positioned about a foot behind the steering wheel. It looks a bit odd at first but in practice it places the display in the driver’s direct line of sight. This placement of the MID does raise it above the steering wheel which feels a bit unsettling at first as it can obscure the display if your seat and wheel are not adjusted perfectly. The dash is covered in a textile fabric material which adds some extra warmth to the interior design.
The next oddity we noticed is the lack of a traditional glove box by the passenger’s knees. Instead the center console is designed like a bridge, offering an open storage area beneath as well as a very deep two tiered cubby hiding below the armrest. The removal of the glovebox makes way for a Toyota first; a new three level radiant heat system for the legs and feet, a real treat in addition to the available heated steering wheel, front and rear seats.
Base models have a black fabric interior and as you move up the range more and more Softex synthetic leather is added. Seats are comfortable and provide good support; the TNGA platform allows for the rear seats to be placed a full meter behind front seats providing a massive amount of legroom for passengers with a flat floor as well as an impressive 784-liters of cargo space behind.
We are thrilled to find physical buttons for all climate control and drive functions like incline hold and traction control. A volume knob would have been icing on the cake but at least there are individual buttons – in addition to the toggle on the steering wheel. Capacitive piano black buttons are backlit and provide immediate feedback. Kudos to Toyota designers for keeping functions intuitive and familiar – not having to search through a bunch of menus to find warmth is a rare feature in today’s market.
Not only is it inherently quieter due to the lack of internal combustion engine, but Toyota has used thicker glass on the bZ4X providing a quiet cabin to enjoy some serenity or to provide a better environment in which to experience audible entertainment. Toyota has installed their latest infotainment system featuring a beautiful 12.3-inch bezel-less display (8-inch in the L grade), crisp graphics and instant response to touch.
The interface uses an intuitive layout and is a quantum leap over everything else in the Toyota lineup. The new system is feature rich with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and can also receive updates over the air to keep things up to date. Toyota has also introduced the “Intelligent Assistant”, a “Hey Toyota” voice concierge system we found useful for hands-free tuning of radio stations, and searching for navigation destinations.
Upping the ante is an available JBL speaker system delivering punchy audio with clarity. The XLE Technology pack also has a parking assist feature, as well as some impressive camera work including a bird’s eye view that uses recorded footage to compose a see-through image of what is below the vehicle making good use of that screen.
On paper the bZ4X sounds like it may be down on power. The single motor front-drive grades are rated at 201 hp and 196 lb-ft., and dual motors in the AWD grades at 107 hp and 124 lb-ft. per motor. In reality the bZ4X pulls like a plane taking off on a runway and has no problem easily besting the RAV4 in 0-100 km/h acceleration by more than a second. Apart from being virtually silent, electric power delivery produces maximum torque instantly resulting in an immediate wave of torque.
Driving the FWD and AWD models back-to-back, the difference in acceleration is not that noticeable although there are additional benefits to the all-wheel-drive models besides outright power. They also have the additional benefit of X-Mode, an enhanced traction control system borrowed from Subaru for more sure footedness with a limited-slip like effect. Our day in Victoria was sunny and clear on paved roads so we’ll have to give these features a more thorough test at a later date.
The bZ4X also has a one-pedal driving mode activated by a button next to the gear selector. In this mode a stronger engine braking effect is felt when lifting off the accelerator slowing the car down to about 5 km/h and harnessing the energy generated to recharge the battery. We liked that the braking force was consistent and allowed us to easily control speed when rolling downhill or slowing down to approaching a corner. Overall brake bite was a little weak but the vehicle manages to hide its extra weight well.
We really put the bZ4X’s handling to the test while navigating some very narrow twisty roads with lots of elevation changes. The MacPherson front struts and multilink rear setup gives a comfortable ride over rough terrain while also allowing for flat cornering when flicking the bZ4X around bends. Electric power assisted steering feels communicative yet comfortable and in concert the solid chassis could easily place the bZ4X on the road with confidence.
Toyota is well aware of the barriers to entry into the BEV space and hopes to alleviate these on several fronts. The bZ4X uses lithium-ion batteries with capacities of 71.4 kWh (FWD) and 72.8 kWh (AWD), which are rated for a range of 406 and 367 km, respectively. Toyota is aiming to maintain a 90% battery capacity after 10 years, and is providing an 8-year/160,000 km warranty on battery components to back that up.
Perhaps the largest barrier to entry to BEVs has been price. With the bZ4X Toyota is counting on its reputation of building quality, dependable and reliable vehicles to help reach BEV buyers who may have the interest but have yet to take that leap of faith with other brands. With a lower initial cost of entry, more buyers can experience the lower maintenance costs inherent to BEVs and avoid paying at the pumps easier than ever before.
The 2023 bZ4X will launch with units shipping in June to Quebec and British Columbia initially and the rest of the country following shortly after. Base pricing for the L model is $44,900 and $49,990 for the LE, while the XLE AWD starts at $54,990 and the fully loaded XLE Technology Package is $62,750. With such a wide price range Toyota is hoping to both reach buyers where price was the main barrier to a BEV while also catering to those looking for a more premium vehicle packed with the latest technology.
You are not alone in your interest in BEVs as sales in Canada have grown from 9484 in 2017 to 59,027 in 2021. Infrastructure is improving every day but for some Canadians a fully electric vehicle may not be practical quite yet. If you can have access to a charger at home or work, Toyota has built a quality BEV that doesn’t feel like a piece of expensive technology reserved only for wealthy early adopters. The 2023 Toyota bZ4X could be the perfect family vehicle to make the jump to providing all the benefits of a BEV without having to compromise any of the quality, safety or familiarity that has made Toyota one of the top automakers in the world.