Toyota, one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world, has created some innovative products that push the limits of what’s possible when it comes to gasoline alternatives, introducing everything from the innovative hydrogen-electric Mirai to the exceedingly popular hybrid Prius.
Yet, the company has been surprisingly late to the all-electric game, only just releasing the crossover with an unfortunate gobbledygook name: the 2023 Toyota bZ4X.
While the electric SUV is a welcome entry into the battery-electric market, it’s surprisingly lackluster when compared with other BEVs like the Volkswagen ID 4, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, and the Chevrolet Bolt EUV. With a slightly lower range, slow charging rate, and less than inspiring design, the 2023 Toyota bZ4X forces us to conclude that the nearly $50,000 price tag isn’t really worth it. (And we haven’t mentioned the recall yet!)
Range that’s good enough
When Toyota first revealed the bZ4X last year, it showed off a solar roof, “long range” electric powertrain, and (gasp) a yoke-style steering wheel. The Japanese automaker proclaimed that the RAV4-sized ute would get around 300 miles of range. When the bZ4X arrived in the US, however, the front-wheel drive version only got 252 miles of EPA-estimated range. The all-wheel drive version, which uses a different battery pack and lower charging speeds, gets even less, with 222 miles of range. Compared to other crossovers in the segment, it’s solidly in the middle of the pack, with nowhere near the promised longer range.
During our seven days with the bZ4X, my partner and I took to calling it the “Bizzy Forks” because that unfortunate name has no real shorthand. Toyota plans to release other vehicles with the bZ moniker, which stands for “Beyond Zero.” It’s meant to emphasize the company’s commitment to invest more than $13.6 billion in battery technology in the next decade and release 30 battery and hybrid vehicles across both their Toyota and luxury Lexus brands by 2030. Lexus will be the technological spearhead of that strategy as the line transitions to all-electric by 2035. The 4X in the name refers to the size of the vehicle (a small crossover), with the company confirming that there will be other vehicles with the same naming convention coming soon. It’s safe to say that we will likely see something like a bZ5X or bZ6X sometime in the future.
The bZ4X is about the same size as the RAV4, and technically it’s not the first all-electric vehicle from Toyota. From 1997 to 2003, there was an all-electric RAV4 that was sold in California as a compliance vehicle. Toyota will be releasing the bZ4X nationwide, but it only plans to sell 7,000 of them this year as 2023 models.
It’s clear that Toyota intends for the bZ4X to meet zero and low emissions government requirements around the world so they can continue to sell their far more numerous (and less expensive) gasoline-engined vehicles. Toyota and its leadership has not exactly been quiet about its opposition to battery-electric vehicles, with CEO Akio Toyoda parroting much of the misinformation about EVs touted by the oil and gas industry. Yet, in some ways, Toyota’s reluctance to go all-in on battery electrics makes good business sense. Last year, the company sold more than 300,000 ICE-engined Camrys, and there’s no way that lithium-ion battery technology is going to be able to keep up with that kind of pace. There are simply not enough lithium stores in the world.
Slow charging on DC Fast
The company’s intention to simply comply with worldwide emission requirements with the bZ4X became even more apparent when trying to charge the crossover on public charging stations around Los Angeles. Like most renters, I don’t have a dedicated home charging station where I live in LA. That’s generally not a problem since there are more than 3,500 charging stations in my area. The bZ4X comes with a year of free charging on the EVgo network, and Toyota said that the crossover should be able to charge from “low” to 80 percent in an hour.
The company wouldn’t elaborate on what they measured as “low,” but while I had bZ4X Limited all-wheel drive, I ran the battery down to around 33 percent (68 miles of range remaining on the odometer) before deciding to charge up. I went to a local EVgo DC Fast charger near my home. It’s a charging location I regularly use to charge up the EVs that I test drive that offers both 100kW and 150kW chargers. I intentionally chose the 100kW DC Fast charger since the bZ4X with AWD only takes a maximum of 100kW. The front-wheel drive version takes a maximum of 150kW.
I checked EVgo to ensure I was getting the maximum charge possible (and I was there at a low-demand / low-cost time) and plugged the bZ4X in at 1:08PM. I had been driving the vehicle so the battery was preconditioned (which means it was at an optimum temperature to take a charge) and the weather was sunny and around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Once I got the painfully terrible EVgo system to recognize my account, I was appalled to see that the onboard charging data showed a whopping six hours and 45 minutes to a full charge.
I checked again after 30 minutes and was still disappointed by how slow it was. I ended up charging for 55 minutes and only gained 101 miles of range (80 percent charged). That was enough to get me to dinner with friends that evening and back, but that’s a pretty bad charging rate for longer road trips.
Part of the reason that there is such a slow charge rate, even on a DC Fast charger, is because Toyota intends for owners to plug in their vehicle at home every night. For those without home chargers, you may be out of luck.
The bZ4X gets a 400-volt architecture, which is common in most affordable EVs, but the way the company programmed the charge curve (or how quickly the vehicle can take a charge at certain battery levels), is geared to be very conservative so that the battery lasts longer. That all makes logical sense since Toyota is more concerned with longevity and safety. From a user perspective, however, waiting around for hours on public chargers to get a full charge is pretty rotten given the competitive landscape.
Design, technology, and drive that’s just meh
Toyota says its aim with the bZ4X was to make the transition to electric vehicles as “seamless” as possible for its buyers. That means making everything from the way the bZ4X drives to the way it looks and operates very much like your typical RAV4.
The bZ4X adheres to Toyota’s design language both inside and out, though there’s a considerable amount of hard-touch plastic bits, even on the top trim. Like its Subaru counterpart, the all-electric Solterra (the two companies designed both vehicles as a joint project, much like they did with the Subaru BRZ and the Toyota FR-S), the lower fascia on the exterior of the bZ4X is black plastic and mimics the look of the Toyota RAV4 minus the open grille at the front.
Inside, the cockpit is fine. A large 12.3-inch infotainment screen is housed in piano black plastic (that shows every single dust mote and fingerprint) and gives you access to a suite of features on the Limited trim, including navigation and a voice-activated system that is initiated by saying “Hey Toyota.” In my week with it, the voice system was both unreliable and frustratingly useless.
While my partner and I were driving to lunch one afternoon, we got to talking about Toyota and some of their other products. Every time one of us said the company’s name, the laggy voice system would “wake up” and ask what we needed. Other times, when I was driving and wanted to find a new location or search for the nearest charging station, the voice system would simply give up and say, “Sorry the network is currently busy. Please try again later.” However, I was able to use the voice system to change the temperature in the car. I had the same experience with the prototypes that I drove on the launch in early April, too, though you can switch off the voice assistant after some digging through the settings menu.
The instrument cluster that sits directly behind the steering wheel is another uninspiring feature. The seven-inch screen sits in a sort of wing-shaped plastic housing directly in front of the steering wheel. While it is minimal, it’s difficult to find a driver’s position where you can see the full screen, and it shows surprisingly little information — just speed, range, transmission mode, and odometer during normal operation. You do get a battery display when charging, too.
The steering wheel gets various buttons to control everything from adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance to radio and voice control buttons. In true Toyota style, the cruise controls and infotainment buttons are on opposite sides from other manufacturers. In the bZ4X, the cruise control and lane-keeping assistance are on the right side of the wheel, while voice and volume controls are on the left. During my time with the vehicle, I turned the volume up instead of increasing my cruise control speed more than once.
To shift into gear, you use a dial on the center console, and on the road, the bZ4X is nothing special. In truth, it drives like a torquier, heavier RAV4. Toyota also decided to not offer true one-pedal driving in the bZ4X. You can toggle the system into a regenerative braking mode (aka one-pedal mode) and the brakes will regenerate power back into the battery for slightly more efficient driving.
However, unlike the one-pedal mode in other EVs, Toyota designed the system so that you actually have to use the brake to bring the bZ4X to a complete stop. Toyota says that it was intentionally designed that way to provide a more familiar experience for consumers making the shift from an ICE vehicle to an EV; though, for someone familiar with EVs, it’s a frustrating feature — especially in stop-and-go traffic.
The interior space is quite ample thanks to the flat floor, and Toyota has added some thoughtful features, like a wireless charging pad that sits under a windowed compartment on the center stack and a couple of USB charging ports in a cubby between the passenger and driver. That cubby is great for smaller items, but if you place a taller bag there, it will most certainly spill when you take a corner, spewing contents all over the interior. The back seats are firm, flat, and not that comfortable, but there is plenty of legroom.
Not that affordable
With its less than stellar charging times, middling range, and questionable design, the bZ4X is more disappointing than I’d expected. When you get down to pricing, the value proposition gets a bit worse.
Prices for the base front-wheel drive version start at $42,000. That’s on par with most of the competitors. The top-of-the-line all-wheel drive version I drove tops out at just under $50,000 ($49,995). That’s fine, too. EVs are pricey, and the average transaction price for new vehicles has been hovering right around $47,000, according to Autotrader data. The real issue is that Toyota is nearly out of its federal tax incentives, meaning that buyers won’t be able to get the $7,500 tax credit for purchasing or leasing an EV for very long. That’s because its popular and long-running Prius has eaten up all of the company’s available incentives.
Right before this review was set to publish, Toyota issued a global recall for the bZ4X over some loose hub bolts that could cause the entire wheel to detach while in motion. The recall covers 2,700 vehicles, including 260 that have been sold in the US. Naturally, Toyota is warning owners not to drive their vehicles until the problem is fixed.
If you’re looking for an EV that meets basic transportation needs and are a Toyota loyalist, the bZ4X will be good enough. In an increasingly competitive EV market, however, the 2023 Toyota bZ4X falls short. There are plenty of other — much more innovative — longer-range EVs on sale right now. The bZ4X isn’t one of them.
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