Toyota was a pioneer of electrification with the Prius hybrid 25 years ago and, later, the Mirai Hydrogen fuel cell EV, but the manufacturer is only just now getting around to the launch of its first battery electric vehicle, the bZ4X, making it a relative latecomer to the sector.
The reason is, simply, market demand. With desire for electric vehicles surging and infrastructure improving all the time Toyota hopes 2022/23 is the perfect time to launch its first foray into the sector.
The all-electric compact SUV has been jointly developed with Subaru on the new eTNGA modular platform which will underpin Toyota’s full range of all-electric models to follow in the bZ4X’s wake. Those models, as yet unannounced, will also bear the bZ moniker, which stands for Beyond Zero.
All-wheel drive capability
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The partnership with Subaru has allowed Toyota to benefit from the fellow Japanese manufacturer’s experience in all-wheel drive engineering, although quite why the company behind the Landcruiser and Hilux felt it needed support in that area is something of a head scratcher.
Nonetheless, the result is a genuinely capable off-road vehicle. Toyota has fully waterproofed the batteries which, despite them being integrated with the vehicle structure beneath the driving compartment, means the bZ4X has a wade depth of 50cm.
During our test run, we were challenged to put the SUV through its paces on an obstacle course that saw us experience the hill descent and ascent control as well as the aforementioned wade capability and the X-Mode all-wheel drive system.
Perhaps the conditions were stacked in the Toyota’s favour - the course was set up in the car park of a Copenhagen Biomass plant without a speck of mud or snow in sight - but it’s clear from the performance that the AWD badge adorning the car is there for more than school run bragging rights. The hill descent and ascent functions are easy to activate, with a menu popping up on the driver display upon pushing of the X-Mode button next to the drive selector. It’s a real-life button as well, so you ought to be able to get everything set up in a pair of gloves come winter time.
Our all-wheel drive test vehicle produced up to 215bhp and 249lb ft of torque through front and rear 80kW motors. A front-wheel drive version of the car - which Toyota expects will make up the majority of the UK sales - is also available with a front-mounted 150kW axle motor producing 201bhp and 196lb ft maximum torque.
Technical details and vehicle range
The BZ4X’s 96-cell, water-cooled battery unit has a capacity of 71.4kWh giving it a range of 286 miles in all-wheel drive specification, subject to trim level. The front-wheel drive version has a longer range of 317 miles. That’s all subject to the usual caveats, it’s too cold, it’s too hot and the air conditioning is on, you’re driving up hill, down hill, too fast etc, but during the course of a 64-mile mixed driving test circuit through Copenhagen and into the surrounding countryside, our all-wheel drive test car averaged 3.57 miles/kWh, which would mean a real-world range of 254 miles, with the A/C on and my leaden foot at the controls.
Long-term battery life is a question that often ranks high on the list of concerns held by prospective EV buyers. Most predictions estimate between 2% and 3% of a battery capacity will degrade in a year. Toyota has decided to reassure buyers further with a 10-year - or 620,000-mile - guarantee that the battery will retain at least 70% of its capacity. The bZ4X charges via a 6.6kW on-board charger, but cars manufactured from quarter four 2022 will ship with an 11kW unit for faster A/C charging.
At over two tonnes in all-wheel drive variant, the bZ4X weighs in nearly 400kg heavier than the similarly-sized Rav4 Hybrid, but with plenty of power available 0-62mph is a sprightly 6.9 seconds. There are faster mainstream EVs, but it’s more than enough for what most people will use it for and it’s quicker than most internal combustion powered SUVs of its size.
It’s no lumbering beast in the corners either, Toyota has worked hard on body rigidity and weight distribution to ensure the car handles well. The floor-mounted batteries give the bz4X a low centre of gravity and weight saving materials have been prioritised toward the front of the car - for example the radiator subframe and aluminium cross-members in the engine compartment - in order to help with cornering inertia.
Steering is via a rack-and-pinion electric power steering system that stiffens or lightens depending on the vehicle speed. Toyota say, though, the car will also be available with its One Motion Grip steer-by-wire system from 2023, complete with a Tesla (or airliner) inspired steering yoke in lieu of a traditional wheel.
In normal driving, the car is front-wheel drive, unless needed, and in X-mode power distribution is 50/50 to the front and rear axles unless the ABS system detects more power is required on a particular wheel. The bZ4X has ventilated discs front and rear and an electronic parking brake. Unlike in Subaru’s Solterra EV, the nearly identical Subaru born out of this partnership, there are no paddles to control the regenerative braking and Daisuke Ido, Toyota’s chief engineer on the project, believes it’s better to leave that to the computer. Based on my own experience with manual systems, he’s probably right. I invariably resort to the default setting before long.
Refinement was good and the Macpherson strut-front and double-wishbone rear suspension set-up soaked the various bumps and undulations of Denmark’s road network up with very little fuss. Tyre noise was minimal, although above 50mph wind noise started to get noticeable. As aerodynamic as the designers have tried to make the bZ4X it’s still an SUV and there’s no engine noise to mask the sound of the elements.
Interior build, space and quality
The interior feels very spacious and, while it’s meant to be Rav4-sized, the bZ4X feels more akin to a Landcruiser in scale from the passenger or driver’s seat. Visibility is excellent to the front and the flanks, less so, to the rear, but that’s something less and less relevant in the age of high-definition reversing cameras.
The instrument display has no hood, which makes the driver’s view feel more open than would be typical, and generally the design and layout of the dash is clean and open. There’s no glove box beneath the dash in front of the passenger seat, something the interior designer in charge of the bZx4 project Alessandro Belosio said was inspired by his wife, who wanted a car that would comfortably let her stow her handbag at her feet.
The dashboard in our test car, which was the equivalent to the second-from-top Vision trim level, was dominated by a 12.3-inch landscape-orientated touchscreen. Lower specification cars get an eight-inch display. Materials in the cabin are a mixed bag. The synthetic leather upholstery felt suitably premium and I’m a big fan of a fabric-wrapped dashboard, but some of the plastics felt a little cheap and have presumably been chosen for their light weight, rather than soft texture.
In all, it’s pleasant, open-feeling cabin, but it’s not as pleasant or open feeling as a Hyundai Ioniq 5 or a Tesla Model Y (although it is more comfortable).
Verdict and costs
Starting at £41,950 for the entry-level Pure model in front-wheel drive and topping out at £51,550 for the top spec Premiere Edition, the bZ4X will be marketed with some competitive leasing options through Kinto, the brand’s mobility provider. Private customers can lease a mid-spec Motion car from £599 per month (£499 for business customers) with payments including vehicle use, maintenance, roadside assistance and access to a charging network. Buyers preferring to own their vehicle can expect to pay around £650 per month for the same vehicle on a Toyota PCP deal.
Toyota’s first battery electric vehicle might have been 25 years in the making, but it’s a solid first effort that holds its own in a price bracket that includes some really stiff competition in the form of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Volkswagen ID.4 and Kia EV6. It’s more conservative-looking than the Korean pair, which could work either for, or against it, depending on who’s buying, but it’s far from dull to drive and that genuine off-road capability will be a differentiator that helps the bZ4X stand out.
Toyota bZ4X AWD Vision
Price: £50,250 Motor: Twin 80kW syncronous electric Battery: 71.4kWh; Power: 215bhp; Torque: 249lb ft; Transmission: Single-speed automatic, all-wheel drive; Top speed: 100mph; 0-62mph: 6.9 seconds; WLTP range: 259 miles; Consumption: 4.4 miles per kWh; Charging: Up to 150kW