Since the introduction of the Prius, Toyota has led the hybrid league, offering an impressive list of petrol-electric models. In EVs, however, Toyota has mostly been content to watch from the stands, except for a few minor seasons with the RAV4 EV sold in California in 1997 and again in 2011. Now, finally, Toyota is taking the relay with the bZ4X, an electric vehicle that will be sold throughout the country. It’s a cautious effort that doesn’t swing for the fences.
Although the name appears to be the result of a product planner banging his fist on a keyboard, Toyota says “bZ” stands for “beyond zero” emissions, the 4 indicates vehicle size, and “X” indicates its SUV body style. More electric bZ models will follow, with the next likely being a Highlander-sized bZ5X SUV.
Slightly longer and lower than the RAV4, the bZ4x was co-developed with Subaru, which offers the almost identical Solterra. The designs are mostly differentiated on the front, where the bZ4X gets a trapezoidal non-grille while the Solterra is hexagon-shaped. Both have the same side sculpt and heavy black plastic elements on the wheel arches. Taking a page from Tesla, there’s only one standard color: black. White, red, silver and gray cost extra and in the Limited can be paired with a black roof.
The main difference between the two models is that Toyota offers a front-wheel-drive single-engine version as well as an all-wheel-drive twin-engine variant, while Subaru has opted exclusively for all-wheel drive. The bZ4X powertrain can be available in XLE or Limited trim. The standard configuration produces 201 horsepower, a respectable number that exactly matches the single-motor Volkswagen ID.4 and Kia Niro EV. We expect the bZ4X to hit 60 mph in just under seven seconds, which would be better than the 7.6 seconds we got with the VW but slower than the 6.2 we recorded with the Kia.
What’s unusual, however, is that while other automakers position their dual-motor all-wheel-drive electric vehicles for high performance, the dual-motor bZ4X only adds 13 ponies, for a total of 214 horses. This contrasts sharply with similarly configured versions of the ID.4 (295 horsepower), Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 (320 horsepower) and Polestar 2 (408 horsepower).
Toyota says it wanted a similar driving character for both models, and that the AWD version’s superior 0-60 time is due to off-the-line traction. Indeed, on our drive through suburban San Diego, both bZ4X powertrains felt equally lively. Both have a satisfying, but not garish, initial response when pulling away from a stop or accelerating to pass on the highway. Additionally, the chassis felt taut but supple over the bumps, and the steering has decent weighting. A button on the console increases regenerative braking, but not to the level of one-pedal riding.
The all-wheel-drive version includes more than the typical off-road gear, courtesy of Subaru. There’s hill descent control, as well as X-Mode programming that includes two off-road modes. There is also a brake-based system to send torque to either axle when one wheel loses grip. We didn’t get a chance to get off the pavement with the bZ4X, but we did with its Subaru sibling, which performed well on some sandy off-road trails.
Both bZ4X models have nearly identical battery sizes of 63.4 kWh (in the single-motor version) and 65.6 kWh (in the dual-motor version). Their EPA range estimates are adequate but not best-in-class: 242/252 miles (Limited/XLE) for the front-wheel-drive version and slightly lower for the all-wheel-drive model at 222/228 miles.
Toyota includes a year of free charging at EVgo locations, and buyers can bundle a ChargePoint Level 2 home charger as part of their purchase for $699 (which doesn’t include installation). With Level 2 power, the modest 6.6kW on-board charger can recharge the battery in 9 hours. The bZ4X can also run on a DC fast charger, where Toyota says adding 80% charge takes just under an hour, with peak charging rates of 150kW for front-wheel-drive variants. and 100 kW for all-wheel drive. models. In other markets, the bZ4X offers solar panels integrated into the roof, but this feature did not make a difference in the United States.
American cars are equipped with a fixed glass roof as standard, which makes the interior airy. Slim pillars aid outward visibility. The rear seat cushion is low, providing adequate headroom, and rear legroom is generous. An optional feature on the Limited is a radiant heater in the lower instrument panel that warms the front riders’ legs. A high center console divides the front seats in two and features a wireless charger and ample open storage space below. There’s no glove box or frunk, and the rear cargo hold is 26 to 28 cubic feet (compared to 38 for the RAV4). Unlike Prius models, the bZ4X digital instrument display is directly in front of the driver. But it’s positioned so you’re looking over the steering wheel, and drivers who prefer a higher steering wheel position may find the display partially obscured. A central 12.3-inch touchscreen offers crisp graphics and wireless phone mirroring, but uses silly plus and minus buttons for volume and on-screen touch points for audio adjustment. Subscribe to Wi-Fi and you can stream music through your Apple or Amazon music account. Navigation and “Hey, Toyota” voice recognition are both subscription-based as part of Toyota’s Drive Connect service, with three years free.
The bZ4X XLE starts at $43,215 and the Limited at $47,915. Upgrading to the dual-motor all-wheel-drive powertrain costs $2080. All models include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and safe exit assist. The Limited’s additions include a motion-activated power tailgate, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, multi-view camera, 20-inch wheels and Softex leatherette upholstery. Sales begin in ZEV states in April, with the bZ4X offered nationwide by the end of the year. Note that Toyota’s $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles is expected to start disappearing in the fourth quarter of this year, largely thanks to the roughly 150,000 Prius Primes sold since 2017. Interested buyers may want to act quickly. . Although Toyota itself has been a bit slow to get into the EV game.
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