Toyota finally has an EV and it’s okay

You might be surprised to learn that Toyota has not, until now, sold a widely available product, true electric vehicle in America. But they didn’t. Not really. Toyota, pioneer of the hybrid with the Prius – whose name means “Go forward” in Latin – does not have “forward” with electric vehicles. Tesla, Nissan, General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Kia and others have all beaten Toyota to market with electric vehicles.

There have been two generations of the Toyota Rav4 EV, but these were not available nationwide and, moreover, they were really just regular Rav4 SUVs with batteries and electric motors. The second generation Rav4 electric vehicles had Tesla, not Toyota, stuff inside. Toyota has long had a more conservative view of electric vehicles than some other automakers that have pledged to go all-in, or nearly, on electric vehicles. Toyota is not committed to only manufacturing electric vehicles on a specific date.

The BZ4X was designed from the start as an electric crossover SUV. This is not another vehicle with batteries, a technique that usually results in inferior products. This SUV was designed in partnership with Subaru, which offers its own electric SUV, the Solterra. Both are based on the same engineering and they even look almost identical.

Like many Toyotas, the BZ4X features aggressive design cues on the outside that belie a refreshingly unremarkable experience inside. Toyota, America’s top-selling automaker last year, has earned its place by giving customers what they want. And what Americans want above all is not to be disturbed. There is nothing in this vehicle that most cr owners would not be able to quickly understand and adapt.

While some other EV makers aim for mind-blowing acceleration, the BZ4X takes about seven seconds, plus or minus, to go from zero to 60 miles per hour. And honestly, that’s great. It’s quite fast, actually. Nobody really needs to accelerate faster than that. Just over 200 horsepower from the BZ4X’s electric motor(s), depending on whether you get all-wheel drive or not, is also perfectly decent and reasonable.

Other EVs can give you over 300 miles of range, maybe even 400 miles, on a single charge, but the BZ4X can give you up to 252 miles of range on a charge. Again, that’s fine. Most people travel less than 40 miles per day on average, and most buyers will have a charger installed at home, if they can, before buying an electric vehicle. This means they will have over 200 miles worth of batteries that they carry around all the time just for the occasional long trip. Why carry more?

I liked the fine and normal behavior of the BZ4X and even found it refreshing. It has a convenient and simple volume button. The BZ4X has a large touchscreen in the middle because everything now has large touchscreens. But it’s not one of those huge TV-sized pixel trays that make you reach out to reach every part.

There are two things that really stand out about the BZ4X: fenders and ride quality. The BZ4X’s suspension is surprisingly stiff and bouncy, way more than I’d expect from a Toyota. Someone later explained to me that it was the result of engineers aiming for a responsive and fun ride feel, which requires a firmer suspension, especially in a vehicle with heavy batteries and a high ride height. That’s fine except I really doubt anyone would buy the BZ4X for fun. This drives well and the EVs, with their fast and responsive motors, lend themselves to the fun. I just think that, given the choice between a smooth ride and the thrill of a twisty road, most Toyota crossover buyers prefer to be pampered. Plus, I’ve driven a few fun electric crossovers that didn’t push me like that.

The interior of the Toyota BZ4X is simple and easy to use.  Unlike some other electric SUVs, it doesn't have underhood storage, but there's plenty of room inside.

In one of the weirdest car design choices in recent memory, the BZ4X’s fenders, the body panels around the wheels, are black. This comes standard on all BZ4X models and you cannot uncheck it. The idea was to make the SUV stand out from Toyota’s gas-powered vehicles, I was told. (The Subaru Solterra has a similar design feature, but its fenders are molded in dark gray plastic while Toyota’s are glossy.) I predict this clunky flourish won’t last and that within a model year or two, you will be able to get your BZ4X in just one color.

The BZ4X is initially only available in Toyota’s top-of-the-line XLE and Limited levels, which include numerous features and options. Prices start at around $42,000 for a front-wheel-drive model. Those who buy soon will be able to take advantage of an available $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit. Each automaker is entitled to a limited number of electric vehicle tax credits. They begin to disappear a few months after the 200,000th loan from a given automaker. In what appears to be a cruel cosmic joke, Toyota is about to run out of credit soon after launching its first electric vehicle. Indeed, these electric vehicle tax credits also apply to plug-in hybrids, and Toyota has sold many of them. But in exchange for this tax credit, I hope you like the black wings.