Toyota bZ4X review: The old reliable lays down a marker with its first EV

Although Toyota gave us the first mass-produced hybrid in 1997 the bZ4X is the company’s first EV and as a first effort it is impressive and signals that things will only get better
Toyota bZ4X review: The old reliable lays down a marker with its first EV

Toyota bZ4X

Toyota bZ4X






a front-mounted 150 kW electric with 204bhp


between 444 to 512km

The Spec

a lot of kit even at entry level


a really good first EV from Toyota

TOYOTA has long been the world’s biggest purveyor of hybrid vehicles and has sold somewhere around 20m of them to everyone from the dahlings of Hollywood to taximen in Hollyhill who, of course, are darlings in their own right.

The Prius kicked it all off for Toyota back in 1997, becoming the world’s first mass-produced hybrid and despite the fact it was about as exciting to drive as a ride-on lawnmower, it gained huge traction globally and, in California, after it was designated as the cleanest vehicle on sale there, it became the thing to be seen driving.

It mattered not that initially it was terrible to drive; what mattered was that it was clean and on that basis alone it set a trajectory for Toyota — and the rest of the world — to build and sell cars that were environmentally friendly and made us feel better about ourselves.

Toyota has sold a lot of hybrids and made a lot of cash in doing so and fair play to them. Sure there was an element of smoke and mirrors abut what they were doing, but they pulled off a stroke almost every other manufacturer missed — until they were so far behind the eight ball, it mattered little.

But now Toyota has changed tack big time and has entered the battery electric vehicle (BEV) market and its first contender in the genre, the curiously named bZ4X which does actually have a meaning.

The ‘b’ (lower case) stands for ‘below,’ while the (upper case) ‘Z’ is for ‘Zero.’ The ‘4’ indicates the mid-size nature of the car – suggesting that things like the ‘3’ or the ‘7’ might not be too far off — and the ‘X’ is the usual motor industry shorthand for ‘crossover’. So, what we have is a below zero emissions mid-sized crossover and it is this week’s tester — an intriguing machine that, while not the most exciting car you will ever see or drive, will have a unique place in automotive history. That is because it is the very first of a landslide of EVs coming out of Toyota City, the megalopolis in Japan named after the world’s biggest carmaker.

This then is a momentous car and one which will set the tone for what’s coming down the tracks from Toyota. So is it any good? Well, yes it is, but with some room for upward adjustment.

From a ‘look’ point of view the bZ4X is not perhaps as eye-popping as we might have expected, given Toyota’s recent emergence as a company that focusses as much on design as it does its bulletproof engineering. In that regard it is a small bit disappointing and especially so when you look at fellow Asian EVs like the Kia EV6 or the Hyundai Ionic 5.

Toyota bZ4X spacious interior
Toyota bZ4X spacious interior

There’s oodles of black cladding adorning the wheel arches and the front end has a narrow strip just under the bonnet line where the lights are housed. Underneath there is something of a wide-mouth air intake/grille, even though the need for cooling has been obviated by the electric power.

That said, at least they’ve gone for something other than the blanked-off grille arrangement that many early EV adopters have gone for and which, for the most part look terrible. This one is far from off-putting, but doesn’t give the car anything like a cutting-edge look which we might have expected.

The rear end is nearly distinctive, what with the hatch-mounted spoiler (a bit like the MG4), the de rigeur LED strip across the width and the slashing light mouldings giving things a bit of elan. All told though, it is merely nice looking rather than being of the ‘take-the-eye-out-of-you’re-head’ variety.

It’s something similar on the inside where practicality has outstripped radical chic, but there are still one or two innovative things going on. The U-shaped instrument binnacle is nearly as thin as a fag paper, but houses a novel digital layout which is pretty outré for an ‘everyman’ Toyota and beats any head-up display into a cocked hat.

That, along with a large centrally mounted touchscreen (which features the best tech yet seen in a Toyota), make for an interesting cockpit, although the carpety material covering the dash is initially a little disconcerting. Scratchy plastics are largely absent from anywhere you’ll be interacting with and there’s no glove box, but plenty of storage cubbies nonetheless.

Seating is comfortable, the cabin airy and there’s generally plenty of room front and rear. Boot space is pretty impressive too, but when compared with some direct rivals, it’s slightly smaller or similarly sized, so don’t expect anything special.

So far, so OK, but there’s no real wow factor; fortunately the bZ4X saves most of its best bits for the driving end of things.

On the road it is quick, quiet, and very composed. It handles with a sharpness you might not expect and the ride quality is top drawer, even on our rapidly deteriorating road network.

Certainly you can induce an element of understeer if you’re being a bit pushy, but in general this is a really nice thing to drive and be driven in.

Toyota bZ4X
Toyota bZ4X

A stiff body structure and compliant suspensions certainly help the handling and it is noticeable how little lean there is when cornering; for a two-tonne SUV, it is remarkably good. Indeed, this is as good an EV SUV to drive as we have yet come across.

It has two power options, one with a front-mounted 150 kW electric motor driving the front wheels only, while the other has two 80 kW motors on either axle and four-wheel drive. We drove the former and it outputs a healthy 204 bhp (as against 218 bhp for the AWD version) with a 7.5 second 0-100 km/h time (6.9 for the AWD).

The delivery of the power is very linear and not at all like the on/off characteristics of many electrics; this thing is truly smooth, but quick with it. The top speed for both versions is 160 km/h, but the AWD version allows for some not-too-taxing off-road ventures, although ground clearance issues will prevent more daring adventures.

A tad underwhelming

IN some respects the bZ4X is a tad underwhelming, but the overall verdict here has to be positive and one of the reasons for that is the range. Toyota suggest that, depending on the model, you will get anywhere between 512 to 444 km from a charge and from what I saw, those figures were far from fanciful.

That means that apart from a really peaceful driving environment, there’s no range anxiety issues because the car does largely deliver on what it says it will. Home charging will take 10 hours, while you will get an 80% charge in 45 minutes on a fast charger.

This is a very pragmatic and sensible electric car and one that will please traditional Toyota drivers as well as those new to the brand — if there’s any such entity. A lot of company flaws of the past — naff infotainment and low-end interiors — have been consigned to the past here and that’s very good going forward.

With something like 15 more EVs coming rapidly down the tracks from the company, as a first effort the bZ4X is impressive and signals that things will only get better. But, this is more than good enough for starters.

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