Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

The 2023 Toyota bZ4X will be the Japanese company’s first attempt at an electric vehicle that will be available in all 50 states. It’s an admirable machine that looks as good as it drives and that is loaded with updated technology — but Toyota is going to have to do a lot of work to get this $42,000 vehicle to land with audiences in the non-luxury electric SUV market.

Full Disclosure: Toyota invited Jalopnik to drive the Toyota bZ4X at a swanky resort in California. All opinions are my own.

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

What Is The Toyota bZ4X?

The Toyota bZ4X is the Japanese company’s attempt at an all-electric SUV designed to usher in a new era of EVs for the company, and it’ll be Toyota’s first EV sold in all 50 states. It’s also yet another collaboration with Subaru; the Solterra and bZ4X both share the same platform and are almost identical but for a few mechanical tweaks and aesthetic changes.

This crossover was announced in November of last year to some mixed reviews. The “bZ” in its name stands for “beyond zero,” meaning that the EV hopes to be more than just carbon neutral but actively good for the environment. The naming convention is, unfortunately, sticking around; Toyota noted that it already has plans for a bZ5X — a true downer for anyone who has to type out that naming convention, say, in a review.

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

How Does The Toyota bZ4X Drive?

I’ll admit it: I do love a good electric SUV. Where your traditional gas-powered machine can feel a little laggy and heavy, the electric version of these larger vehicles offers an instantaneous and linear application of torque as soon as you touch the throttle. I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy pulling away from stop lights like I’m at the drag strip.

However, that does bring me to one of the first issues I noticed with the bZ4X. I had a chance to drive both the XLE and Limited trims in both the FWD and AWD formats — and wheel spin was almost unavoidable in the FWD models if you weren’t paying attention. Just a smidge too much pressure on the throttle, and you’d lose traction for just a moment. It’s not anything that a driver couldn’t get used to, but it is admittedly a little disorienting at first.

Once cruising, though, the bZ4X is, more than anything else, comfortable. We’re not talking about a performance car here, so if you want stiffened suspension and instantaneous response from your steering inputs, you probably shouldn’t be opting for an SUV anyway.

But the bZ4X is competent. On the highway, it’s a breeze to drive. On twisty mountain paths, you’ll still be able to have a little fun. On gravel, it holds its own (though, again, be careful with throttle application on those FWD models). It doesn’t stand out in terms of its driving dynamics, but Toyota is marketing this vehicle as a commuter car — and it’ll do that just fine. If you like cruising in the RAV4, you’ll enjoy the bZ4X.

I will note, though, that I didn’t have a chance to do any kinda-significant off-roading in the bZ4X, so I didn’t get to test the AWD’s X-Mode system, which features additional traction settings for Snow/Dirt, Snow/Mud, and hill descent. However, I did play with Boost Mode, Toyota’s name for its regenerative braking setting. It’s not exactly one-pedal driving (you do have to use the brakes to come to a complete stop), but you will notice a dramatic deceleration. Also worth noting: You can’s use Boost Mode with any X-Mode settings.

I had one other minor criticism about the bZ4X. The gauge cluster is sleek, but it’s so set into the dashboard that I found the top of my steering wheel obscured my view of the speedometer. After chatting with some fellow journalists on the trip, I found that this wasn’t a massive issue for plenty of drivers while it was a significant annoyance for others. It seems like this one all depends on your driving position; I was able to readjust and still feel comfortable, but it was admittedly a little disorienting to be unable to sit in my standard driving position.

And yes, I need to talk about the design — specifically, the black cladding on the exterior that admittedly looks better in real life than it does in photographs. This single design element is likely going to sound the death knell for a lot of buyers because cladding just tends to look cheap, and I’d expect a little more exterior luxury from a $40,000+ vehicle that’s not intended for any off-roading. The interior, too, replaced plastic or pleather with gray fabric that I couldn’t decide if I loved or hated. It will, I think, be one of those things you can’t figure out until you’ve actually driven it for a while.

Thankfully, you get Toyota’s upgraded infotainment system in this bad boy, the same one on the new Tundra. On the other hand, I quickly got tired of seeing my own fingerprints in the piano black trim.

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

How Does The Toyota bZ4X Compare To The Competition?

The Toyota bZ4X is set to do battle with other electrified, non-luxury SUVS like the Chevy Bolt EUV, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Hyundai Kona Electric and Ioniq, the Kia Niro EV and EV6, the Tesla Model Y, the Volkswagen ID.4, and, of course, its twin the Subaru Solterra.

The bZ4X will sit right about in the middle of all those vehicles in terms of price, size, and looks — but it does benefit from the very fact that it’s a Toyota, a brand associated with an ethos of eco-friendliness and reliability. It’s more comfortable and feels more like a traditional gasoline-powered car than, say, the Model Y or the ID.4

The big thing here, though, is that the bZ4X isn’t exactly offering anything that’s going to make it stand out from the pack. It’s a nice, relaxing drive, and it benefits from its Toyota nameplate — but we live in a world where people are hesitant to adopt EVs, and the competition features better range, lower prices, more luxurious interiors, faster charging, or better technology. And to make matters worse, Toyota is about to lose its federal EV tax credits, which means you can opt for the Subaru Solterra and receive a shockingly similar machine with the guarantee that you can get a hefty return on your taxes.

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Specs To Know

  • Starting MSRP: $42,000
  • Range: Between 222 and 252, depending on trim
  • AWD and FWD options
  • 201 HP FWD, 214 HP AWD
  • 196 lb-ft torque
  • 71.4 kWh battery FWD / 72.9 kWh battery AWD
  • Two trims: XLE and Limited

XLE

  • FWD MSRP: $42,000
  • AWD MSRP: $44,080
  • FWD Range: 252 miles
  • AWD Range: 228 miles
  • 18-inch alloy wheels

Limited

  • FWD MSRP: $46,700
  • AWD MSRP: $48,780
  • FWD Range: 242 miles
  • AWD Range: 222 miles
  • 20-inch machine-finished alloy wheels
  • Additional paint colors
  • Optional split roof rear spoiler
  • Chrome accented grille and window trim
  • Multi-LED headlights
  • Power lift gate

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Image for article titled Toyota bZ4X First Drive: An Ambitious EV, But Will It Land With Audiences?

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The Verdict

The 2023 Toyota bZ4X is an entirely competent electric vehicle that stands out in the SUV EV class for its comfort… but that’s about it. If you’re an avid Toyota fan that’s looking to go fully electric, you’re going to love this. If you want better prices, higher luxury, more range, faster charging, more competent technology, better tax credits, more capable off-roading, or a sportier drive, you’ll be able to find that elsewhere in this ever-growing market niche. I really liked the bZ4X — it just hasn’t given me a reason to buy it yet.

Reference-jalopnik.com

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