It may seem like Toyota is a bit late to the electric vehicle party, but the automaker has been experimenting with EVs in its home country of Japan and in the state of California since the first-generation RAV4 EV back in 1997 and again with the second-generation in 2012. So, it's fitting that its first 50-state electric car -- the new 2023 Toyota BZ4X -- is also a compact electric SUV.
The Toyota is mechanically and aesthetically identical to the Subaru Solterra, with only the badges and minor trim level and equipment differences between the two. Much like the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, this joint venture between the two automakers will see the two SUVs rolling off of the same assembly lines in Japan and China.
That terrible name breaks down to three main parts. Beyond Zero (BZ) refers to Toyota's current electrification initiative. The "4" indicates the size of the vehicle -- as in about RAV4-size -- while the X identifies this as an SUV. The automaker refuses to comment on future products, but if Toyota plans to use this same naming convention going forward, a hypothetical larger electric SUV could be called BZ6X, while a sedan could be BZ4S or something similar.
2023 Toyota BZ4X Pushes the Design Envelope
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Again, the BZ4X is similarly sized to the RAV4 but, specifically, the electric SUV's wheelbase is 6.3 inches longer at 112.2 inches. Pushing the wheels to the chassis' corners combined with a roof that's 2 inches shorter (65.0 inches) makes the BZ4X appear significantly longer than the RAV4, despite actually only being 3.7 inches longer overall (184.6 inches). Surprisingly, the BZ4X's ride height remains within a quarter-inch of its sibling, retaining 8.1 inches of ground clearance.
The vehicle that lives within those dimensions is an odd-looking but not unappealing one, with a design that blends sharp angles with organic curves, a flat-faced "hammerhead" front end with a large panel where the grille should be, and -- the most controversial bit -- large, contrasting black fenders. It's a strange bird at first blush, but closer inspection reveals that the design actually doesn't depart too far from the aesthetic of the RAV4 or Lexus' NX, especially when paired with a dark hue like my example's Heavy Metal silver that de-emphasizes the fenders' contrast.
Two electric powertrains
The biggest difference between the 2023 BZ4X and its Pleiades-badged sibling is that the Toyota is available in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive flavors, where the Subaru can only be had with the latter.
The front-drive configuration mates a 71.4 kWh battery pack with a 150-kilowatt electric motor on the front axle to produce 201 horsepower and 196 pound-feet of torque. Expect up to 252 miles of estimated range in the BZ4X's lighter XLE configuration or 242 miles with the Limited spec's extra amenities. Heavy-footed drivers will find a respectable 7.1 second 0-to-60 mph time.
With an 80-kW motor on each axle, the all-wheel driven BZ4X outputs a total of 214 hp and 248 lb.-ft. of torque. Zero-to-60 mph sprints are shortened to 6.5 seconds, but range also steps down to 228 miles for XLE and 222 miles for Limited grades. Interestingly, this spec uses a different 72.8-kWh battery pack. Toyota chose a different supplier for this configuration with a slightly different chemistry, resulting in the 1.4-kWh difference.
Of course, the BZ4X will be cross-shopped with the Kia EV6, which cruises for 310 miles or 274 miles, respectively, in its rear- and all-wheel-drive configurations when equipped with its similarly sized "long-range" battery pack. VW's ID 4 will do 280 miles and the more expensive Tesla Model Y boasts 318 miles in its Long Range configuration. In a world where range is king, the Toyota comes up woefully short.
Public and home charging
The two battery packs also charge at different peak DC fast-charging speeds. The 71.4-kWh pack can reach up to 150 kW, while the 72.8-kWh pack's speed is limited to 100 kWh. Either way, owners are looking at approximately an hour to fast-charge from 20% to 80% at an appropriately powerful station via the CCS connection. That's on par with the Mustang Mach-E and VW ID 4 but lags behind the 350-kW capable Ioniq 5 and EV6, which get the job done in as little as 20 minutes.
Toyota seems fine with this, reckoning that most charging will take place at Level 2 charging stations. The BZ4X includes a year of complimentary EVgo public charging -- integrated with the Toyota App -- and, to help owners get started charging at home, the option to purchase Chargepoint Home Flex Level 2 charger directly through the dealership. At one of these 240-volt AC plugs, the BZ4X can accept up to 6.6 kW, adding around 25 miles of range per hour at its fastest and -- because battery charging rates aren't linear -- filling up completely in around 11 hours.
Twist the dial-type shift knob to D and punch the accelerator and the BZ4X punches slightly above its stated specs. Like most EVs, this is due to the instantaneous and linear application of torque, rather than building power to a crescendo. Around town, when pulling away from traffic lights, passing or merging, the SUV feels more responsive and zippy than its on-paper numbers imply.
The crossover's ride is soft -- noticeably softer than the competition from Kia and Ford -- but not sloppy or vague. Squat and dive on launch and braking feel nicely controlled, though I noticed the body lean in the corners. At both highways and parking lot speeds, the steering remains predictable and easy, if not also a touch numb. It's not the most fun-to-drive ride in this class, but it's an easy and comfy commuter.
The 8.1-inches of ground clearance potentially give the BZ4X an advantage on dirt roads or poor weather compared to most of the low-slung electric crossovers in this class, particularly when mated with the AWD configuration's X-Mode system with traction programs for Snow/Dirt, Snow/Mud and hill descent control. I wasn't able to test the BZ4X off-road, but my colleague came away satisfied after a bit of soft-roading in the identical Subaru Solterra.
The BZ4X also features a user-selectable Boost Mode regenerative braking setting that's almost a one-pedal driving mode, but not quite. Boost Mode gives full regeneration on lift, slowing the SUV to a creep but not to a complete stop. The high-regen setting is, however, not compatible with the X-Mode settings and one must be deactivated before the other can be applied.
Cabin and ergonomics
The BZ4X boasts nearly an inch more headroom (38.6 inches) and legroom (42.1 inches) than the RAV4 on the first row. However, back seat passengers lose about two inches of head and legroom -- 37.1 and 35.3 inches, respectively -- to the BZ4X's more steeply sloped roof. There are 27.7 cubic feet worth of cargo capacity behind the seats (or 25.8 cubes with the upgraded JBL audio system's subwoofer), which is around 10 cubic feet short of RAV4. (Toyota doesn't currently state the BZ4X's folded-flat cargo volume.)
The driving position feels awkward at first, but it grows on you. The SUV's 7-inch digital instrument cluster is positioned high and set far forward on the dashboard, which requires positioning the steering wheel lower relative to my driving position than normal to see the gauges over the rim, rather than through it. However, after just a few miles, I began to appreciate and even prefer this more ergonomic angle which significantly reduced strain on my wrists over a long day of driving and boosted forward visibility. Meanwhile, the rest of the BZ4X's cabin looks good with high-quality materials and a clean, minimalist design.
Infotainment and safety tech
The main infotainment display is the same 12.3-inch Toyota Audio Multimedia system with "Hey Toyota" hot-word detection that debuted on the new Tundra, but where the pickup has a chunky volume knob, the BZ4X disappointingly makes do with small volume buttons. For the most part, this is a well organized and responsive menu system. However, parts of the interface are perhaps too simplified, which can make it easy to overlook some commonly accessed features.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard via wireless connectivity or the single USB Type-A media port in the center console. (An additional four USB Type-C charging ports can be found split between front- and backseat passengers.) Alexa and Google Assistant smart home and digital assistant integration are also included as part of the Toyota Remote Connect telematics service -- subscription-based after the included 3-year trial -- which also rolls in features like digital key, remote charging monitoring and more.
The Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 driver aid tech suite is standard equipment for all BZ4X models, rolling in precollision alert and braking assist with pedestrian, cyclists, motorcyclists and guardrail detection. It also features standard lane-centering steering assist, adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic and automatic high beams. The standard blind-spot monitoring tech now rolls in a feature called Safe Exit Assist that alerts passengers when opening a door into oncoming traffic.
Pricing and competition
The 2023 Toyota BZ4X starts at $43,215 for the base single-motor XLE, including the $1,215 but before any federal or state EV tax incentives. Add $2,080 for dual-motor all-wheel-drive. Stepping up to the Limited grade swaps out the standard rear camera for a 360-degree camera system and adds multi-LED headlamps, a power lift gate, SofTex synthetic leather seats with eight-way power adjustment and heated and ventilated surfaces and a heated steering wheel starting at $47,915 with one motor or $49,995 with two.
The 2023 Toyota BZ4X is quite good. I relished its comfort-oriented ride and ergonomics and came away satisfied with its modest performance, excellent build quality and value. Unfortunately, this compact electric SUV class is already chock-full of a half-dozen models like the Tesla Model Y, Kia's EV6, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Volkswagen ID 4 that offer better range, faster charging, better tech or all three.
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