(Pocket-lint) – While Toyota is rightly credited with being one of the big drivers behind hybrid vehicles – the Prius very much starting that trend over 25 years ago – the company has been rather slow to embrace the battery electric vehicle.
The Toyota bZ4X, then, is something pretty special: the first car designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle from one of the biggest manufacturers on the planet.
Having lost some of that trendsetting initiative to the likes of Hyundai and Nissan, though, how does the awkwardly-named bZ4X stack up? We’ve been driving it in order to find out.
It feels like we’ve been waiting a long time for Toyota to come up with an electric car, and now we have it. Even better, it’s a great first offering. The bZ4X is practical, comfortable and well-appointed, offering all the features you’d expect.
The performance and range slot in neatly alongside its rivals, and, while it might not hit the interior quality levels that some offer, it’s a little more affordable than some rivals – and that’s exactly what you expect from Toyota.
The biggest takeaway is the interior space and comfort. If you’re looking for an electric SUV to pack the family into, then the Toyota bZ4X has plenty to offer.
4.5 stars – Pocket-lint recommended
- Impressive interior space
- All models get the same big battery
- Actually offers offroad skills (AWD version)
- Refined drive
- Not the highest quality interior
- Irritating driver alertness monitor
- Driver display not in a great position
Toyota’s car design has evolved considerably over the past decade, putting out some models that look futuristic – the C-HR, or the refined lines of the Yaris, have demonstrated Toyota’s flair for design.
It’s a company that makes interesting-looking cars.
There are elements scattered across the bZ4X that express many of these details, from the split spoiler at the top of the rear window, the additional flick on the trailing edge of the boot lid, or the channels leading into the front wheels. The closer you look, the more you see.
At first glance, yes, there’s a lot in mid-size SUV territory that makes it hard to be distinctive, and, while there’s a hint of Lexus and a smidge of Nissan’s Ariya here, we think Toyota’s model will stand out on the road and recognisable to customers.
There is, however, some external use of plastics that might draw in the critics. Those plastic-trimmed wheel arches perhaps add a modicum of scrape protection, but that can also lead some to think it looks a little cheap.
Importantly, this is a car that’s been designed to be electric; it’s not a repurposed model that will see a combustion engine dumped into it. That means it carries the same advantages as the likes of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, and that’s great interior space relative to its exterior size.
It’s bigger than the RAV4 – some 160mm longer, although the roofline is lower – but it does still sit in the same segment. That leads us to a brief explanation of the name – the 4 indicates that it’s a mid-sized SUV, while the bZ stands for “beyond zero”, the name that Toyota has daubed on its electric vehicles.
It’s a bit of a mouthful, especially when you add the X on the end (for crossover – and there’s an X Mode on this car which we’ll talk about in a bit) and we have no idea what the general public will end up calling this car – it feels like it’s missing an iconic name like Yaris or Corolla, but we assume there will be other ‘bZ’ models following with similar names.
The other detail worth noting is that the Toyota bZ4X was developed in cahoots with Subaru, resulting in the Solterra, and, again, there’s some crediting of the X Mode system this car offers to Subaru’s offroad heritage.
A whole new interior experience
Before we talk about the drive, we should note that the interior of the car is perhaps the area that will have the biggest impact. It’s a spacious cabin, benefitting from the flat floor this platform offers and that’s most evident in the rear (where there’s not only a lot of legroom), but, with no need for a transmission tunnel, it’s a flat floor across the back, too.
Toyota hasn’t totally taken advantage of this in the way that Hyundai and Genesis have on their models on the E-GMP platform, both of which also offer a flat floor across the front, leaving a gap between the driver and passenger seats.
Instead, the bZ4X has a slightly more conventional centre console built up between the seats, so it feels a little more conventional up front. It’s not just wasted space, however, because there’s an open space in this centre console, offering some 20 litres of storage.
Interestingly, the interior designer told us that the inspiration had come from his wife, who said there was never anywhere to dump a handbag. So, now there is: you’ll be able to slip a bag into this space, but it’s not an enclosed space.
In creating the interior space, Toyota has also attempted to minimise the dash, which often dominates the front of the car. We’ve seen a lot of this in electric cars, and the compromise here is that there’s no conventional glove box on this car. But there’s increased leg space, something you’ll particularly notice if you’re in that front passenger seat.
However, there’s also another design result that comes out of this, and it relates to the driving position.
The driver display sits close to the windscreen, further away from the steering wheel than you might expect, designed to be closer to your eye line when driving. That also means you look at it over the top of the steering wheel, rather than through the top of the wheel.
We’ve seen a similar layout from Peugeot in the past, and it can mean that finding a position that’s comfortable for steering and seeing everything on that display takes some tweaking – and it leaves us thinking that what Toyota really needs is a decent heads-up display, instead.
The model we tested was the Premiere Edition (available from £51,550), designed to celebrate the launch of the bZ4X, sitting above the Vision trim level (from £47,650). There will be lower Pure (from £41,950) and Motion (£45,750) options, too, with different equipment levels to give a range of pricing.
While there’s a lot to like about the interior, it follows other Toyota models with its fairly liberal use of harder plastics. From the glossy deck of the centre console through to the lining of the doors, the quality of this interior can’t really compete with the Audi Q4 e-tron or the Mercedes EQC (but it’s cheaper than those marques). Hit the button to open the shade on the Skyview panoramic roof and it’s surprisingly noisy, but it does also flood the cabin with light.
There’s a useful 452 litres of boot space, as well, and this puts Toyota in the same sort of region as the Kia e-Niro. It’s a practical space that’s ideal for families (while not the most capacious available), but it’s the cabin space that really sings here. It’s a comfortable and quiet place to be – except, of course, for that motor we just mentioned.
The seats, as shown above, are a mixture of cloth or synthetic leather on higher trims.
All in all, while electric cars are all quiet, the exterior noise is nicely isolated here and there’s not a lot of road noise until you get to faster speeds, at which you’ll notice a little wind noise from the rear and from those large wing mirrors.
The interior tech and controls
The tech on the interior is dominated by the display that sits on the top of the dash. The Pure trim at the entry-level gets an 8-inch display, but all others get a glorious 12.3-inch display. We like that the design of the centre console appears to sculpt into this display, but the use of those glossy black plastics we mentioned can mean that fingerprints are a problem.
Beneath the display sits a comprehensive set of climate controls that are all touch-controlled, but with physical switches to control the temperature and direction of the fans. Everything is smart and easy to use, and it also includes an eco mode that you can hit to reduce the draw on the battery power to help you get the best range.
Some of the switchgear around the steering wheel is borrowed from other Toyota models, and the steering wheel is a little busy with controls, offering a multitude of buttons for adaptive cruise control, lane departure, and for controlling the information that’s available on the driver’s display. Of all the elements of the bZ4X, it’s the steering wheel that feels the least futuristic.
Returning to those screens, the driver display is fairly small, designed to give you essential information. This includes the likes of speed, road sign recognition, power and range and so on. There is the option to have just this main dial front and centre or display it alongside a second information panel – which might be your driving averages, media and so on.
Opt to only have the dial, and it shifts to the centre. However, whenever any other information comes onto the driver display – like navigation icons – the whole thing will shift to the side to accommodate the new information, which is a little distracting and doesn’t feel like the best piece of UI design.
As for the main display in the centre of the car, this is easy to use, with icons ranging down one side to access major areas – navigation, media, phone and vehicle details. It’s basic stuff, but it’s a clean and unfussy interface and easy enough to use.
It also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but we found the latter didn’t fill the display – instead using the spare space for a clock. Apple CarPlay is better at filling the whole screen.
Navigation was clearly given on our test drives in Denmark, with a surprisingly plummy accent for the English female we had instructing us. The accent was so posh there was a hint of Margaret Thatcher about it – but at least it seemed to get us where we were going (and no, that’s not some sort of political commentary).
It’s also worth noting that there’s no integrated satnav on Toyota’s Pure trim – you’ll have to connect your phone if you want that turn-by-turn navigation.
The Premiere Edition also come equipped with a 9-speaker JBL sound system that has a nice quality to it, delivering perfectly punchy tunes when turned up loud. There’s also a liberal scattering of USB sockets front and back for people to charge phones.
There’s even a Qi wireless charging pad on all trims except the lowest level. This charging pad sits in its own compartment, so you can shut your phone away, with a notification on the display to remind you that you have your phone charging. Bizarrely, the lid to this compartment in the centre console isn’t entirely opaque, so you can, in theory, still glance at the screen when a notification comes in – which sounds like the sort of tempting distraction we’re all trying to avoid.
Battery, range and performance stats
There’s just one battery capacity for the Toyota bZ4X, and that has a gross capacity of 71.4kWh. So, whichever trim you buy, you’re getting the same battery. It’s water-cooled, lives on the floor of the cabin between the wheels and comes with a 10-year guarantee that it will still have 70 per cent of its capacity after that time – or after 1,000,000 km (620,000 miles) have been driven.
Beyond the battery, there are options for front or all-wheel drive. The front-wheel drive (FWD) models have a single 150kW motor on the front (available in Pure, Motion and Vision trim), while the all-wheel drive (AWD) has 160kW of power divided between a pair of 80kW motors front and rear.
Charging is supported at speeds up to 150kW, and, initially, there will be a 6.6kW charger on board, although that will be replaced with an 11kW unit later in 2022.
The FWD model will deliver a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds, while the AWD model is slightly faster at 6.9 seconds, so this isn’t a speed freak, but you still have that rapid acceleration off the line that electric car drivers really enjoy.
Toyota gives a range of up to 317 miles for the FWD model, and up to 286 for the AWD, although that will vary based on conditions as well as the trim level of the vehicle and the wheel size.
In our testing, we pulled out an average of around 3.35kWh per mile. We didn’t drive with any real attempt to save energy, and this can probably be bettered, but the bZ4X only returned around 240 miles of range.
We will aim to get longer figures with future driving, but it looks like the Toyota bZ4X is average in its range for this segment of the market. Toyota did also mention that there’s a small reserve on the battery, so, when you hit the range of 0 miles, there’s still 8 per cent of the battery left to go for those very serious charging emergencies!
On the road
To help you get the most efficiency, there are a number of options available. There are two driving modes, normal and eco. Toyota is forgoing the “sport” mode that many cars offer, and we can’t say that we disagree with this decision. Similarly, Toyota isn’t offering varying levels of regen – it’s either on or off.
Both options are activated via a push button, so, if you want regen on lift-off to give you a one-pedal driving experience, then you’ll have to press the button. It’s a simple approach, and that fits with Toyota as a brand – it’s not trying to overcomplicate or add features some drivers might never use.
There’s also an eco option for climate control, which sets the seat heating to “auto”. Research has shown that using heated seats is actually more efficient than heating the whole cabin, so this makes sense, too.
There’s a neat push dial to put the bZ4X into D for drive and off you go. Quiet and assured, the Toyota bZ4X is really easy to drive and has the benefit of great visibility both from your own eyes – thanks to that elevated seating position – or from the sensors and cameras around the body that will detect and alert you to anything that gets too close.
The ride is soft and comfortable, too, meaning broken surfaces and speed bumps are soaked up. As with pretty much all electric cars, it’s pacy off the line and the steering feels confident enough once you get used to that slightly unusual position we mentioned. It’s not as sporty or dynamic a drive as some others, but we can’t see this being a problem for those family customers likely to buy the bZ4X.
There’s one piece of tech on board that we did find irksome, however, and that was the driver attention monitor. It will also issue a warning if it’s obstructed, and we found that we frequently blocked it with a hand – and you can’t turn it off.
We did also mention that there’s some play towards offroading, too. There’s an X Mode on the AWD models, developed alongside Subaru, which will allow the car to basically handle rougher conditions. X Mode can be set for tricky surfaces or to enable grip control for steep offroad ascents or descents.
The Toyota bZ4X also has a wading depth of 500mm, so it won’t be bothered by the occasional flood, either.
The Toyota bZ4X has been a long time coming, and, on arrival, we have a great-looking car that is well appointed for families and those looking for a practical electric SUV. It’s comfortable and drives well, with a decent battery size providing the range to ensure that Toyota can rival other electric SUVs in this segment. With some offroading skills (on the AWD version), it might even go a little further than some of those other models. There’s plenty to get excited about in a car that looks great, but while the interior is modern and comfortable, the quality of materials isn’t quite up there with the best.
Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Conor Allison.