Toyota bZ4X starting price: €43,402
Price as tested: TBA
Looks good, impressive to drive, likely reliability
Some rivals have longer range, headroom a touch tight
What is the Toyota bZ4X ?
This is going to be a hugely important car. Given the enormous popularity of Toyota, both here in Ireland and around the globe, this bZ4X is laying down a marker for the electric future of the world’s biggest and most successful car brand. So it has to be good, not just for itself, but also because that platform that underpins it — called e-TNGA in Toyota-speak — is going to form the basis for a seven-model ‘bZ’ (which stands for ‘Beyond Zero’) line-up that will be revealed in the next few years.
No pressure, then.
The bZ4X is quite compact — it’s virtually the same size as a current RAV4 in every direction, albeit with a longer wheelbase for improved cabin space — and is certainly smaller both physically and in how it drives than the massive Hyundai Ioniq 5 (more of which in a minute). Pricewise, it will sit roughly between the RAV4 and the larger, seven-seat hybrid Highlander, although you can expect the electric bZ range to expand out significantly from this starting point.
Toyota will be keeping the range quite simple for the moment, though. There’s a single (‘right-sized’ according to Toyota) battery pack, three trim levels and a choice of front- or four-wheel drive. For this first drive of an early prototype version, we’re driving the four-wheel-drive model, in top-spec Premiere trim.
How does the Toyota bZ4X look?
At the front, the bZ4X gets a distinct look, with very slim lights (projector LED units on the mid-spec Sport model and up) that sit in a straight, swooping line that runs through them and around the leading edge of the bonnet. Toyota calls it the ‘Hammerhead’ look, and there’s definitely something shark-y about it. The sides of the bZ4X, neatly bookended by chunky black plastic panels around the wheelarches, looks surprisingly slim and sculpted — most similarly-sized SUVs look rather chunky in this area — while the forward-angled rear pillar is clearly there to give it a sense of familial closeness with the RAV4 and Yaris Cross.
Generally, we’d call the bZ4X stylish, but perhaps without being striking. Toyota knows that its customer base is, at heart, relatively conservative so it’s clearly not going to go for the dramatic styling flourishes that Kia and Hyundai have used for their rival products. Nonetheless, it’s handsome, not to mention really quite sleek and lower in its appearance than some bulky rivals, and will quite likely age rather nicely.
What’s the Toyota bZ4X inside like?
We can’t really talk much about quality yet, as our test car was essentially hand-built for prototype work, so many of the interior surfaces were not of the sort of quality that will be found in finished versions. However, the style of the cabin marks quite a departure from the Toyota norm. The steering wheel is small and set quite low down, almost in your lap, with the small-but-clear digital instrument screen set high up, nicely in your direct line of sight. The dashboard too is quite low set, which means there’s terrific visibility out through the windscreen.
In the centre of the dashboard, there’s a big 12.3-inch touchscreen, which is mounted close to you to make all of its menus and buttons easier to reach. It’s running Toyota’s latest infotainment software, which is a big leap forward from the previous versions, looking crisp and clear, and it’s reasonably easy to find your way around. That’s helped by the fact that Toyota has kept physical controls for heating and ventilation, as well as frequently used functions such as the switch that alters the regenerative braking. The drive selector twists left for reverse and right for drive, but it’s slightly fiddly as you have to press the rotary switch down as you turn it, which doesn’t quite feel natural. Maybe owners will get used to it.
The centre console is set high, which divides the front of the cabin up into two distinct sections (quite unlike the more open-plan effect found in the Hyundai Ioniq 5) and there are two large storage areas — one under the armrest and another open one beneath the console. There’s also a small semi-transparent flap that opens to reveal a wireless phone charger, while there are three USB sockets for charging and connecting devices to the screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity come as standard, but slightly oddly there’s no glovebox.
Legroom in the rear seats is genuinely exceptional, thanks to a fairly lengthy 2.8-metre wheelbase. Headroom is a little tighter, though, if you’ve specified your bZ4X with the optional panoramic glass roof. You might be better off going with the standard steel roof, or the optional solar panel roof if Toyota Ireland decides to offer it here. The high-set floor means that taller passengers will also find that they sit with their knees at quite a sharp angle.
The boot is square, fairly deep and well-shaped, but nowhere near as roomy as that offered by the rival Skoda Enyaq.
What is the Toyota bZ4X like to drive?
The short answer is: surprisingly. I suppose that following on from such good-to-drive models as the current Corolla and Yaris, the fact that the bZ4X is genuinely enjoyable to drive shouldn’t actually be a surprise, but given that most of its rivals are in the steady-as-she-goes camp, you could have forgiven Toyota for being conservative with the way the bZ4X is set up.
This is not to say it’s overtly sporting — it’s not, and both comfort and refinement were clearly high on Toyota’s to-do list. The bZ4X rides with a slight sense of firmness, but it’s never harsh, and it’s certainly comfortable. It’s perhaps not quite as eerily smooth as Volkswagen’s ID.4, but it’s not far away in that respect, and it’s very refined at a 120km/h motorway cruise, with hardly any wind nor tyre noise.
The major surprise is how agile the bZ4X feels. It’s quite a heavy car, at 2.5 tonnes, but when you drive it through a series of tight, twisty corners the Toyota just seems to leave that weight behind, flicking and turning into each curve with huge enthusiasm and lots of grip and nippiness. It almost feels like a car of half the weight, which is quite the trick.
Performance, for the most part, feels quite leisurely. Our four-wheel-drive test car has two 80kW motors (integrated into the front and rear axles) developing a total of 217hp and 336Nm of torque. Step-off acceleration feels entertainingly brisk, but it drops off quickly as your speed rises, although the bZ4X never feels overly slow. You can use the torque to inject quick bursts of extra speed once cruising, which is good for merging with fast-flowing traffic.
The 71.4kWh battery pack should give you around 460km of range for a basic front-drive model, or 410km for this four-wheel-drive version — those are Toyota’s estimates, as the car has not yet been officially homologated. That range feels believable, judging from our test drive, and Toyota claims that the bZ4X’s electric consumption will average 15-16kWh/100km. The battery can be recharged at speeds of up to 150kW from a fast DC charging point, or at 6.6kW from a home charger (which will be upgraded to 11kW next year). Toyota is pretty confident in its battery — as long as you bring your bZ4X in for regular checks at a Toyota dealer, the company will guarantee that the battery will retain 70 per cent of its original performance after ten years, or a whopping one-million kilometres (whichever comes first…).
The four-wheel-drive version of the bZ4X is surprisingly good when you take it off-road. Thanks to being electric (and therefore not needing an air intake) it has a standard water wading depth of 500mm, while Toyota has partnered with Subaru (which will build its own EV, the Solterra, on the same platform) to develop the car’s all-wheel-drive system and X-Mode off-roading controls. We drove the bZ4X up and down steep and dusty trails, through a deep trough of water and over a field made heavy with thick, dark, soggy mud. It soaked up every challenge and never got stuck once.
Which Toyota bZ4X should I buy?
Prices for the bZ4X will start at a very reasonable — especially considering its battery capacity and range — €43,402. For that you’ll get the safety pack (see below), keyless entry, an eight-inch central touchscreen, digital instruments, power-fold mirrors, auto high-beam headlights, a reversing camera with automated parking and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Sport model, which Toyota Ireland thinks will be the best-selling version, starts at €47,935 and comes with a powered tailgate, heated steering wheel and heated seats, a 12.3-inch touchscreen, wireless phone charging and connectivity, electric driver’s seat adjustment and up-specced LED headlights.
There’s a range-topping Premiere Edition too, with prices starting at €52,910. That comes with an upgraded safety pack (see below), cooled front seats, synthetic leather trim, 20-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic glass roof and a 360-degree parking camera.
Is the Toyota bZ4X safe?
The bZ4X hasn’t been tested by EuroNCAP as yet, but Toyota is using it to introduce a new high-tech safety pack called T-Mate. This third-generation electronic safety system includes an upgraded front-facing camera and radar setup, which can detect other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists as well as preventing you from turning across the path of an oncoming car when negotiating a junction. The steering can also trigger individual wheel brakes to help keep the car stable when avoiding an obstacle in an emergency, while there’s also a system that warns you not to open the door if another car or cyclist is approaching through your blind spot, along with a panoramic surround-view parking camera system. Toyota has also upgraded the driver monitoring system, which can detect if you’ve fallen asleep, or worse have slumped into an unusual driving position because of a medical emergency.
Verdict: The bZ4X is a hugely impressive first-time EV from Toyota, mixing a surprisingly engaging driving experience and off-road prowess, with solid battery performance and charging ability. It’s not a revolutionary car in and of itself, but it will likely prove to be a tempting first EV choice for many buyers.
Toyota bZ4X AWD Premiere
Engine: 159kW two-motor electric system with 71.4kWh battery
0-100km/h: 7.7 seconds
Economy: 15-16kWh/100km (estimated)
Range: 410km (estimated)
Top Speed: 160 km/h
Transmission: single-speed automatic
Co2: 0 g/km
Annual Motor Tax: €120
Luggage Capacity: 452-litres with the seats up
Price as tested: starts from €43,402
AA Ireland: February 2022 For more information: www.toyota.ie