Good-looking, decent tech, covers all the bases and offers a ‘one-stop shop’ ownership package. Good off-road, too
Lacks a solid USP bar the styling; Toyota playing it safe with its first-ever BEV
What is it?
This is the bZ4X, Toyota’s first attempt at a pure electric vehicle, and mild irritant for fast typers. It’s a car that’s been co-developed between Toyota and Subaru (Toyota doing most of the hardware), with the Subaru Solterra sister car due in the next few months. Based on the new eTNGA platform of manufacturer Meccano, the bZ4X stands to be the start of Toyota’s adventures in electric; the ‘bZ’ part of the name refers to ‘beyond zero’, Toyota’s strategy for cars motivated by zero emissions powertrains. And yep, that includes hydrogen. There’s due to be some 15 new zero emissions cars from Toyota before 2025, including seven for Europe, and they’ll range from small to large SUVs and a variety of other bodystyles. The ‘4’ in the bZ4X’s name is the size indicator, by the way, rather than four-wheel drive - there’s both FWD and AWD in the car’s line-up from the start.
You’ve not really answered the question.
In basic terms this is yet another pure electric, five-seat, mid-sized SUV that sticks it’s pointy nose into one of the biggest market segments; you’re looking at competition for the Audi Q4-e-Tron, the VW ID4, Ford Mustang Mach E and Skoda Enyaq to name but four. And it ticks all the boxes for entry without startling you with any one statistic; medium-sized 71.4kWH battery, 250-280 miles of as-yet-unconfirmed WLTP range, 0-62mph in either 7.5 or 6.9 seconds, two or four wheel drive. There’s decent space, tonnes of credible tech and driver-assistance systems and really very striking styling, with lots of angles and funky plastic wheelarches that add some visual drama to what is, after all, a fairly normal set of exterior dimensions. There’s only so far you can go with the basic shape of a mid-sized SUV, but Toyota/Subaru have done a decent job of making it look at least a little bit different. Of particular note is the fact that all the forward-facing sensors have been inveigled away into the little black plastic mustache at the front; it’s neat and effective. After all, some cars look like they’ve run over a set of security cameras and got them stuck fast in their lower grilles.
Versions? And don’t get distracted.
At launch we’re looking at two models; a front-wheel drive version with a single 201bhp motor and the biggest (280+ mile) range, and then a faster 214bhp all-wheel drive version with a motor for each axle and four-wheel drive. Unsurprisingly, that gets a slightly more modest range of ‘over’ 250-miles. That’s the one we’ve been driving, although it’s wise to note that the cars we drove were pre-production prototypes with non-standard finishes on the interiors, disco-themed wraps and several unconfirmed sets of final specs. With tweaking and officialdom yet to be finalised, this is a decent look at what we’ll be getting from this car in the round, rather than a final verdict. Oh, and Toyota makes a big deal out of the fact that the bZ4X is decent off-road - unlike most of it’s competition - sporting an X-Mode that sees it more than capable of dealing with more than most owners are ever likely to throw at it. Which is true, seeing as we waded, hillclimbed, cross-axled and mud-ran a bZ4X through several carefully-crafted off-road courses. It might not have ever been in a position to fail, but even with summer ‘eco’ tyres and some ham-fisted driving, the bZ4X showed that it’s got more off-tarmac chops than 75-percent of its peers. That might have something to do with Subaru, mind.
Well, not much. The bZ4X seems to be a bit of a box-ticker in terms of hitting all the right notes without hitting any high ones. The battery is of a decent size (although there’s only one option at the moment, Toyota says it would provide options if demand presented itself), the space on offer generous but not startling, the performance adequate. It rides and steers with competence and precision. The interior is nice, and operates quickly and efficiently, and there’s a decent lick of tech. In fact, the only bugbears were the things we couldn’t try, which might give the bZ4X a bit of an uplift in the personality stakes. One is an optional solar roof that can charge the main traction battery which Toyota reckons could add up to 1,800km (over 1,100 miles) of range in a year, as long as you live somewhere sunny enough. It’s not - currently - an option for the UK, unsurprisingly.
The other is the yoked ‘One Motion Grip’ steer-by-wire system. No direct connection to the front wheels, a butterfly handlebar arrangement for a control surface that never rotates more than 150-degrees. Now unlike some other yoked systems that are attached to a steering column, One Motion Grip has no connection at all - so you can set the sensitivity to perfectly align with having a steering wheel you can’t easily spin. It remains to be seen how effective that is - homologation is taking a bit more time than expected - but its a really interesting piece of technology that we’d really like to try.
All aboard the ownership!
The other thing of note about the bZ4X is the way you might own it. Because this is a car where the ownership prospect might sway you. Toyota is offering a proper one-stop-shop ownership/leasing deal, where you pay for a package. And that will include wallbox provision, aggregated charging (meaning one bill), servicing, even insurance. You can read more about that in the ‘Buying’ section, but Toyota is offering up more than just a car here; more like a package of mobility where you don’t have to factor in the different aspects of car ownership. One bill, no muss, no fuss. It’s not new, this idea, but when the corporate might of Toyota is behind it, it sounds more realistic.
What's the verdict?
Not the final version here, so we’ll - slightly - withhold absolute judgement until we’ve driven full production versions, but there’s a lot to like with the bZ4X. It’s an extremely competent, well-built example of the breed, that looks really quite striking. The only issue being that it doesn’t have a particular USP that makes it really stand out bar the way it looks. It doesn’t help that all of it’s main competition also offer versions with more than 300-miles of range, either. Like it or not, range is still an obsession with EV owners, and there’s a psychological comfort to the 300-mile line. But this is a solid effort from Toyota, albeit entering the game in the mid-pack rather than groundbreaking.