Advertisement
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
WELCOME TO HYUNDAI’S HAPPINESS MACHINE
View the latest news
Long-term review

Toyota bZ4X - long-term review

£54,410 / £54,410 as tested / £519pcm
Published: 29 Apr 2024
Advertisement

SPEC HIGHLIGHTS

  • SPEC

    bZ4X Vision

  • Range

    260 miles

  • ENGINE

    1cc

  • BHP

    214.6bhp

  • 0-62

    6.9s

It's time to say goodbye to TG's modified Toyota bZ4X. Here's what we've learned

Six months and the Top Gear Garage Toyota Bz4x now has comfortably more than 10,000 miles on the clock. That’s roughly 3,704kWh of charging at an average of 2.7 miles per kWh, a slew of slightly-incomprehensible figures which is in itself… very average. In terms of modern electric cars, that’s low-to-middling ability efficiency at turning electricity into forward motion.

In a car without lots of horsepower or a very big battery, the real-world range has turned out to be on the low side; less than 160 miles in very cold weather (in the single digits centigrade), 190-200 if you’re up in the 20s. But worse than that, you actually have to engage mathematics and previous knowledge of the way the car behaves in a given situation to be in any way comfortable - the range indicator can suddenly keel over if so inclined. Which involves a kind of creeping tension held mainly in the shoulders as you wonder whether you’ll get to your destination without having to stop.

Advertisement - Page continues below

It panics especially in any steady state situation above 60mph and again, whenever it’s chilly - and yes, you end up charging when you don’t need to ‘to be safe’. You can mitigate some of that by engaging Eco mode and knocking back the air-con, but if you’ve got a car full of hot humans, this won’t keep the windows clear, never mind with everything all-off. And yes, you’ll get more from the single-motor, front-wheel drive model, but that’s still disappointing for Toyota’s first-ever pure electric car; it’s a company that had a lot of experience with full hybrids and plug-ins via the gently iconic Prius. For a family-sized SUV, I’d really expect to be able to drive more than an hour away (and back) without scanning for chargers.

Still, I’ve spent a lot of time in this car, on motorways and A-roads, B-roads and inverted comma ‘roads’ that only feature as vague gleams in the eye of an Ordnance Survey map. I’ve charged probably two-thirds at home on a 7.2kW charger - the preferred option - the rest on a variety of public chargers all over the country. And it charges like it drives - acceptably. It’ll accept a decent average charge (150kW DC max), but nothing particularly eyebrow-raising. And once it hits 80 per cent, you’ll see a throttle back so severe you expect the cable to whiplash.

It’s the same for the way it drives, too. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, but in the same way as there’s nothing wrong with a glass of water. It’s fast enough, but not actually fast, and you only ever bother using the performance on the way back to the charger, because otherwise you’re always looking at the possibility of smothering your indecipherable range with the pillow of aggressive throttle. It’s stable and predictable - excellent descriptors for this class of car - has decent body control and linear but numb steering. It’s fine. Saying that, it rides so much better on the smaller wheels and chunkier tyres we fitted that they should offer them as a standard option - but more on that in a minute.

And, you’ve guessed it, the inside is also perfectly ok. Kit is fine but not stunning, the interior roomy - especially for passengers - but not opulent. There's no glovebox - never missed it, to be honest, I can lose biros and forget about the manual somewhere else - and nothing ever broke. It’s well put together. But there are niggles. The car bongs when you’re reversing (awful), squeals when you open/shut the rear tailgate, chirps when you block the driver monitor for more than a millisecond. There’s no rear wiper, some of the buttons don’t light up at night (interior tailgate release especially), the secondary screen menus are fashioned from 8-bit building blocks and there’s precious little functionality or information when it comes to charging. The one thing EV owners like to obsess over.

Advertisement - Page continues below

It sounds like it’s a mess, but a lot of these are niggles - it’s just that we expected a bit more from Toyota, and the bZ4X simply doesn’t deliver in any meaningful way. It’s so middle of the road that it becomes lost in the EV ranks, a ghost of the electric battlefield. Yes, it has an absolutely fantastic warranty and decent dealer network, but if you’re buying for those reasons alone… you are not me. The thing is, there’s an acceptable car here - it just lacks personality, a Unique Selling Point that would define why you bought it. Which is why, this being Top Gear and endlessly childish, we decided to mess with it a bit, to see if anyone would notice.

The idea is simple - the bZ4X’s one quirk is that it is really quite good off-road. Probably because it’s a sister co-pro with the Subaru Solterra, which needed some off-road chops baked in. There are modes for various surfaces, and some decent wiring that can eke out traction where ground clearance isn’t up to much. It’s especially handy on wet grass and in mud believe it or not. You might clip a bumper or scrape the bottom a bit, but it’ll get where you need it to be; a little pointless given what most people will be buying this car for, but there you go.

To that end, we swapped the standard 20s for standard 18s (and pulled off the aero covers), added a set of same-sized BF Goodrich Trail Terrains and found it good. Ride is 50 per cent improved, traction is up, noise only very, very marginally worse. Handling and precision affected very slightly, but it’s not a sportscar, so that was never a problem. And the range remained pretty much exactly the same, surprisingly.

Then there was a set of rally graphics inspired by Toyota’s ‘80s rally cars, expertly applied by Lee Winstone at Mission Motorsport’s livery department (the veteran-focussed charity whose motto is Race, Retrain, Recover), an addition that seemed to suddenly make the bZ4X very visible to .. everyone. A set of roof bars, roofrack and massive lightbar later, and loads of people were asking what it was. And why it looked like that. The additional benefit of making the car actively surprising off-road - honestly, it’s great - and the fact that it looks absolutely ace filthy, and you’ve got the only bZ4X in the world that appears to have a personality. Ok, so it’s not proper surgery, but even a bit of light make-up and attitude can make all the difference.

But is that enough to save it? Yes, it’s a semi jaw-dropper off-road, even better since we put proper tyres on it, but with that kind of range and ground clearance, it’s not the sort of thing you’d pick. And yes, it’s tremendously amusing-looking with the 1980s rally graphics and daft lightbar/roofrack combo, but are you really going to do that to your own car? I’m guessing probably not.

So let’s break it down. At this price point over fifty grand, there’s now a lot of cars to choose from, most with more performance or range. There are cars with more interesting styling - though I seem to be one of the few that actually quite likes the bZ4X - cars with more quirky or stylish interiors. Cars that try a bit harder. And that’s the bZ4X’s problem. It feels like Toyota didn’t try hard enough to impress, and ticked boxes without doubling down on any aspect at all. Add to that the lifeless range figures in the wild, and it’s a car that makes you want to sigh. It’s not even bad enough to hate, but you’d have to be a very beige thinker to fall in love.

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

subscribe