Few automakers have done more to promote the shift to green powertrain technology, Toyota selling more hybrids than any other automaker. When it comes to all-electric propulsion, well, that’s an entirely different matter. The Japanese giant has been skeptical that technology, its CEO Akio Toyoda convinced that the most effective solution is a mix of conventional and plug-in hybrids, as well as battery-electric vehicles, with a smattering of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles thrown in for good measure.
But Toyota — and Toyoda — is well aware of where the broader market is heading and, after a slow start, the automaker is readying a wave of 15 Toyota- and Lexus-branded BEVs that will start rolling in with the launch of the 2023 bZ4X.
As one might expect, it’s aiming for the heart of the market — or what may eventually be the center of the all-electric vehicle market as it goes more and more mainstream over the coming decade.
“We’re pro-BEV,” says Mike Tripp, Toyota’s U.S. marketing chief. There’s no question the automaker believes in electrified drivetrain technology, but it’s been slow to embrace pure battery power. The bZ4X is its first all-electric model in the U.S. in nearly a decade and the first ever to offer extended range.
The “bZ,” if you’re wondering, is short for “Beyond Zero,” the sub-brand that will encompass most of the battery-electric models you can expect to see from Toyota over the coming decade. The “4” is shorthand for its compact size and the “X,” as you might suspect, means it will be offered in all-wheel-drive — though there’ll also be a front-wheel-drive option.
As is its general approach, the bZ4X won’t be the fastest model in its segment, nor boast the longest range. It won’t be the cheapest, either. But it will offer reasonably attractive styling, a good mix of features and, the automaker is betting, consumers will expect it to deliver the sort of quality and reliability they’d find with more conventional Toyota products.
If there’s one thing just about every new battery-electric vehicle has in common it’s an emphasis on range-boosting aerodynamics. So it is with the 2023 Toyota bZ4X. It replaces a traditional grille with what its designers call a “hammerhead look” topped by slim matrix headlamps. Though there’s no need for airflow under the hood, there is a small grille under the bumper to cool the motors and battery pack, and air curtain intakes at each corner to help reduce turbulence around the front wheels. And those can run as large as 20 inches on the bZ4X Limited trim, with 18s on the base edition.
The crossover has a high beltline and a roof that descends ever so subtly to a steeply sloped back hatch, with a high-mounted split spoiler on the Limited model further reducing wind drag.
Aimed at competitors like the Tesla Model Y, Volkswagen ID.4, Kia EV6 and Ford Mustang Mach-E, the bZ crossover measures 185.6 inches in length, with a 112.2-inch wheelbase. It stands 65 inches in height, with a 73.2-inch width.
Like virtually all new BEVs, it also rides on a skateboard-like platform. Toyota’s new e-TNGA architecture is flexible enough to handle a variety of different battery vehicles we’ll see from the brand in the coming years.
Going with that approach offers a number of advantages, including, among other things, lowering the electric CUV’s center of gravity to enhance handling and minimize the sense of mass its big battery pack adds. Equally important, that approach moves the motors and battery pack under the load floor, freeing up some of the space traditionally used for an internal combustion engine. That translates into class-above interior roominess.
There’s an overall classic Toyota look to the cabin, when it comes to the seats instrument panel and doors. The automaker has tried to give it a high-tech feel, dominated by a landscape-oriented 12.3-inch touchscreen rising out of the center console. There are a handful of traditional controls though, as has become a BEV design trope, most operations are handled by that big screen.
The good news is that Toyota has generally avoided some of the quirks that blemish competing models — like the unnecessarily complicated and confusing power window controls on VW’s ID.4.
But then there’s the curiously positioned 7-inch digital gauge cluster on bZ4X. It was apparently designed to be seen from above — rather than through — the steering wheel. The idea, one Toyota insider confided, was to obviate the need for a head-up display. But more than a few of my colleagues who’ve also tested the new battery-SUV found the steering wheel blocking at least part of their view.
The Toyota bZ4X will be offered with two powertrain options. The front-wheel-drive version mounts a single motor up front making 150 kilowatts, or 201 horsepower, enough to launch it from 0-60 in about 7.1 seconds, Toyota claims.
What came as a surprise was the fact the two motors in the all-wheel-drive system boosted output to just 160 kilowatts, or 214 horsepower. But those aren’t the numbers that matter. It’s the bump up from 196 to 248 lb-ft of torque that makes the real difference, especially at launch, with its 0-60 times dropping to 6.9 seconds.
The FWD model has reasonable initial acceleration but the AWD package delivers the sort of neck-snapping off-the-line feel that the latest BEVs are becoming known for. Even then, at 6.9 seconds, it lags competitors like the Kia EV6 GT-Line at 4.5 seconds, and the ID.4 AWD at 5.7 seconds.
As for range, the 71.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery in the front-drive bZ4X yields an estimated 252 miles per charge, according to the EPA. AWD models bump up to 72.8 kWh, but range nonetheless dips to 228 miles.
The automaker has yet to provide specific charging times, though it did announce that owners will have access to free charging for a year using public charging stations operated by EVgo.
As for plugging in at home, Toyota has lined up a number of partners, including ChargePoint, to make it easy to purchase and install a home charger.
Safety and Technology
The electric crossover gets the new Toyota infotainment system which features an Amazon Alexa-style personal voice assistant. Say, “Hey, Toyota,” and it will respond to a far broader range of commands than conventional in-car voice controls — and in much more familiar language.
There are now-requisite features, including wireless charging, as well as wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And the bZ4X features smartphone-style over-the-air updates which will allow the automaker to send to the vehicle a variety of software updates — and even new features — remotely.
That two-way system permits an expanded list of functions for Toyota’s interactive app. Among other things, you’ll be able to remotely monitor the vehicle’s state of charge and control when it does charge up. That’s particularly useful if you have a home utility package that provides lower-cost energy overnight.
The new bZ4X gets the latest Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 suite of advanced driver assistance system, including blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and more. The Limited model adds niceties like a surround-view 360-degree monitor.
The crossover provides several different driver mode selections, such as sport and eco. With all-wheel-drive models, motorists get additional modes, including Snow and Dirt, and Deep Snow and Mud. Don’t get too excited, though. This electric crossover might get you to that backwoods cottage, even let you ford a bit more than a foot of water, but it isn’t meant to do anything serious when it comes to off-roading.
For those who haven’t driven any of the new battery-electric vehicles, Toyota intentionally designed the 2023 bZ4X to feel pretty much like any of its other crossovers. It feels comfortable and familiar, with good road feel and reasonable feedback through the steering wheel. That said, it’s by no means the most sporty BEV in its class, but that wasn’t what Toyota was shooting for.
The FWD model has reasonable initial acceleration but the AWD package delivers more of the neck-snapping off-the-line feel that the latest BEVs are becoming known for.
If there’s one thing I’d like to see Toyota rethink it’s the lack of a One-Pedal mode. For those unfamiliar with this concept it amps up the level of brake regeneration used to recapture energy normally lost during braking and coasting.
With One-Pedal, the powertrain feels something like a gas-powered vehicle operating several gears lower than you might expect. No, that doesn’t mean a lot of engine buzz — the bZ4X is near silent on the road. But, by modulating your right foot you often can avoid having to flip back and forth from throttle to brake, even when coming to a stop. It’s extremely useful in light to medium traffic or when driving on curvy roads.
2023 Toyota bz4X XLE FWS specifications
|Dimension||L: 185.6 inches/W: 73.2 inches/H: 65 inches/Wheelbase: 112.2 inches|
|Powertrain||Single electric motor; automatic transmission front- and all-wheel drive|
|Fuel Economy||131 MPGe city/107 MPGe highway/119 MPGe combined|
|Performance Specs||201 horsepower and 196 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $42,000; As tested: $48,780.|
|On-Sale Date||Available later this month|
The 2023 Toyota bZ4X is attractive enough to look at, quiet and comfortable to drive. No, it doesn’t offer the best range or performance in its class. But I’d be comfortable betting this won’t be what classic Toyota buyers are looking for — nor plenty of “conquest” customers who might feel particularly uncertain about issues like quality and reliability with some of the other BEVs now coming to market. For them, the Toyota reputation will carry a lot of power, if you will.
As for pricing, the base FWD model starts at $42,000 before delivery fees, the AWD package climbing to $44,080. The 2023 Toyota bZ4X Limited, meanwhile, comes in at $46,700 in front-drive configuration the AWD model starting at $48,780.
Sales begin this month, Toyota initially focusing on the California market — the country’s largest for BEV sales — before rolling the new model out across the U.S.
2023 Toyota bz4X — Frequently Asked Questions
How much will the 2024 Toyota bZ4X cost?
It starts at $42,000 for the base car — before delivery fees — in front-wheel-drive configuration. The Toyota bZ4X Limited climbs to $48,780 with all-wheel drive.
Where will the Toyota bZ4X be built?
It will roll out of the automaker’s Motomachi assembly plan in Japan. The plant also will produce the Subaru Solterra which shares the same basic underpinnings as the Toyota bZ4X.
Who makes the batteries for the Toyota bZ4X?
Toyota builds its batteries through a joint venture with Panasonic.