With Toyota finally jumping into the all-electric segment, Canadians will at long last see what one of the world’s largest and most successful automakers can come up with for the EV space. Well, at least those living in British Columbia and Quebec, the provinces that will see initial sales of the 2023 Toyota BZ4X when it goes on sale in June.
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Before we get into five things I learned about the all-electric crossover during a recent drive event on Vancouver Island, let’s decipher that alphanumeric model name. “BZ” refers to ‘Beyond Zero,’ the designation Toyota will use for its all-electric model stable, and the “4X” describes the vehicle as a compact crossover.
As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of these kind of vehicle names, much preferring, oh, how about the elegant ‘Solterra’ moniker Subaru has given its all-electric vehicle? The Solterra is built in collaboration with Toyota and resembles, aesthetically and mechanically, the BZ4X in most every way, apart from some exterior styling cues. “Solterra” is an amalgamation of the Latin words for Sun and Earth.
Now back to five things about the BZ4X. We’ll start with the great, move onto the really good, and finish with the slightly disappointing.
It Boasts Form and Function
The great, in no particular order, are the design, the build quality, and the overall sense of top-notch manufacturing. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, particularly from current Toyota owners (of which I have been for 14 years of reliable and relatively issue-free ownership), as the automaker is one of the best and most consistent in terms of high standards in putting vehicles together.
The initial indication of this is noticeable just by getting into the BZ4X, closing the door and looking around. Nothing cheap or chintzy in this cabin, and the fit and finish of the dashboard, the controls and the steering wheel are first-rate. There’s a nice blend of materials too, which combine to make for a stylish yet very functional interior. The seats front and back lean to the sporty side, particularly up front, with excellent bolstering and just the right amount of cushioning. Not too soft that you sink in, and not too hard that you feel like you are perched on a hard chair. And rear-seat passengers have plenty of legroom thanks to the flat cabin floor design, a hallmark of electric vehicles. All in all, a well-designed and well-built crossover.
It’s a Driver’s Dream
If you’ve followed the evolution of electric vehicles over the past decade, and especially if you’ve driven one, you know they are much quicker off the line than their gasoline-powered counterparts; they are whisper-quiet in the cabin; and, because of that battery pack underfoot, they have very little body roll due to a low centre of gravity. Well, the BZ4X ticks all those boxes, and from my afternoon drive over, along, and through some great twisty roads outside of the B.C. capital of Victoria — specifically Millstream Road, Millstream Lake Road, and Munn Road, if you know the area — this compact crossover betters its direct competition in terms of handling and fun-to-drive factor.
Said competition would be the Kia EV6, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, and the Chevrolet Bolt EUV. The BZX4 has a shorter wheelbase than both Korean EVs, which really lends itself to spirited and solid handling; and it sits lower than the Bolt, which, before my drive in the Toyota, had my vote for most fun-to-drive crossover EV in the sub-$45K base price point (the front-wheel drive BZ4X starts at $44,990, while the loaded-up all-wheel-drive is pegged at $62,750). The Toyota has a very rigid platform — dubbed the e-TNGA EV architecture — and that translates to a wonderful handling temperament. And for my money, I’d stick with the front-wheel-drive version.
I Can See Clearly (In It)
Toyota has a bit of a track record of designing driver’s gauge packages that stray from the crowd — think of the Yaris’ centre dash gauge cluster with nothing in front of the driver — and the BZ4X continues that oddball design cue. At first blush, that floating gauge package, which the driver views over the top of the steering wheel instead of through the wheel, seems just plain wrong. But in practice it works surprisingly well, almost like a Heads-Up Display, and shortens the amount your eyes need to drop to check the gauges when compared to most every other vehicle out there.
This is accomplished not only by that fighter pilot-like cowling that holds the display but also by a low-slung steering wheel position. Again, this looks wrong at first blush, but I found the ergonomics of the steering wheel excellent, made even better with elbow rests for both arms that kept your hands perfectly positioned to flick the steering wheel from side to side. This really came into play dashing down and around the twisty bits of the drive route. I won’t be surprised to see other automakers incorporate this unique gauge and steering wheel positioning in the near future.
It Offers Not-Quite-One-Pedal Driving
One-pedal driving is found on a number of electric vehicles, which when engaged uses somewhat forceful brake regeneration to slow the vehicle when you lift your foot off the accelerator, to the point that the vehicle will come to a complete stop without you needing to touch the brake pedal. This is particularly useful in stop-and-go commuter traffic.
The BZX4 does not have one-pedal driving, but does have an enhanced regen mode called Regenerative Braking Boost, activated by a button on the centre console. It has similar characteristics to one-pedal driving, such as behaving like a downshift of sorts by rapidly slowing the vehicle when at higher speeds when you lift off the right-foot pedal; however, it will not bring the BZ4X to a complete stop. That, in my opinion, is a bit of a shortfall of the Toyota’s EV capabilities.
It Has a Bit of a Power Shortage
Now for that disappointing aspect of the BZ4X, and one I should preface by saying, as I do on my Plugged In podcast all the time, that its slightly unfair to judge an EV by gas-vehicle standards. In that, decrying the range and charging times of an electric vehicle in what really is an apples-to-oranges comparison. The range of the 201-horsepower front-wheel-drive BZ4X is just over 400 km, and its max charging rate is 150 kilowatts; the 214-hp all-wheel-drive taps out at around 370 km and charges at just 100 kilowatts.
It is the apples-to-apples comparison, however, where the BZ4X comes up short, as the competition has longer range and faster charge times, which according to most surveys of prospective first-time EV buyers are key factors, if not the most important. All that said, if you are looking for a daily commuter and have a Level 2 charger in your garage — or intend to install one there — I would put the 2023 Toyota BZ4X near the top of my EV shopping list. For a first-time effort into the EV space, Toyota has made a statement.