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First Drive: 2023 Toyota BZ4X

The first of Toyota’s latest generation of electric vehicles trades in driving excitement for a rock-solid, reliable feel

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On paper, Toyota’s new BZ4X is hardly a revolution. Peruse its spec sheet and one can’t help but notice that, technologically, Toyota is breaking no new ground here. Its claimed range — 406 kilometres for the front-wheel-drive version; 367 klicks for the two-motor AWD — is handily beat by others in its price range. Its 355-volt architecture is trounced by the 800 volts the Porsche Taycan — not to mention Hyundai’s Ioniq5 — boasts, and positively pales in comparison with the 900V that Lucid now claims for its Air. In said front-driver, maximum horsepower is 201 hp, the dual-motor AWD version boasting but 13 hp more. Even its maximum charging rate — 150 kilowatts — seems a little behind the times. Like I said, nothing stands out as ground-breaking or particularly noteworthy. Middle of the road, in fact.

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Behind the wheel, though, it feels nothing of the sort. It may seem trite to constantly laud Toyota with a je ne sais quoi of build quality or a totality of engineering goodness that is not always present in its competitors. Nonetheless, one can’t help but be impressed with the unity of purpose — the togetherness that breeds so-called “rock-solid” reliability — of the BZ4X. It may be old hat, but with reliability of Teslas questionable and the odd habits of some of its Asian competition, perhaps something as seemingly unsexy as dependability might yet prove advantageous even in the EV age.

The BZ’s chassis — e-TNGA — is beyond rock-sold. Compared with, for instance, an Ioniq5, there’s a feeling of that togetherness I mentioned, a solidity that neither the Hyundai — nor its sibling in batteries, Kia’s EV6 — can match. I have no specifications for torsional rigidity for either the Hyundai or the Toyota, but I’m betting the BZ boasts the bigger number.

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Even more surprising is that said solidity also translates into the BZ4X’s handling. Indeed, the biggest surprise to the BZ is that, despite looking like just another Toyota crossover (albeit a little futuristic), the 4X is cut from a new mold. The suspension, for instance, rather than being Asian-soft, is German-firm. The steering is direct rather than flighty. The brake pedal, confounding the typical mushiness that is typical EV regenerative braking, is actually linear.

All told, the BZ4X is not only the sportiest of Toyota crossovers, but noticeably more fleet of foot than all of its mid-priced electric crossover competitors. It may not look it, but the BZ4X is fun to drive and, unlike the RAV4 Prime that generates all its fun with power — the plug-in hybrid sport-cute is the second-quickest vehicle in Toyota’s current fleet — the BZ4X impresses with superior road-holding.

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It had better, of course, since the motors are not exactly overwhelming. Of course, thanks to the abundance of torque that all electric motors generate, it’s not nearly as mousey as the power-to-weight suggests. Nonetheless, the FWD’s 150-kilowatt (201-hp) electric motor has to motivate a somewhat hefty 1,915 kilograms. There will be no speed records set here. In fact, Toyota claims but a 7.5-second scoot to 100 kilometres an hour. In other words, Elon Musk will not be losing any sleep over whether his vaunted Model 3 might lose a drag race to a Toyota.

Moving up to the XLE AWD model and its two electric motors does not transform the 4X into a race car. In fact, with twin 80-kW motors at each axle, there’s but 10 kilowatts more urge to be had. And those extra 13 horses have to motivate 50 kilograms more curb weight. Toyota claims the AWD version is quicker — zero to 100 klicks is said to be reduced to 6.9s — but, truth be told, I could detect scant difference.

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That said, while battery power certainly has the ability to turn every EV into a Ferrari, is that either realistic or necessary? Does every RAV4 owner yearn to be Don Garlits, the “Big Daddy” of drag racing? Must every launch from a stoplight now be a burnout? So, it’s absolutely true that the BZ4X’s performance is best described as being “adequate.” Not scintillating. Adequate.

If you’ve survived this long with middling performance from your family-hauler, I suspect that, other than the silence of EV propulsion, you’ll not notice much of difference for the switch to lithium ions. If you suddenly have a yearning for neck-snapping acceleration, on the other hand, you probably shouldn’t be buying a Toyota, battery-powered or fossil-fueled.

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What the bz4X lacks in earth-shaking acceleration it more than makes up for with the build quality of its interior. Oh, there’s some oddities — you look over the steering wheel to the gauges, rather than through it — but this is as nice a cabin as I’ve seen in the mid-priced segment, and decidedly more modern than the company’s own RAV4, the gas-powered crossover it’s most likely to be compared with.

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As for that aforementioned oddity. Toyota has placed the steering column comparatively low in the dashboard frame and the sparse gauge set — more on that later — fairly high. Unless, you’re five-foot-nothing, you’ll be looking over the steering wheel á la Head-Up Display, only it’s not a projection. Yes, it feels odd at first. But you will get over it. Fellow Driving.ca tester Andrew McCredie actually professes to preferring the arrangement. I won’t go that far, but it does grow on you.

The rest of the cabin is more typical Toyota. Build quality is excellent, the materials mostly first-rate (there were a few cases of harder-than-necessary touch points that Toyota must have thought no one would notice) and the cabin breezily roomy. Though, in pictures, the bz4X seems virtually identical size-wise to, again, that RAV4, it’s actually 94 mm longer overall, and rides on a 160-mm longer wheelbase. That’s more than a half-a-foot longer between axles. There’s noticeably more legroom available, especially in the rear, and there’s 784 litres of cargo capacity even though its roofline is 50 mils lower than the RAV’s.

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Two points are worth noting about the BZ4X’s infotainment system. The first is that it is noticeably more powerful than previous Toyota onboard computers, with Cloud Navigation and Destination Assist more than welcome additions. The other is that the new system — officially called Toyota Multimedia, in 4X-speak — is very much designed to be commanded by voice control. Toyota’s Intelligent Assistant is very advanced and, like some of the higher-end German systems, there seems no end to the questions you can “Hey, Toyota.”

That said, with that power comes complication if you, like me, prefer manipulating functions the old-fashioned way — manually. If you ask for a radio station by name, the Toyota works the first time, every time. Finding it onscreen, however, is more troublesome. Different people will have different answers over which actuation method they prefer, but understand that the BZ4X is a lot happier when receiving its orders by voice.

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The other anomaly is that the BZ4X is the only EV I have tested that doesn’t display its battery’s state of charge (SoC) as a percentage. Oh, there’s a “gas tank” gauge monitoring the SoC and also a range estimator, but the first is so tiny as to be useless; and the latter, while accurate, is based almost entirely on your current driving habits.

I have to wonder if that lack of a specific SoC meter will catch a few people out. Say you’ve been driving around all day in stop-and-go traffic, brake regen and modest consumption maximizing your efficiency. With the range meter estimating you’ve got 50 kilometres left in the “tank,” you confidently jump on the highway knowing home is but 40 klicks down the road. But highway driving is notoriously more consumptive than poodling around town, and the range estimator starts plummeting like tech stocks after the upcoming rate hikes. Had you known that you had just 14 per cent of battery “juice” left, you might have stopped for a boost and run.

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There may come a day when we don’t need such exacting SoC displays, but that time isn’t now. Oddly, Toyota makes that percentage SoC part of a Toyota app, but it’s nowhere to be found in the BZ4X’s hardware. Hopefully, it will take just a software update to fix it.

2023 Toyota BZ4X XLE FWD electric powertrain
2023 Toyota BZ4X XLE FWD electric powertrain Photo by Toyota

As for the actual range itself, while Toyota’s claims are not class-leading — 406 kilometres for the single-motor FWD version; 367 klicks for the top-of-the-line dual motor AWD model — initial consumption figures indicate those numbers are more accurate — and therefore more repeatable — than some of its competitors. One more interesting anomaly: while the batteries in both the FWD and AWD variants are the same size and nominally built to the same specification, they are built by two different suppliers, and dual-motor versions end up with a slightly more lithium ions — 72.8 kilowatt-hours versus 71.4 kWh — than the single-motor models.

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I suspect the biggest criticism the bz4X will face is its charging speed. The FWD model’s peak 150-kilowatt charging speed is the same as Ford’s Mustang Mach-E and BMW’s iX xDrive50. The top-of-the-line AWD version — again, its battery built by a different supplier — is limited to just 100 kW. That’s the lowest peak charging ability of any recently introduced electric vehicle. Considering that average charging rates are usually about three-quarters of peak power, it’s more than likely that the most expensive versions of the BZ4X are going to take at least an hour to charge, even on the most powerful chargers available.

Meanwhile, according to ev-database.org, Subaru is building its first EV on the very same platform and uses the 71.4-kWh battery — the same as the FWD version of the BZ4X — in the AWD version of its new Solterra, which means, if you’ve been following along, it will marry the faster charging battery with all-wheel-drive.

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Toyota says it limits charging speed to promote battery longevity — faster charging causes more internal heat, which eventually reduces peak charging capacity — but this is one arena in which it needs to loosen the reins a little. That said, reliability is the reason people shop Toyota. As a recent Motor Mouth indicated, the reason that hybrids — with dual propulsion systems, the most complicated powertrains to build — are more reliable than electric vehicles (the simplest powertrains to build) is because Toyota builds most of them. I see no reason to believe that superiority in build quality will not survive the jump to battery propulsion.

Whether that legendary reliability remains as important as we transition to electric motors is unknowable. That said, in virtually every instance when a relative has asked me to recommend them the car they should buy, I’ve pointed them towards either a Toyota or a Honda. That won’t change just because lithium ions are replacing fossil fuels.

Toyota’s 2023 BZ4X will start at $44,990 for the front-wheel-drive L model. Top-of-the-range AWD XLEs with the Technology package will set you back $62,750. Look for them in Toyota dealerships some time in June.