July 2, 2022

MSVW-Auto

Beyond Automotive

2023 Toyota BZ4X eases the shift to electric cars

5 min read

The 2023 Toyota BZ4X electric crossover eschews cliches. It is not a game changer, nor is it a paradigm shifter or envelope pusher. It’s not revolutionary, evolutionary, or rugged. It is the BZ4X, a bad name for a good car that eases Toyota fans into full electric power, though it comes at the expense of freshness.  

The BZ part of the name stands for Beyond Zero, and the BZ4X represents the first electric in a series of forthcoming BZs. 

Like the experimental RAV4 EV developed with Tesla more than a decade ago, Toyota hedged its EV bet by splitting development costs with Subaru, and its nearly identical all-wheel-drive electric crossover, the 2023 Subaru Solterra. 

2023 Toyota bZ4X Limited AWD

2023 Toyota bZ4X Limited AWD

Unlike the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR 86 sport coupes jointly developed by the two companies, the Subaru Solterra and the Toyota BZ4X are virtually interchangeable. Subaru’s black plastic cladding becomes high-gloss black plastic on the BZ4X and extends beyond the wheel arches to envelope everything from the LED headlights and razor thin running lights down to the lower air intake. It’s a raccoon mask, cinched around as many origami angles as on the RAV4. 

The gloss-black carries over inside on an inexplicably wide center console. A 7.0-inch digital instrument panel is recessed so far from the steering wheel it nearly abuts the windshield. The design might make more sense in other markets, where Toyota offers the BZ4X with a yoke instead of the small-diameter steering wheel sold here. 

The cabin feels cramped relative to the open airy spaces of the Volkswagen ID.4 and especially the Hyundai Ioniq 5. The fixed glass roof in those evolutionary electrics only furthers the distance from the practical but pedestrian BZ4X. 

This is Toyota’s gambit, for the BZ4X to look and feel familiar. Even the recessed 7.0-inch digital cluster houses the same icons and vertical menu bar as in the RAV4 and other Toyota hybrid vehicles. The icons are tiny, however, and if I didn’t already know them, I would’ve needed my cheaters to identify them. The lack of enhancement for EV metrics makes it feel dated. And it only shows a mileage range estimate, which is far less precise than a battery charge percentage as shown in every other EV I’ve tested, except the Solterra. 

2023 Toyota bZ4X Limited AWD

2023 Toyota bZ4X Limited AWD

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

The 12.3-inch touchscreen shows miles per kwh, but it also houses Toyota’s trip history bar graph that is even less insightful on EVs than it was on Toyota hybrids. The new infotainment system and voice commands are a huge improvement, however, and put Toyota at or near the head of the class, instead of lingering in back, asleep on the desk. Charging stations can be located through the operating system’s search function, and through voice commands, but there’s no designated feature or single press button that simplifies it or distinguishes it from gas Toyotas. It’s as if Toyota’s reluctance to commit to a battery electric vehicle made its way into its…battery electric vehicle. 

I tested the BZ4X’s top Limited trim with the dual-motor all-wheel-drive option. This marks one big difference between the Subaru and Toyota models: the Solterra comes standard with both motors, whereas the BZ4X starts with only one motor and front-wheel drive. At $43,000, it undercuts the Solterra by about $3,000. Even with dual-motor AWD, the BZ4X is about $1,000 less than the Solterra, yet the SubiEV has the cost advantage. Subaru has plenty of time and sales before the $7,500 federal EV tax credit phases out, whereas Toyota’s will get cut in half in the second half of this year. 

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

The dual-motor system pairs with a slightly larger 72.8-kwh battery pack (single-motor models have a 71.4-kwh pack) to make 214 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. Quick jumps off the line reflect the instant torque, but it’s not as spry as other EVs. It’s more conservative, as is the Toyota way. 

At 4,464 lb, the BZ4X is about 800 lb heavier than a RAV4 yet quicker than all but the RAV4 Prime, with a 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds, according to Toyota; the Prime cuts about a second off that time. With the battery pack mounted in the floor between the axles, same as in most other electrics, the BZ4X maintains a low center of gravity for more nimble handling than other Toyota crossovers. It has a fully independent suspension tuned to the softer side more than the sporty.

The conservative approach helped Toyota from burying every setting in the touchscreen. The BZ4X has temperature and fan speed toggles, and drive mode buttons flank the new-fangled gear shifter on the console. An Eco mode flattens throttle response, and there’s only one regen brake setting that oddly makes the throttle heavier when accelerating and the response more sluggish. The BZ4X’s regen braking system won’t come to a full stop without the driver pressing the brake pedal. 

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

The BZ4X carries the Subaru influence with an X-Mode button and five different settings of grip, as well as a hill control function that operates like a low-speed cruise control up and down hills. Ground clearance is 8.1 inches, which is more than other electric crossovers and sufficient enough to traverse an old service road or well-trod path. The incremental tech means there’s nothing complicated about adjusting any of the modes. The biggest leap in the control layout is a new push-and-twist gear dial in the center of all the controls. 

The biggest leap for Toyota fans considering a battery electric vehicle will be range and charging. In my week of testing, the range meter in the instrument cluster varied widely, much more so than in other EVs, including an estimated 280 miles of range on a full charge. The EPA estimates range of 222 miles for a dual-motor model. The listed range plummeted about 20% on average if I put on any HVAC setting, even though it has a heat pump to prevent the hvac from draining the battery. A gauge showing the battery charge percentage would be much more accurate and meaningful. Maybe next year. 

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

2023 Toyota BZ4X

In mixed driving on the highway and around town, with the heat on and with it off, the BZ4X averaged between 3.2 and 3.3 miles per kwh, which is slightly better than Toyota’s uncertified EPA targets.

Strangely, the larger pack that comes with the dual-motor model only fast-charges at up to 100 kw, whereas the smaller pack with the single-motor setup can charge at up to 150 kw. That could make a difference for road trippers who plan on using a lot of Level 3 DC fast chargers. Toyota estimates that the BZ4X can recoup 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes, but in most cases, on a Level 2 (240-volt) home charger, the BZ4X will take about 9 hours to charge. 

Buyers can choose more advanced electric crossovers than the BZ4X, but Toyota makes it easy for apprehensive EV adopters. The biggest challenge for shoppers making the shift will be in procuring a BZ4X. Toyota’s initial production run is capped at 7,000 units.

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