Toyota, the company that introduced the motoring public to the advantages of a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle more than 20 years ago, is finally launching its first fully electric vehicle, the 2023 bZ4X.
According to Toyota, this is not just a new vehicle, but a new direction for the company. While this is a Toyota, the bZ in the name is actually a series, with today’s featured car merely the 4X. Translated, bZ means ‘before Zero’, a first of seven zero-emissions vehicles Toyota expects to introduce under the moniker. The 4 equals the size (suggesting there will be three vehicles smaller) and the X designation means it is a SUV/Crossover. Whew!
For the rest of us, it will be a tongue-twister for a while.
Whatever it’s name, it is late to the EV game, with a field that is becoming more crowded every day. The bZ4X, which officially launches in June, will be joined almost immediately by the Subaru Solterra (isn’t that a lot easier to pronounce and remember?), its fraternal twin. The two companies collaborated on this project, just as they did a few years ago on the Scion FRS/ Subaru BRZ.
The bZ4X rides on Toyota’s new e-TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, a starting point for what will eventually underpin the manufacturer’s electric offerings. The key to the scalable platform’s architecture is that it is designed around the premise of the elimination of the internal combustion engine.
As the last one to the EV party, Toyota decided to stake out a category underserved by everybody else — light off-roading. It knew people liked SUVs already and it already is offering the RAV4 as a plug-in hybrid, so it was an easy decision to go this route.
It’s partnership with Subaru was the key, as it borrows the smaller manufacturer’s crown jewels: it’s X-Drive all-wheel-drive system.
But let’s go back a bit. The bZ4X is offered in four models: L, LX, XLE and XLE with Technology Package. The base L and LE are only available as a front-wheel drive, with the two XLE’s only available with the aforementioned X-Drive all-wheel-drive.
The L is priced at $44,990, a full $10 under the limit set by the federal government to be eligible for a $5,000 incentive. Under the plan, vehicles can be priced higher, up to $55,000, but it had to start at under $45,000.
So in Canada only, we get a stripped-down model — albeit with an impressive suite of safety features — that would be the envy of EV buyers from around the world.
When the $3,000 incentive from B.C. is applied, you are looking at a total rebate of $8,000.
If you are interested, I hope you like the colour black, because it is the only colour available.
Toyota was nice enough to come to Victoria last week with two vehicles, an LE and an XLE with Tech. for a short presentation and test drive.
Toyota likes to compare the bZ4X to their popular RAV4 — it is 94 mm longer in length, 160 mm longer, a mere 5 mm wider, and the wheelbase gains 50 mm. The biggest change is in the rear seat, with more than ample legroom for adults. The floor is also flatter, due to the absence of a transmission hump. Be warned that the rear seat bottom is low, resulting in people with long legs sitting with knees in the air. There isn’t any room under the front seat as well, which exacerbates the problem.
Again using the RAV4 as an example, the cabin feels more airy, with a high greenhouse affording excellent visibility. To push the boundaries one designer decided to move the dash from its traditional space behind the steering wheel and relocate it to a spot at the bottom of the windshield.
The public relations team sent to Victoria justified the placement both as a safety move: “It allows you to see the dash without taking your eyes off the road” and aesthetics: “It’s like a hybrid Heads-Up-Display.”
But the top of the steering wheel partially hides the display. One helpful member of the team promptly adjusted my seat, allowing me to see the whole screen. But that also resulted in the steering wheel close to my lap. The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” came to mind.
The rest of the interior was well appointed and fit and finish up to Toyota’s usual standards.
Two items stood out: a fabric dash replaces the traditional plastic one. This small change seemed to make the cabin more welcome (at least for me). The other was the introduction of radiant heaters for the lower extremities of front occupants. The panels, under the steering wheel and in the space where the glove box used to be in the passenger side (sorry about the glove box) really works and, along with the heated steering wheel and seat, are sure to be a hit in Canada.
Needless to say, those who choose the L model will never know what they are missing.
Toyota has finally upped its game with a new centre display. It is eight inches on the L and 12.3-inches on the LE and up. The display is crisp and the engine that powers it is five times more powerful, according to Toyota. You can swipe, click, pinch or just talk to it (Hey Toyota…) to call, change the temperature or find a restaurant near you. It will even find your car if it is ever stolen.
But, like many other manufacturers, it’s not free. You get a free trail period, ranging from three months to five years, but if you want to enjoy the functionality after that, you will have to subscribe. On the top-of-the line XLE with Tech. car, the remote connect package allows you to transform your cell phone into a digital key, eliminating the need to carry the physical key with you.
The start/stop button is located on the centre console. The gear selector is a knob sitting in the bottom of the console.
I had an opportunity to drive both front and all-wheel-drive versions of the bZ4X. I can’t say that I could differentiate between the two in acceleration. It is average in it’s class, with 0-100 km/h times in 7.5 seconds for the FWD. The AWD is the faster of the two, with a 0-100 km/h sprint in 6.9 seconds (says Toyota), thanks to 160 kW of power. The FWD has just 150 kW to propel it.
But everybody is interested in the estimated range, which is 406 kilometres for the FWD and 367 for the AWD car. If you have been comparing, you will find this acceptable, but not particularly newsworthy. Competitors already boast more mileage for roughly the same price. The FWD car comes with a 71.4 kWh battery and the AWD has 72.8.
Both feature a 6.6 kW on-board charger.
The bZ4X can also accept a DC fast charge (which is quickly becoming the norm). Strangely the FWD car can take a maximum of 150 kW, while the AWD has to do with 100 kW. While Toyota did not give out how long it will charge to 80 per cent (the current standard), a number of magazines have reported it is slower than some competitors (such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5).
Toyota says that, using a Level 2 charger (the type commonly found at home), it takes 11 hours to charge to full.
Toyota says the bZ4X is the first of 70 electrified vehicles, including 15 dedicated battery-electric vehicles, it plans to introduce globally by 2025. The target is to sell 3.5 million BEVs in 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.