International launch review: Toyota bZ4X
Copenhagen: Known more for its hybrid technology, starting with the Prius 25 years ago than full electric vehicles, Toyota has hit the ground running with the launch of the bZ4X.
It’s not the most elegant of names when you consider the rest of the Toyota offering but there’s sound reasoning behind it. The “bZ” stands for beyond Zero, Toyota’s pay-off line for EVs, the “4” for the size of the car, assuming there will also be a 1, 2, 3 and perhaps a 5, and the “X” for crossover.
The bZ4x is a new design built from the ground up on a new Toyota platform dedicated to BEVs (battery electric vehicles). eTNGA integrates the battery unit into the chassis under the vehicle floor, providing a rigid framework and low centre of gravity. The modular design allows it to be adapted in a variety of vehicle configurations.
It comes in two drivetrain variations: a front-wheel drive and an all-wheel drive option.
The lithium-ion battery has a 71.4kWh capacity comprising 96 cells that are water cooled and constantly monitored individually for signs of abnormality or degradation.
Using the eAxle system, the FWD unit delivers 150kW and 265Nm which, Toyota says, has a range of 516km. The AWD version we drove in and around Copenhagen delivers 80kW from each motor, with 337Nm and a claimed range of 470km.
The Europeans blithely say that if you switch off the air conditioner and use the regenerative braking, the figures are easily reachable, keeping in mind that these are people who pack the beaches around Copenhagen when the temperature reach 18°C and it is slightly overcast.
Realistically, you’re going to get a bit less but for a 71.4kWh battery it isn’t bad.
The AWD vehicle is fitted with X-MODE found in various Subarus, which Toyota was in partnership with for the bZ4X.
Using a DC fast charger, getting from 10 to 80% should take about 30 minutes, while home charging with a charging pod could take up to 13 hours. It’s fitted with a 6.6kW on-board charger but cars manufactured towards the end of 2022 will be fitted with an 11kW unit for faster charging.
The bZ4X is slightly longer and a bit lower than the RAV4, with more interior space and decent rear legroom at the back despite its coupé-like slanting roof.
There’s no doubt that it’s a Toyota with curves and sharp creases in all the right places, slim LED lights, no big gaudy grille that, for some reason, often plagues EVs. I like the large plastic wheel arches although it might be a bit polarising to some though. It’s a bit like a C-HR that has spent time in the gym.
The charging cables are stored under a cover in the 412-litre boot but because of the sloping roof, you’ll be limited in terms of height but a standard cooler box will fit comfortably.
There’s a rear roof spoiler that’s split with two wings on either side. The engineers say the aerodynamics are so efficient that it doesn’t need a rear wiper. I’m not so sure about that, considering the AWD option that could be spending many kilometres on dry roads with fine dust caking the rear window.
Watch it in action below:
Fortunately, Toyota hasn’t gone all Starship Enterprise inside and it’s clear that it has put a lot of effort into making its first electric offering a premium space.
The digital instrument cluster is set high and deep, a bit like Peugeot’s iCockpit, and even though the steering wheel is smaller than a regular Toyota one; at certain angles you have to peer over it to see the lower part of the display.
It’s not a deal breaker by any means and I believe Toyota is looking to fit a yoke-style steering wheel which will take care of that.
The rest of the cabin is practical and attractive. A first for me was the eco-friendly material covering the dash as opposed to the regular soft-touch faux or real leather.
There’s a lot of black and grey trim with touches of brushed aluminium to lighten it up but, strangely, no cubbyhole.
The lost space is made up by an extra rack below the main centre console and a lidded bin with a sliding armrest. The wireless charging facility adds a nice touch with a see-through lid.
The centre is dominated by a 12-inch infotainment screen with the necessary Apple and Android connections and a built-in navigation system that saved our butts several times as we concentrated on staying on the right-hand side in a left-hand drive car.
In the two hours we played around with it, it seems that this is the best yet in a Toyota, which hasn't really been the stand-out manufacturer when it comes to these things.
Our test route was a combination of what the average driver would do with city roads filled with cars (mostly EVs) and many, many bicycles, narrow country paths and freeway driving.
Like all EVs, the initial take-off is blistering fast and when passing slower traffic, there’s no hesitation. The Bz4X feels quicker than what the numbers suggest. The FWD version gets to 100km/h in 7.5 seconds and the AWD version in 6.9 seconds.
If you’ve driven a GR model, the bZ’s steering is not dissimilar with a well-weighted feel to it and it’s direct when heading into corners. It’s not a light car, weighing in at just under two tons, yet it’s surprisingly nimble with very little body roll.
Its weight and the well-balanced combination of chassis and suspension provides an exceptional ride and even on 20-inch alloys, there’s no histrionics or unpleasant surprises.
With no engine sound to muffle any noises, EVs are blank canvases when it comes to rattles or squeaks and even with the big tyres road, noise is minimal, with only the slight sound of wind around its big side mirrors.
When we pulled into Copenhill for the off-road section after a two-and-a-half hour drive, consumption stood at 5.4km/kWh, with the air conditioning on, which is a range of about 385km on a full charge.
With the X-Mode system, it has the ability to do some serious hill climbing and descent unassisted, relying purely on electronics and a system that sends power to the wheels when needed even with two of them in the air in an axle twitter. For an EV, a wading depth of 500mm, thanks to a waterproof battery housing, is impressive, not that owners will be doing rough trails in Lesotho but considering the rains we’ve recently had, it gives some peace of mind.
It also looks as though Toyota had South Africans in mind when it designed the bZ4X with a towing capacity of 750kg.
Toyota’s first foray into the electric market is a good one. It’s comfortable, good to look at, has plenty of tech, a decent range, is put together well and, with Toyota’s reputation for reliability, it’s sure to find plenty of homes, borne out by the fact that Toyota have installed an extra line to keep up with orders.
Toyota South Africa will confirm availability, spec and pricing later in the year.