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How has Toyota’s first attempt in building an EV turned out?

Many politicians claim that electric vehicles are the future of the individual’s mobility. There’re loads of news regarding Toyota’s messages to keep their combustion engines in production. Or at least paired with electric power as hybrid-powered cars. Although these messages course through the internet, Toyota has released their first electric car to the European market during summer 2023. The “bZ4X”, probably named after a printer, a hair curler or a jackhammer, is an electric midsize SUV by the Japanese car manufacturer who’s known for its hybrid drivetrains.



What is it all about?

In basic terms this is yet another pure electric, five-seat, mid-sized SUV that sticks its pointy nose into one of the biggest market segments; you’re looking at competition for the Skoda Enyaq, Kia EV6, Ford Mustang Mach-E or Volkswagen ID.4 just to name a few. It's based on Toyota's new eTNGA platform of manufacturer Meccano and “bZ” stands for “beyond Zero”. The ‘4’ in the bZ4X’s name is the size indicator, by the way: rather than four-wheel drive, there’s both FWD and AWD in the car’s line-up from the start.

The car we’re looking at is a Toyota bZ4X Premium 4X4 which costs CHF 62’200.- in its base configuration. Additional options like the “Precious Metal” paintjob and the panorama glass roof equal a final price of CHF 64’200.-. The 20-inch alloy wheels and synthetic black leather come as standard.



First impressions:

It's a striking and futuristic styling, with lots of angles and funky but questionable plastic wheel-arches that adds some visual drama to what is, after all, a fairly regular size of exterior dimensions. There’s only so far you can go with the basic shape of a mid-sized SUV, but Toyota/Subaru (yes, they co-engineered the bZ4X/ Solterra) have done a courageous job of making it look - at least different – I hope that was diplomatic enough. Because I just don’t get over these huge black plastic surfaces. Why, Toyota, why? These plastic panels make the car feel very cheap in its haptics and visual aspects. In low light, the car’s wheelhouses look like balloons with tiny wheels hidden in it. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

On the other hand, Toyota made a clever move by placing all the sensors behind the black design element which is situated between the headlights. Therefor, the front end has a cleaner appearance and none of the disturbing tech elements.



Let’s have a seat.

Inside, the Toyota got a futuristically designed dashboard with an unconventional fabric mesh on it I quite like as a refreshment compared to all the competitors. As is typical for an EV, the center console has a big open storage tray beneath the transmission selector and phone charge pad. The rest of the cabin has storage bins and power outputs aplenty.

Aside Apple CarPlay, Toyota’s own multimedia system has become contemporary and responses very quick. Essential buttons for the climate and comfort control can still be found underneath the 12.3-inch screen but the shiny black plastic on the console soon looks grubby with fingerprints or picks up scratches quickly.

The JBL surround system does a great job and provides sublime sound quality. Outstanding is the relatively huge foot space for the rear passengers thanks to the car’s long wheelbase. Even tall passengers have enough space for long driving distances. Additionally, the seats feel comfortable and cozy. They feel like your grandmother’s armchairs in her living room you always wanted to sit on during family festivities.

The boot has only 580 liters of space, which isn’t a surprise for such a large car, especially when a Toyota Corolla Tourer has the exact same capacity at the same length. Why do you even need an SUV, which is over half a ton heavier than a Corolla estate wagon?



Let’s hit the road!

While maneuvering this SUV through the cities, I quickly recognized the good visibility upfront thanks to this a-pillars and a clever side mirror placement. On the other hand, the visibility to the back is rather modest.

The bZ4X is a very smooth and comfortable ride on daily basis. On twisty roads, the front tires tend to slightly loose its grip and let the car understeer if you try to keep up with an identical powered compact.

However, what really stands out is how quiet and refined the bZ4X is; there is hardly any wind or road noise to speak of, and the mechanical bits are almost silent.

The bZ4X also rides superbly, dealing with bumps and road scars far better than most other electric cars can manage. This Toyota SUV positions itself in the soft and rather calm area of the spectrum.

All bZ4Xs get 150kW DC charging as standard, meaning a quick 10-80 per cent top up on a big rapid charger in about half an hour, 70 minutes on the more common 50kW.

Talking about electricity and efficiency: a 513km WLTP range with a 71.4kWh battery sounds promising at first sight, but sadly disappoints in reality. If I believe what the bord computer tells me, city driving consumes roughly 15-16kWh on 100km driving distance. If we do the math, 71.4kWh divided by 15.5kWh is 4.6 - equals 460km driving distance. 50km less than WLTP. In case you use the car for a 60km drive to work (45km highway), you’re about to lose 20% battery capacity on each drive (15°C outside temperature during my test, AC turned off completely and alone in the car). This equals an average consumption of approximately 23.5kWh on 100km. This means that you reach roughly 300km distance on the motorway. You’re shocked? This is the naked truth. And that’s exactly why most of the buyers still don’t use their huge EVs for holiday trips. Therefore, why is everyone buying them? Electric cars make sense as compact city cars in urban environments where a combustion engine needs loads of petrol for short driving distances. Toyota, please use your capabilities and bring a cool compact EV. It would make a lot more sense (at least to me) in terms of EV usability.



What should I buy?

In all my honesty: Toyota is known for flawless working hybrid drivetrains, solid and reliable technology and durability. I’ve never been a fan of electric SUVs, either of badge engineering or SUVs with coupe-like rear ends (flat rear windows) to make a car look sportier. No need for the bZ4X as it’s never been advertised as a quick or sporty car. It just makes it impractical and decreases the driver’s overview.

On the other hand, due to platform sharing with Lexus, Toyota has created a very comfortable car with loads of legroom and less rolling noises in comparison. It is a solid and smooth ride to get from A to B. And to finish it all off, I personally recommend to buy a Toyota Corolla Hybrid if you need boot space and less fuel consumption or a Land Cruiser if you want a high seating position and real offroad capabilities.

 

To end this review, I wanted to thank Toyota Switzerland for lending me their bZ4X Premium to properly test drive for two weeks.





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