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Driven: New 2023 Toyota bZ4X Misses Some Opportunities

Driven: New 2023 Toyota bZ4X Misses Some Opportunities

Toyota seems content to play it safe

  • All-new electric small crossover SUV
  • Related to the Subaru Solterra
  • Power output of 201-215 hp
  • Up to 250 miles of range
  • 2023 model launches the first bZ4X generation

What is the bZ4X?

Don't accuse Toyota of being late to the EV party. The automaker gets a little miffed at that, pointing to the existence of two generations of RAV4 EV (last sold in 2014) and early investment in Tesla Motors as proof that Toyota has been interested in fully electric cars for a while. But in terms of tangible results, Toyota's interest in the electric space hasn't yielded any actual modern EVs — though the Prius Prime and RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrids are good stepping stones. On the other hand, Toyota's continued lobbying against EV incentives paints a picture of a company more focused on proving the case for its still nascent hydrogen fuel efforts than answering its customers' call for a Toyota EV.

The currently controversial automaker looks to put some of these grumblings to rest with its first fully electric vehicle, the 2023 Toyota bZ4X. Developed jointly with Subaru (whose own version of this EV is called the Solterra), the bZ4X is a compact SUV that is slightly longer than the current RAV4. Its on-paper specs aren't mind-blowing, but those looking for Toyota's take on a modern electric car will likely find the power output and estimated driving range totally sufficient. And we can't discount the unique, expressive design, which is fairly daring for Toyota.

2023 Toyota bZ4X

2023 Toyota bZ4X

How does the bZ4X drive?

There are two powertrains to choose from: a front-wheel-drive, single-motor version making the electric equivalent of 201 horsepower or an all-wheel-drive, dual-motor version that makes 215 hp. We drove the AWD dual-motor bZ4X and it feels quicker than its power output would suggest. Stomp on the accelerator pedal and the car surges forward thanks to the instant available torque from the electric motors.

Toyota claims the AWD bZ4X can leap from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. That's noticeably slower than some other AWD electric SUVs we've tested (the Tesla Model Y Long Range zipped to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds in our testing), but we wouldn't be surprised if the bZ4X is a bit quicker in our testing than Toyota's estimate.

Otherwise, the bZ4X is an easygoing crossover SUV. Its steering is numb, so you don't get a feel for the road, but overall it's easy to drive because of its low learning curve and smooth controls that accentuate comfort on the road.

One significant downside is the lack of full one-pedal driving. Many new EVs can use their regenerative braking to automatically slow down and come to a full stop when you lift off the accelerator. We've found this makes driving easier, but Toyota has stuck with the conventional setup where you need to use both the accelerator and brake pedals. It feels like a missed opportunity that may dissuade some otherwise interested shoppers.

2023 Toyota bZ4X

2023 Toyota bZ4X

How comfortable is the bZ4X?

The softly tuned suspension delivers a pleasant ride and the seats are comfortable. Rear legroom is generous, and taller passengers should be able to stretch out and relax. Just be aware that headspace is limited in the back compared with the front, and rear passengers have to squeeze through a smaller door space that makes getting in and out a little more awkward. Once there, however, they'll enjoy the look of a standard fixed panoramic glass roof.

2023 Toyota bZ4X

2023 Toyota bZ4X

How's the bZ4X's interior?

It takes some time to get comfortable in the driver's seat. The main issue is the position of the digital information screen that displays information such as your speed and remaining battery life. It's mounted far away from the driver and is difficult to see over the steering wheel. You'll likely need to fiddle with the height of the driver's seat and the manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel to ensure you get a good view of both the screen and the road.

The bZ4X comes with a 12.3-inch center touchscreen running the latest version of the Toyota Audio Multimedia operating system, which we've enjoyed in other recent Toyotas such as the Tundra full-size pickup truck. The screen is responsive and free from sun glare that plagued some Toyota touchscreens of the past.

The cabin is constructed with a mix of hard plastics, glossy piano black trim on the center console area, and softer surfaces for the armrests and other touch points. It's fitting quality for a relatively affordable EV, and Toyota clearly tried to jazz up the styling to make it more modern and cozy. Our biggest gripe? The curvature of the piano black center structure reflects light straight into the face of the driver at certain angles. Beware sunny days.

2023 Toyota bZ4X

2023 Toyota bZ4X

How's the bZ4X's tech?

Apple Carplay and Android Auto smartphone integration comes standard and includes wireless connectivity, so you don't need a USB cable to integrate your phone to the touchscreen. On the Limited trim level, there is a center console compartment with a smartphone charging pad hidden inside.

Toyota's native infotainment system has easy-to-navigate menus, sharp-looking street maps and helpful turn-by-turn instructions. Toyota says the system can receive over-the-air (OTA) updates so owners can benefit from future upgrades and new features.

Optional for the bZ4X is a JBL nine-speaker stereo system. We found sound quality to be underwhelming considering that it's a premium system, but we hope it will leave a better impression once we're able to spend more time with it for a full test.

2023 Toyota bZ4X

2023 Toyota bZ4X

How's the bZ4X's storage?

This is a small SUV after all, right? That may be so, but the bZ4X gives up some space to its Toyota RAV4 cousin and a few other electric vehicles in its size range. Behind the second row of seats, the bZ4X has a maximum cargo capacity of 27.7 cubic feet. That's certainly sufficient for everyday driving, and a low floor and a large liftgate opening help when you're loading cargo. But ultimately you're not going to be able to fit as much stuff as you can with a RAV4 (37.5 cubes) or Ford Mustang Mach-E (29.7 cubes).

Many EVs also have a bit of extra storage capacity by way of their front trunks. The one in the Model Y is the biggest in the class, and the Mach-E's even has a drain hole so you can use it as an ice-filled cooler to be drained later. But pop the hood in the bZ4X and you'll see nothing but wires and electrical components.

2023 Toyota bZ4X

2023 Toyota bZ4X

How far can the bZ4X go on a charge?

While the EPA had not yet officially rated the 2023 bZ4X for range at the time of our review's publication, Toyota estimates that it can travel up to 252 miles on a full charge. That figure applies to the single-motor, front-wheel-drive XLE trim. The XLE dual-motor version drops to 228 miles. As for the top-level Limited trim, the single-motor can go up to 242 miles while dual-motor versions boast 222 miles.

These are not world-beating numbers by any means. For instance, the shortest EPA-estimated range figure for the 2022 Volkswagen ID.4 is 245 miles and one version is rated up to 280 miles. And we've often found that EVs exceed their EPA's estimates in our own real-world range test. Stay tuned to see how the bZ4X stacks up when we learn of the official EPA rating and bring one in for testing to place on our Edmunds EV range leaderboard.

Edmunds says

The 2023 Toyota bZ4X provides enough of the electric experience to potentially convert shoppers into first-time EV owners. It's easy to hop right in and not get overwhelmed with technology features or unfamiliar controls. But more seasoned EV owners might expect better range, power, storage and one-pedal driving capability from the bZ4X.