2023 Toyota bZ4X Review

2023 Toyota bZ4X - The first fully electric Toyota is futuristic, yet familiar.


Toyota has been a leader in hybrid electric technology since we first saw the Prius in 1997 and now they are taking the next step in electrification with the all-new fully electric bZ4X.  The bZ4X is a 5-passenger crossover that shares a platform with the similarly styled Subaru Solterra. It's available in two grades (XLE and Limited) and both are available with either front or all-wheel drive.  FWD models produce 201 horsepower while AWD models generate 214 horsepower. It gets between 228 -252 miles of electric range depending on the exact model.

Within the Toyota lineup, it's about 3.7" longer and 2" lower than a RAV4. It has various styling cues from several Toyota models but is arguably the most futuristic looking vehicle in the lineup. Prices start at $42,000 for an XLE FWD and range up to $48,780 for an AWD Limited model. Competition includes other battery electric vehicles like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai IONIQ 5, Kia EV6, Subaru Solterra, and Volkswagen ID.4. I spent a week in a pre-production AWD XLE model and here's what stood out...

The Name (-)
The bZ4X is the first Toyota to be launched under the global bZ series with many more on the horizon. bZ stands for Beyond Zero and Toyota has plans to use the moniker on 7 dedicated battery electric vehicles (BEVs) over the next few years. As an all-new vehicle, it's a confusing name to the average consumer that is not instantly memorable and may get more confusing as more models join the lineup. It's a personal preference, but I wish Toyota had given this vehicle an actual name to better establish itself like they did with the Prius.

Style (+)
The bZ4X features a bold design inside and out that will have people turning heads and asking questions (they did during my week with it). While the style is different and futuristic, there is also a Toyota familiarity that comes with it. Up front are cues from the current Corolla and around back are hints of the RAV4.  The overall vehicle is on the longer side of the compact class, but with a lower height. The wheelbase is 6.3" longer than a RAV4 giving the bZ4X minimal overhangs in front and back to emphasize that longer look.

Staring at it head-on, Toyota put its design emphasis on the corners to give a more futuristic aesthetic with black colored flared fenders that come to a point under the headlights.  The wide front fascia is simple with sinister-looking slim LED headlights at each corner and black trim piece serving as the faux grille.  The side profile is rather traditional (outside of the black fenders) with a blend of curved and straight lines. It features a wide C-pillar that gives the rear hatch a symmetrical angle to the windshield. Around back the tail lamps are connected with a light bar across the hatch and extend around into the rear fenders. The harsh angles wrap around to the fenders to give it dimension while a ducktail spoiler and lower diffusers offer aerodynamic performance with a unique look.

Wheels (+/-)
It has been a long time since I've seen a new vehicle with hubcaps/wheel covers, but alas the bZ4X XLE models come with 18" black alloys that are covered up with wheel covers. While the wheel covers look decent, they feel cheap overall on a $42k plus modern electric vehicle. On the flipside of this, the Limited models come standard with 20" multi-spoke machine-finished alloy wheels with gray accents that more appropriately fill the arches and complement the modern design of the bZ4X. The wheels alone are worthy of stepping up the Limited model.

Range (+/-)
The bZ4X falls in the middle of the pack with its electric range of 228 -252 miles. FWD models will be the most efficient reaching 252 miles, while the AWD version tops out around 228 miles.  However, during my time in the AWD model, I did approach the 250-mile range in select conditions (no air or electronics on).  Doing something as small as flipping the air conditioning on immediately dropped the range about 40 miles. The EPA-estimated fuel economy rating for XLE FWD is 131 MPGe city, 107 MPGe highway and 119 MPGe combined. The EPA-estimated fuel economy rating for XLE AWD is 114 MPGe city, 94 MPGe highway and 104 MPGe combined. All models use a host of technologies to improve range that include an efficient heat pump to warm the cabin, heated and cooled seats that use less energy than cabin-wide climate control, and an available radiant heat foot warmer that makes you feel warmer overall.

Charging (+)
It can be charged via 120V, 240V or DC fast chargers. All models are equipped with the appropriate sockets for both home and public charging. The 6.6kW onboard charger allows it to charge from low to full in about 9 hours with a Level 2 charger.  FWD models will recharge on a DC Fast charger from 10-80% in approximately 40 minutes, although this estimate will vary based on overall climate conditions. As a bonus bZ4X buyers or lessees will currently get a year of no-cost DC fast-charging using the EVgo network. Charge Point at-home charges are also available for purchase with the vehicle and can be added to your vehicles' financing.

Performance (+/-)

Among the BEVs on the market, performance falls in the middle. It's not nearly as quick or engaging as the Mustang Mach-E or the Volvo XC40 Recharge which gets nearly double the horsepower.  It is, however, tuned to deliver a comfortable ride that feels quicker than your average compact crossover. The base 201 horsepower increases to 214 on the Limited model which gives it just enough extra pick up to get it going from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds instead of 7.1 seconds. Instant torque is rated at 196 pound-feet in the FWD and 248 pound-feet in the AWD which is enough to be engaging to the average driver.

Handling was good as it feels connected to the road delivering a comfortable ride. It has enough passing power on the highways and hugs turns tightly thanks to its low center of gravity.  It absorbs road imperfections to maintain a smooth and generally quiet drive. Soundproofing glass and wind-noise reduction features provide a quiet escape from the outside.  Contrary to many competitors the bZ4X has rather thick sidewall tires riding on 18" alloys on the FWD models which are beneficial around Chicago potholes and for some trail driving. They play a part in the overall cushy ride rather than a performance-oriented tire.  

AWD Capability (+)
While there is no low range for serious off-roading like the 4Runner, the bZ4X is capable of some adventures. The automatic AWD with X-mode is confident and only requires the push of a button to maximize its potential in a variety of road conditions. Coupled with Multi-terrain Select, the new system can be used in two modes (Snow/Dirt and Snow/Mud) to tackle slippery or uneven surfaces. It has 8.1-inches of ground clearance which is on par with the RAV4 Hybrid. Another impressive feature of the AWD system is Grip-Control, a low-speed system that leverages motor drive power modulation to achieve capable off-road performance during turns. This feature was developed as an added X-mode function to determine road surface characteristics and maintain a constant speed to prevent slipping on rough roads, allowing the driver to focus more on steering.

One-Pedal Driving (+/-)
Most electric vehicles offer a one-pedal driving option which means that when you release the gas pedal, the vehicle will brake rather than continue to coast (much like a golf cart). This option ties in directly with regenerative braking which converts that barking energy into electricity to return power to the battery. Every EV with one-pedal driving varies differently and the bZ4X is one that is less harsh and slowly brakes rather than feeling like it's immediately stopping. Comparatively, other EVS apply the brakes to bring the vehicle to a quicker stop. This feature can be turned off if preferred.

Interior (+)
Hopping inside, Toyota implements an all-new design that blends function, style, and new materials together. The instrument panel is unique and set-back above a longer pedestal that can be adjusted up and down, front and back. It has an arcade racing game feel that I really liked. The overall space feels open and airy thanks in part to a fixed panoramic moonroof that comes with a power sunshade. I wished it opened for some extra air but did appreciate the light that it offered. The layout is driver-focussed putting everything within reach. Standard is a 12.3" multimedia display that is at the center of the dash that flows down into the dial knob for the gear selection in the center console.  Press down and to the left, and you're in Reverse. Down and right, you're in Drive.

Mixed materials start up front with a textured fabric dash along with soft touch plastics and a piano black cascading center console. Note that the center console looks great when clean but does show off an abundance of fingerprints. Fabric seats come standard on the XLE, with synthetic leather Softex upholstery fitted to the bZ4X Limited. There is plenty of head, leg, and shoulder room for all passengers as it's one of the roomier BEVs available.

Technology (+)
Eyes will be immediately drawn to the standard 12.3" horizontal multimedia touchscreen at the center of the dash. It integrates wirelessly with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, displays a clear camera view with available guidelines, and utilizes the full screen for navigation. The system is intuitive and easy to use with no troubles connecting devices and navigating through the various screens. The images are high resolution and fill the entire display. Either touchscreen, steering wheel mounted, or voice controls are available.  Voice recognition is also available by saying "Hey Toyota" to activate controls and save some fingerprints.

Behind and above the steering wheel is a top-mounted multi-information display that is home to a digital instrument cluster with information such as outside temperature, vehicle range, driver assist system, and more. Standard on all models is a Qi wireless charger which is appropriately placed in front of the gear dial.  Four additional USB-C and one USB-A port are also available to charge added devices. A 9-speaker JBL premium audio system equipped with a subwoofer is also available on the Limited.

Cargo Capacity (+)
Cargo capacity is among the best in the compact crossover BEV class with 27.7 cubic feet of space behind the seats. With the seats folded flat, capacity increases to 56.9 cubic feet.  These numbers exceed both the Kia EV6, Hyundai IONIQ 5, and Volvo XC40 Recharge and are only slightly less than the Ford Mustang Mach-E and VW ID.4. The tailgate opens wide for easy load-in or out. XLE models are manual, but Limited offers a power tailgate. Bonus storage space is located under the center console which is also easily accessible. Unlike some others, there is no additional storage space under the hood.

Safety (+)
Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 is standard on every model and includes:

* Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection
* Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
* Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist
* Lane Tracing Assist
* Road Sign Assist
* Automatic High Beams
The various systems continue to be enhanced to be better intuitive and provide more safety. The pedestrian detection will also work in low-light situations and detect bicyclists during the day. The Dynamic Radar Cruise Control notifies the driver via an audible alert if it senses lane departure without a turn signal and does require hands on the wheel. The Lane Departure system is sensitive but can be adjusted to your preference. Other standard safety features include blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, safe exit assist, back-up camera and parking assist. Limited models add dynamic gridlines to the backup camera and a 360-degree bird's eye view camera.

Final Statement  

Toyota's first fully electric vehicle is a good one that slides into the lineup without much fuss. It has unique looks that set it apart with piercing LED light designs and bold black two-tone wheel arches. It has a ton of space inside to accommodate five and a functional interior that has the latest technology.  Performance is good, but not as strong as some other BEVs. It's an intriguing joint effort with Subaru that feels more like a Toyota than Subaru.

First Impression Summary
Test Vehicle: 2023 Toyota bZ4X XLE AWD
Exterior Color: Heavy Metal
Interior Color: Black
Options: Weather Package ($500))
MSRP as tested: $44,505

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.