Verdict: If you love the simple, no-brainer operation of the Toyota RAV4 Prime or Venza hybrid, the easy-to-use bZ4X SUV is a natural step toward the pure electric life.
Against the competition: It doesn’t have the charging range or speed of competitors like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 or Kia EV6, and it doesn’t give much information about what the car is doing at a given time, but it does feel well aligned with the VW ID. 4 for more practicality and comfort than the Ford Mustang Mach-E.
There seem to be two schools of thought emerging on how to make mainstream electric SUVs. The first says, “Make it a spaceship with all kinds of sudden explosion technologies, crazy design, magical holographic screen effects, and enough information displays to simulate a starship bridge.” Vehicles that fall into this category are the Ioniq 5 and EV6, as well as the Mustang Mach-E, to some extent. But then there’s the school that says, “We should make the experience as invisible as possible, making the electric car look as close as possible to a conventional gasoline car.” That’s the strategy Chevrolet took with the Bolt EV, and what Volkswagen appears to be trying with ID. And after driving the new Toyota PZ4X 2023 (uh, that name), I can attest that this is exactly the strategy Toyota is pursuing with the first-ever electric vehicle available in 50 countries.
Related: Up close with the Toyota BZ4X 2023: a terrible name, a decent effort
It looks modern, but it’s not weird
The first part of this plan seems to have taken root in the design department. The bZ4X is bold, modern and sure to turn some heads, but it’s no more distinctive in its design than any other Toyota SUV and crossover. It’s attractive design effectively conceals its physical size – it’s plenty roomy for five passengers and also has a large cargo area that feels more comfortable than the Ioniq 5 or EV6. The most controversial aspect of the bZ4X is the dark gray painted front bumper panels, but I don’t mind them at all. It provides some visual interest when you get the bZ4X painted a contrasting color, like red or silver, and you can make it blend effectively into the car if you choose a darker color, like black.
Note: There are two trim levels for the bZ4X, the Well-equipped XLE and the Premium Limited. The XLE comes with 18-inch wheels, while the Limited features 20-inch wheels as standard equipment. This is more than just a design difference, which will become important later in this story.
Engines like… well, Toyota
Most Toyotas are noteworthy, frankly, for their inoffensive driving characteristics, in my experience. If you’re not behind the wheel of a GR Supra or GR86, you’re probably driving a front-wheel drive family car: a quiet, comfortable driving device designed to move passengers from one place to another with minimal fuss and discomfort. People buy such vehicles by the millions because they are simple and uncomplicated machines that do what is required of them.
This will likely be the experience you will have on bZ4X; Just replace the gas engine found on most other offerings with a silent electric powertrain. This thing drives, goes, stops and turns like any of Toyota’s other traditional offerings, and that’s the bottom line. There aren’t any hard-to-detect controls, warning tones, or weird graphic displays to distract you or even remind you that you’re behind the wheel of a new electric car. In fact, the only screen you get from an EV is the one on the high-mounted instrument panel, which provides minimal information about the electric vehicle such as range and consumption. There are no fancy graphics showing energy flows or messages telling you how charging your vehicle is progressing. If you want that kind of information, Toyota’s mobile app will give you more information and control, but compared to the Ioniq 5, the bZ4X seems almost better to forget you were driving an electric car.
Acceleration with front-wheel drive — which uses a single motor and 71.4 kWh lithium-ion battery, producing a relatively modest 201 horsepower and 196 pound-feet of torque — is acceptably fast, especially if you put your foot down for some speed suggestion. The all-wheel drive model uses two completely different 72.8-kWh battery motors and battery, but the power and torque numbers aren’t the same as the FWD: 214 horsepower overall and 248 pound-feet of torque combined. It does make for a slightly faster acceleration experience, but the bZ4X certainly doesn’t slack off with FWD.
The braking process is usually ambiguous in electric cars, but it is not as artificial as it appears on some other models. However, there is no one-pedal driving option, just a slightly more severe regenerative brake setting that can be activated via a button in the center console. This seems to be another signal to keep the bZ4X’s traditional driving as much as possible – the Ioniq 5 has several progressively stronger levels of regenerative braking, but not the Toyota.
The steering is also fairly traditional from Toyota – there isn’t a lot of feel or feedback, but this isn’t a sports car or an SUV pretending to be a sports car (look at you, a Mustang Mach E), so handling, braking and steering characteristics are just as good when driving. Measuring it against the bZ4X’s mission of being a harmless family trip. The only factor I found that made a noticeable difference to the bZ4X’s performance was when I switched from the Limited Edition equipped with 20-inch wheels to an XLE with 18-inch tires: The Limited’s ride is almost bogged down. It wasn’t as bad as any Mustang Mac-E, but it was still remarkably unstable, even on smooth roads around San Diego, California. But the XLE’s smaller, longer side rim wheels are largely smooth, and that improvement doesn’t come at the expense of any handling versatility (since there wasn’t much to begin with).