Review: 2023 Toyota bZ4X EV: An EV which is first a great SUV
Arvind · Aug 27, 2023 10:00 AM
Little did we know at the time, but the humble Toyota Prius would eventually become one of the most important cars of the 21st century.
Though initially scoffed at, seen as an ugly car, and made the butt of all automotive jokes, the Prius would go on to revolutionize powertrain technology, and by extension, show the world how to combine internal combustion and electrification in a small, affordable, and reliable package.
If the Bugatti Veyron showed us how powerful a car could be, the Prius taught us how efficient one could be. Five generations and over 25 years later, the Prius remains a trailblazer. By comparison, the 2023 Toyota bZ4X isn’t quite the mould-breaker the Prius was and is. Although it's Toyota’s first purpose-built EV, and a darn good-looking one – it’s late to the party, or revolution, depending on how you look at it.
The EV game today is a vibrant yet chaotic landscape with many new players; so, a case of too little too late, or do good things come to those who wait? Let’s drive.
First off, if you're wondering how the bZ4X gets its name – ‘bZ’ stands for Beyond Zero (Toyota’s aspirations for carbon neutrality), ‘4’ signalling its size, which is similar to the Toyota RAV4, and ‘X’ because it's an SUV.
Recapping the important bits, the 2023 bZ4X is underpinned by the dedicated e-TNGA platform, jointly developed with Subaru – which incorporates the battery unit as an integral part of the chassis, beneath the vehicle floor for a low centre of gravity and better overall body rigidity.
As tested here, is the sole front-wheel drive bZ4X (FWD) variant previewed, which is powered by a permanent magnet synchronous motor on the front axle that outputs 204 PS and 266 Nm of torque. Quoted performance figures read 0-100 km/h acceleration in 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 160 km/h.
Power is sent to the front wheels through a BluE Nexus e-Axle transmission, which integrates the electric motor, gears and inverter in a single package. The bZ4X packs a 71.4 kWh battery placed flat under the floor with a DC fast charging rate of up to 150 kW, while the onboard charger accepts up to 6.6 kW AC charging (Type 2 connector). The driving range in the WLTP cycle is rated at 500 km.
In terms of safety, the Toyota bZ4X introduced the Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 (TSS 3.0), the latest generation of ADAS suite which includes Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), Lane Departure Alert With Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, front and rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and Pre-Collision System With Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD).
The 2023 Toyota bZ4X was previewed at the start of the year, however, there are no confirmed prices and is not officially on sale... yet.
The closest indicative price is Thailand, where the bZ4X sells for circa RM 235k. Therefore, assuming a circa RM 250k price tag in mind, the closest competitors (just months ago) would have been the Hyundai Ioniq 5 Max (RM 270k) and Volvo XC40 Recharge Pure Electric (RM 279k).
However, you might have also heard of a certain Tesla Model Y that now starts at just RM 199k. With a clear lead in pricing, the Model Y has disrupted not just the EV segment but dealt death blows to many EV models here.
Case in point, few might remember the recently launched Kia Niro EV (RM 257k) which faded from view after the Model Y. Plus, RM 250k would nett the Model Y Long Range AWD (RM 246k), which then offers AWD, plus more power and range than the Toyota bZ4X. Hence, needless to say, it's got an uphill battle here, and this would rely heavily on an attractive pricetag.
Brandishing a bold new design language, characterised by a hammerhead shape, the bZ4X is one of the best-looking, if not most interesting Toyotas you will ever see. During the review, I lost count of the number of drivers whipping out their phones for a quick snap of the bZ4X while parked or waiting at a traffic light.
Those unique fender flares that rise to meet the sleek headlights are a superb focal point. Plus, with its macho 20-inch wheels, coupe-esque roof profile and wraparound taillights - it's a design that is equal parts futuristic and imposing, which is what you want from an EV.
That said, pictures can belie the size of the bZ4X in the flesh. Though you may think it’s about the size of a Toyota Corolla Cross, it’s sizeably larger.
With a wheelbase stretching 2,850 mm (to accommodate the batteries), the bZ4X is actually longer between the wheels than a Toyota Fortuner (at 2,745 mm). Thus, while it may be compared to the likes of the Ioniq 5 and XC40 Recharge, the bZ4X is larger and looks like it as well on the roads.
In terms of drawbacks, there is but one, we find the powered rear boot open/close speeds to be slow. Though it may not seem like a significant quagmire, it can be frustrating to wait about 10 seconds for the hatch to open with groceries in tow on a rainy day.
Moving inside, the bZ4X’s dash architecture looks unlike any other Toyota model on sale here, although the overall execution and layout will seem somewhat familiar. There is a nice mix of surfaces and contours, and good usage of different materials such as fabric on the central dash section.
However, if you were expecting a big central screen like most modern EVs, you won’t find it here. Things are more traditional (which I personally prefer for added character) with a central 12.3-inch infotainment screen and a 7-inch digital instrument panel residing behind the steering wheel.
Overall ergonomics are great, with the infotainment and climate control panel within easy reach, and they're very easily learnt and operated. The infotainment screen system is only available with Apple CarPlay for now, though Android Auto will made available soon, according to UMW Toyota.
Elsewhere, I especially like the design of the wireless charging compartment, which features a semi-see-through cover, so you can tell if you’re phone is ringing even if it's closed.
However, the steering wheel and instrument cluster are a bit of a mixed bag. In isolation, the compact steering wheel is nice to operate, while the instrument cluster; rising out of the dashboard is also nicely presented - it’s just that they don’t work well together.
The Malaysian market bZ4X does not receive the futuristic ‘yoke-style’ steering wheel which has its central top section cut out for easy legibility of the cluster. Thus with the traditional steering wheel, one’s view of the cluster is mostly obstructed by the top section of the steering wheel.
Now if you typically sit higher up, you could lower the steering wheel a notch and solve the issue, but not so much for taller drivers who sit low within the cabin. In cases like this, most of the cluster’s information will be blocked off by the upper section of the wheel, especially the ADAS safety symbols which are on display while driving.
Elsewhere, you’ll find the cabin of the bZ4X a roomy and delightful place to be, even on longer journeys. The seats, both at the front and back – in typical Toyota fashion – are supple yet supportive. Another plus point of the bZ4X is the legroom (and seat height) at the rear.
Most EVs lose out on rear floor height to accommodate battery packs underneath. The Ioniq 5 is an example of this, not so much in the bZ4X, which will accommodate three passengers at the rear with relative ease.
Out on the roads, you'll appreciate the interior ambience of the bZ4X. On our typical noise test, the bZ4X proves to be quiet with little or no noise coming from the powertrain, whilst tyre noise is also kept in check at speeds of up to 120 km/h.
2023 Toyota bZ4X - Cabin noise level
Some tyre and wind noise does creep in around the wing mirrors around 110 km/h - 120 km/h, but one could hardly call it a deal-breaker.
Despite being Toyota’s first ground-up EV, you’ll be pleasantly surprised the bZ4X offers a well-sorted driving experience. Within minutes of driving around, you’ll instantly get a sense of how smooth and composed this SUV is.
Offering 204 PS and 266 Nm, the bZ4X isn’t the quickest EV we have tested. The Ioniq 5 Max delivers 305 PS / 605 Nm, whilst the XC40 Recharge, with 402 PS / 660 Nm, is in another realm altogether.
Having said that, the bZ4X completed the 0-100 km/h dash with a respectable time of 7.8 seconds, besting even the claimed sprint time of 8.4 seconds while on the test.
On the road, there’s more than enough power when you need it. The bZ4X gets up to speed with relative ease and is especially strong between 60 km/h and 120 km/h, thus, rest assured that power is adequate when you're driving in the city, on the highway or even for overtaking.
Additionally, there’s good modulation with the accelerator pedal, such that the powertrain intuitively gives you almost full power if you actuate more than 60 percent of throttle, and the bZ4X does this without having to switch driving modes.
It’s much the same in terms of steering and braking. Although the steering wheel is small-ish, it’s nicely weighted and quick making it a joy to steer the bZ4X around town, or during parking. The brakes are superbly modulated, seamlessly transitioning between the regeneration and braking phases.
Underpinned by Toyota’s eTNGA platform - an evolution of the superb TNGA platform – the bZ4X delivers similar levels of handling and balance in the corners. Much like the 2023 Toyota Camry, there is fluidity in the bZ4X’s body movements, whilst the suspension works hard to iron out road irregularities.
Notwithstanding a kerb weight approaching 2 tonnes, the bZ4X is by no means a featherweight, but it doesn’t get clumsy when you thread it through a series of corners. It remains surefooted, manoeuvrable and light on its feet.
ADAS features and systems
Featuring the latest Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 (TSS 3.0) suite, the bZ4X is equipped with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), a blind spot monitor, RCTA, lane departure assist and correction and Assisted Parking. Additionally, the system relies on a Driver Monitor Camera just behind the steering wheel.
With just one button that engages the DRCC, it’s easy to start cruising down the highway in the bZ4X. With your speed selected, the lane departure alert and Lane Tracing Assist system work superbly to keep the bZ4X centred within the lane.
The system does well to detect road lines quickly (even stretches that are blurry) and keep the car centred within the lane. With TSS 3.0, the lane departure and lane tracing assist systems can position the car further to one side of the lane if it detects guard rails or other vehicles on either side, which in practice, works very well.
Elsewhere, I also found speed adjustments when using the DRCC to be pleasantly smooth and natural. The system also reacts well to detecting merging traffic in front of you and adjusts your cruising speed accordingly.
On the downside, TSS 3.0 does not work under speeds of 30 km/h. Therefore there is no support in stop-and-go traffic, which requires reactivation once you're moving again.
The more you drive the bZ4X, one aspect becomes apparent - it offers a beautiful transition from a conventional car to an EV - and not many EVs do this. Whilst most EVs emphasise power and technology, the bZ4X makes it clear that this is first and foremost, a car for the family.
Though it's down on power compared to its competitors, it offers superb design, a roomy and practical interior and a pleasurable driving experience - which should be just as important as range and charging speeds.
Also, with trademark Toyota build quality behind it, the bZ4X arguably will perform reliably and safely for many years as well. This should be a vital consideration too, if you're moving to your first EV.
However, the make-or-break of the bZ4X will rely heavily on the pricetag. With tax exemptions for imported (CBU) battery EV models extended to 31-Dec 2025, there is still time for the bZ4X to make a splash. However, with the market getting increasingly crowded, time is of the essence for this lovable EV that definitely has the chops to make a statement.
Arvind can't remember a time when he didn't wheel around a HotWheels car. This love evolved into an interest in Tamiya and RC cars and finally the real deal 1:1 scale stuff. Passion finally lead to formal training in Mechanical Engineering. Instead of the bigger picture, he obsesses with the final drive ratio and spring rates of cars and spends the weekends wondering why a Perodua Myvi is so fast.