New Toyota bZ4X prototype review
Our early taste of Toyota’s first EV shows it’s a solid electric SUV boasting range claims that should be achievable and a relaxed and refined driving experience. It doesn’t push the boundaries of what’s possible in this class in any one area, but it delivers more than adequate charging capability and practicality, while the new infotainment is a big step on. It bodes well for the brand’s all-electric future bZ models.
Toyota has decades of experience when it comes to electrification, which makes it all the more unusual that it’s only just launching its first full EV, the bZ4X SUV.
Of course, the Japanese brand says it’s not late to the party, citing early adopter manufacturers and that it, as a mainstream brand, is arriving in this sector at the right time and with the right product.
That product is the first in a series of seven bZ-badged models (five of which are confirmed for Europe) standing for “beyond Zero”, Toyota’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint not just with the cars it sells but how it manufactures them too.
It’s targeting the heart of the EV market in 2022, as the bZ4X is a mid-size family SUV that stacks up against rivals including the Skoda Enyaq iV, the Volkswagen ID.4, the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Hyundai Ioniq 5 crossover.
Based on Toyota’s new eTNGA platform, a 71.4kWh battery is installed in the car’s floor giving it some extra rigidity. It feeds either a single 201bhp motor driving the front wheels, or a pair of electric drive units offering a total of 215bhp and four-wheel drive; it’s the latter model we’re testing here in late-stage prototype guise.
Final figures are yet to be homologated, but Toyota says that every bZ4X variant will offer more than 280 miles of claimed range. The front-wheel drive car will accelerate from 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds while the sprint time is stronger for the AWD car, with Toyota claiming 6.9 seconds for the benchmark sprint. It’s worth pointing out that at this stage all figures are still provisional, but they’re not likely to change much between now and the car being homologated fully.
Rapid charging capability stands at 150kW, which means a full 80 per cent top-up takes less than 30 minutes, but like the rest of the bZ4X’s vital stats, this is only slightly above average for the class rather than setting new standards in it. And that’s how the bZ4X feels in general from our first taste, that it’s been benchmarked against its rivals to deliver competitive but not class-leading ability.
This is still a positive though, because Toyota has always been explicit about actually living up to the numbers it quotes, rather than just offering unachievable headline stats. Plus the platform underneath the car’s squared-off frame is an impressive piece of engineering.
On the move the bZ4X doesn’t feel all that fast unlike some four-wheel drive EVs, with acceptable, sustained acceleration up to motorway speeds. But it is incredibly smooth, delivering Lexus-like refinement in a mainstream product, bar for a very mild wind whistle from around the doors in this prototype. We’re confident traits like this will be eradicated by the time the car makes full series production.
Riding on 20-inch alloy wheels even over broken Spanish surfaces and some off-road gravel-track driving, the bZ4X rides sweetly, smoothing out bumps with help from its more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension layout that allows for four-wheel drive.
It’s comfortable but this doesn’t come at the expense of handling, as despite the circa 2,000kg kerbweight depending on spec the steering is positive (a steer-by-wire system will come later) and the bZ4X doesn’t roll all too much in corners, this two-fold gain contributing to comfort and dynamics.
However, even with the car’s higher brake regeneration mode engaged the retardation from the pair of electric motors is still not strong enough for one-pedal driving, which is rapidly becoming a must for any EV.
This capability further adds to the relaxing feel of an electric SUV in our book, so it’s a shame you have to use the bz4X’s brake pedal more than you might imagine instead of just modulating the throttle to adjust your speed.
Inside, we’ll put some of the more plasticky finishes down to the stage of this car’s build, but the interior did feel a little drab. Storage is ok, with a big central area between the front occupants and a cubby below this, but the bZ4X doesn’t feature a glovebox, which could be an oversight. Neither does it feature a ‘frunk’ in the nose to store charging cables, so they’ll have to sit in the 452-litre boot, which is a good, regular shape.
The bigger positive inside is the next generation of Toyota’s infotainment system. It’s an area where the brand has really lacked in recent years, but a slicker 12-inch touchscreen with sharper graphics, more processing power for faster responses and the latest smartphone connectivity programmes giving an extra strand of versatility means it’s a strong step on for Toyota.
It’s a shame the digital dash isn’t quite as impressive, but there is plenty of kit on offer, including Toyota’s new T-Mate safety systems. This includes a camera and radar sensor neatly integrated into the black strip between the car’s headlights, bringing AEB with collision warning, cross traffic alert, tech that picks up cars approaching at an intersection and a system to warn of approaching cars and bikes so you don’t open the door on them.
Space in the front is fair and forward visibility is good; room in the rear is also good enough, but it’s far from the biggest, roomiest machine in the crowded class it’s entering into.
But the Toyota might have a trick up its sleeve here to give it a USP. The brand is focusing heavily on lease deals for its new EV, offering a service that can, if you choose, bundle everything into one monthly payment to reduce complexity.
Called Kinto One, the lease deal includes three years’ free servicing and costs £611 per month for the bZ4X Motion, based on a three-year deal with £3,662 initial rental. All bZ4X owners benefit from a home charger, six months’ free access to Toyota’s charging network and three years’ roadside assistance. The same car on a PCP costs £670 per month with a £3,662 deposit – but servicing costs £12 per month extra.
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