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Toyota bZ4X test drive — how good is Toyota’s first EV?

Toyota bZX4 front left
(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

You may have seen the recent headlines about the 2023 Toyota bZ4X. It’s the Japanese automaker’s first dedicated battery electric vehicle. Unfortunately, some cars have had to be recalled due to the possibility that the wheels could fall off. Which is... not great.

The fault apparently stems from hub bolts, which could work loose after low-mileage use. Toyota plans to get the problem gets fixed via a recall of 2,700 vehicles, with the lion’s share being models destined for the European market. In fact, 2,200 are on that side of the Atlantic, with just 260 cars being recalled in the U.S. The remainder consists of 10 cars bound for the Canadian market and 110 for Japan.

It’s a disappointing start for what is otherwise a great, if slightly quirky car from Toyota — even though it’s rather late to the EV party. The bZ4X is also up against stiff competition, landing as it does in ever-popular SUV territory. That's topped by the likes of the Hyundai IONIQ 5 and Kia EV6, to name but two key models in this growing sector. Having just driven Nissan’s Ariya EV, that too could be a key competitor.

The Toyota bZ4X offers an exciting proposition

toyota bz4x

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

I recently got to drive the Toyota bZ4X on a variety of roads in Denmark. Adding to the road test, I had a go at exploiting the additional charms of the chunky SUV — including some neat-off road capabilities that offer this EV an extra touch of magic. It’s a bit like a Toyota RAV4, but with added electric zing.

This off-road stuff isn’t a novelty, party-trick thing either. The Toyota bZ4X turned out to be rather good over a series of controlled rough and tumble experiences. I was pleasantly surprised and the brand new dedicated TNGA battery-powered platform it sits on shows real promise for future models.

Looks-wise, Toyota has done a decent job with the exterior. The bZ4X looks best from the front, while the sides catch your interest with the plastic wheel arch mouldings that rather dominate the profile. There are cool-looking alloys though, and the back end sports a nice line in angles. Get it in the right colour, like red or blue and the thing really does pop. Subtler hues, including grey, work to pretty good effect as well, if that's more to your taste.

toyota bz4x

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

The interior is interesting too. Most of the interest stems from the driving position. Many commentators who have experienced the view from behind the wheel, including me, have found it quite tricky to get yourself into a vantage point where you can get a proper view of the 7-inch digital display in front of the steering wheel. It’s tricky to get just right.

Oddly enough, you get the feeling this setup would work best with a yoke steering wheel. A yoke option has been mooted, unsurprisingly, just like it has for Toyota’s posh brand Lexus and its forthcoming RZ EV. Personally, I think the idea of yoke steering is nuts, but the folks at Tesla don't, so perhaps this will also be the way of the future for Toyota and Lexus.

As it stands though, the combination of the futuristic dash and a traditional circular steering wheel doesn’t seem entirely joined up.

toyota bz4x

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

Elsewhere, there’s a main 12.3-inch infotainment screen in the center console, which contains all of the usual stuff. Some actual real buttons add a sensible touch to the dashboard control zone as well. Best of all with the interior is that it can be easily wiped over, which if you have kids might turn out to be the best part of all. There’s lot of space too as it happens, including a very sizeable trunk.

Toyota bZ4X has zesty performance

Once you’ve got yourself sat comfortably, the Toyota bZ4X delivers sprightly performance on the road. I got to experience the dual motor, all-wheel drive model, with a 71.4kWh battery and not bad 215bhp. 

The big difference with this model is there’s additional torque, which tops out at 248lb ft. That hampers the range a little though, dropping down to 228 miles, as opposed to 252 from the single motor, front-wheel drive variant.

toyota bz4x

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

Where this car did surprise me was after I engaged the X-Mode. This switchable option lets you take on rugged or unpredictable surfaces, while also allowing the car to get through up to 500 millimetres (19.6 inches) of surface water without feeling the need to worry.

Likewise Toyota has engineered neat tools designed to help you cope with adverse weather conditions, including Downhill Assist Control and Grip Control.

I had a go using these options on a man-made course and everything worked really well — though EVs can be notoriously tricky in less than ideal conditions. Snow, ice and lots of water, combined with the sort of instant torque generated by electric motors can be problematical during inclement weather.

Based on what I’ve tried while pootling around in the bZ4X, this box of tricks could turn out to be Toyota’s masterstroke. Especially if you live out in the sticks.

Toyota has a bright future

toyota bz4x

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

The Toyota bZ4X has a lot of good stuff, and a few things that are not so good. Aside from the recall, which I’m sure Toyota will get to the bottom of so it doesn't occur again, I think the Toyota bZ4X is generally rather good.

However, the name does seem to irritate some people, and it is a little on the clunky side. There’s some logic to it though because if you break it down, the Toyota bZ4X stands for Beyond Zero, as in plans by Toyota to end up producing greener vehicles. 

Meanwhile, the 4X part of the moniker relates to the size. This being a relatively small crossover, there could subsequently be smaller and larger models with variations in the numbering. It kind of makes sense when you break it down like that

Another minor point is that in the States people say Z as Zee, whereas in Europe they tend to say Zed. Will that add to the confusion? Who knows. All I know is that bZ4X a chore to have to type.

There's still some catching up to do

toyota bz4x

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

This being a Toyota you can expect value, with a base-level front-wheel drive car costing from $42,000. Bag a car from the top end of the range though and you’ll be looking at around $50,000. 

Toyota might have done the right thing by hanging back and weighing up what the competition does before bringing out the bZ4X, but this does leave it playing catch-up somewhat. And plenty of the rivals can match it in the pricing stakes.

While I like it, I’m still left wondering if the Hyundai IONIQ 5 or Kia EV6 might be a better bet. And that’s before you’ve even thought about heading in the direction of a Tesla.