CHATHAM, Mass. – Toyota, which brought electrification to American motorists at the turn of the century with its hybrid-electric Prius sedan; added numerous other hybrids, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and hydrogen-electric vehicles until its sales today are 25 percent electrified; has now added its first battery-electric vehicle (BEV) to the mix with the introduction of the 2023 Toyota bZ4X.
Developed in conjunction with Subaru, which sells the nearly identical Solterra BEV, the Toyota bZ4X AWD Limited like I sampled slots into the middle of the compact sport-utility/crossover-utility vehicle (SUV/CUV) segment, bringing futuristic looks, abundant technology features and the gas-station-avoidance capabilities of an all-electric vehicle to the market.
A pair of electric motors – one fore, one aft – provide power to the front and rear wheels respectively, achieving the vehicle’s all-wheel-drive (AWD) status. Total power output from the dual motors is 214 horsepower (107 at each end) and 248 pounds-feet of torque (124 from each motor).
Determining whether the power is delivered to the front or all four wheels is determined by the AWD’s control unit dependent upon road conditions and driver decisions.
When the road surfaces become more challenging, the driver can select one of two X-MODE® settings. Engaging Snow/Dirt Mode with X-MODE enhances stability and improves traction on slippery, dirt surfaces.
For unpaved and bumpy roads, engaging Snow/Mud Mode applies the brakes on spinning wheels to produce a limited-slip differential (LSD) effect for additional traction. This mode also tackles softer road surfaces covered by heavy snow, providing more vehicle stability by automatically positioning the tires to slip in a way that clears away snow or mud. And in downhill situations that require the driver to apply heavy braking.
Another 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.
Rigid platform produces solid road manners
The bZ4X is the first vehicle built on Toyota’s BEV-specific e-TNGA platform. The bZ4X achieves a low center of gravity and greater rigidity thanks to the high-capacity Lithium-Ion battery pack placed flat under the floor and the battery cross-framing structure, which adds to overall vehicle rigidity.
This rigid structure provides the base for a suspension featuring MacPherson-type struts and stabilizer bar up front and multi-link setup with stabilizer bar in the rear.
The friction braking system includes ventilated rotors, 12.9 inches in the front, 12.5 in the rear. In addition, the SUV has Toyota’s Star Safety System™ which includes vehicle-stability control, traction control, anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist and Smart Stop Technology® (SST).
Like most electrified vehicles, the Toyota bZ4X features regenerative braking but the system is not designed for one-pedal braking. Depressing the Regenerative Braking Boost Mode button on the center console engages the system as long as the battery is below 90-percent charged (it needs battery capacity for the recaptured energy from the electric motors becoming generators). According to Toyota, the regen system can reduce the bZ4X’s speed down to about five miles per hour, thus the need for application of the friction brakes for a complete stop.
Up-to-date advanced driver-assistance systems
The Japanese automaker equips all bZ4X models with the latest Toyota Safety Sense™ 3.0 which brings Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Automatic High Beams, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Road Sign Assist. Front and rear parking assist with braking is also included.
In addition, the Limited trim includes a 360° monitor and rearview camera with gridlines.
Range and energy efficiency
According to Toyota, the engineering team also focused on features that help optimize energy-saving and cruising range. In addition to aerodynamic design choices and body weight reduction efforts, the following systems and equipment were adopted to reduce energy consumption, especially power used for heating in cold climates:
- Heat pump system for both heating and air-conditioning
- Seat and steering wheel heaters
- Front-seat radiant foot-and-leg heater which reduces the need for overall interior heating, thus saving energy
The AWD Limited I drove came with a 72.8kWh Lithium-ion battery pack which the federal Environmental Protection Agency rates at producing a range of up to 228 miles on a full charge. In my time with the electric Toyota, I never saw more than 166 miles of range when the bZ4X was fully charged (which, it was every morning thanks to the Autel MaxiCharger AC Wallbox Home unit plugged into a 240-Volt NEMA 14-50 outlet in my garage).
Inside, a modern Toyota look
There is a futuristic look to the interior of the bZ4X which in Limited trim comes with a comprehensive array of technologies, conveniences and amenities.
Part of the futuristic look is the Multi-Information Display (MID) with its seven-inch customizable display in a binnacle at the top of the dash behind the steering wheel, positioned to help reduce the amount of time a driver needs to check information like speed (similar in operation to a heads-up display). Careful use of the power-adjustable driver’s seat and tilt/telescoping steering wheel is important – and simple — to properly view and access this information.
At the top center of the dash is the 12.3-inch touchscreen, the heart of the infotainment system which includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability; Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, and SiriusXM satellite radio and traffic which is indicated through the navigation system.
Other features found inside include a wireless mobile-device charge pad; USB-C and -A ports; heated/ventilated front seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control system.
The test vehicle had the optional ($580) JBL Premium Audio System with nine speakers, subwoofer and amplifier and the optional ($350) Limited Weather Package with rear-seat heating and radiant leg heating.
Living with the bZ4X
Toyota’s initial all-electric BEV consists of four models ranging from the front-wheel-drive (FWD) XLE at $42,00 to the AWD Limited at $48.780. The review unit totaled $52,468 with the options discussed plus a few others and the $1,215 delivery, processing and handling fee.
The Toyota bZ4X is wonderful to drive. Very quick (Car and Driver reported 0-60 miles per hour in 6.3 seconds), Very surefooted on any road challenge I presented. And, thanks to the Autel charger in my garage, everyday driving (range) was never an issue.
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