I had just pulled off onto the gravel shoulder of this windy country road a little north of Victoria, BC, camera in hand and tall cedars towering around me, when a white pickup truck slowed to a stop beside me. The middle-aged man behind the wheel rolled his passenger window down to ask, “Hey, is that the new bZ4X?”
I said yes, and I was impressed he knew this new Toyota all-electric car. “It must be pre-production, isn’t it?” he added. Impressed even more, I nodded in agreement, replying they go on sale in Quebec and in BC in June, with other provinces coming later. He gave me a satisfied nod, a casual “Alright, see you,” and was on his way, leaving me to ponder how this guy seemed to know so much about a car that wasn’t even in production yet.
But the truck guy’s brief stop is indicative of a broader interest in Toyota’s first-ever, mass-produced, all-electric car. Famous for its Prius that defined the entire hybrid segment, the Japanese automaker has now introduced the bZ4F here in the BC capital, a vehicle that is Toyota’s first step in a promise of many more BEVs to come. With the bZ4X, Toyota now offers the most powertrains options of any automaker, with gas engines, hybrids, PHEVS, BEVs and even a hydrogen fuel cell car (the Mirai).
The name might be a bit of a mouthful, though. The bZ refers to Beyond Zero, Toyota’s electrification initiative going forward. The 4 is a reference to the size, like a RAV4, while the X identifies this as an SUV. The front-drive models have 201 hp and 196 lb.-ft. of torque with a 71.4 kWh battery pack and a range of 406 km, while the twin-motor AWD versions pack 214 hp, a combined 248 lb.-ft., a 72.8 kWh battery and a range of 367 km. Max charging for the FWD version is 150 kW, while the AWD tops out at just 100 kW.
Outside, the bZ4X looks very similar to Subaru’s Solterra; the two automakers combined to develop the two BEVs. Most striking – some might say controversial – are the blacked-out fenders. I’m not completely sold on the design, but it looks better on higher trims where the black is painted gloss, rather than matte plastic. Sharp creases blend into curves, with a flat front end where a grille should be. LED lights are standard all around, though the higher trims get a sharp quad-headlight design. Also available is two-tone paint.
Inside is a pleasant if not exactly luxurious look, with grey cloth covering the dash areas and lots of piano black in the console. The big 12.3-inch infotainment system (available on the LE trim and up) dominates the cabin, and while there’s no volume knob, it does have hard buttons for up and down, which is a saving grace. Toyota Audio Multimedia is standard and simple to use, along with its ‘Hey Toyota’ voice assistant. Alexa and Google Assistant integration are also included as part of the Toyota Remote Connect telematics subscription services which include features such as digital key, remote charging monitoring and more. Of course, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
A rotating shifter knob on the centre console puts it in gear, and the 7-inch instrument screen is set way back from the steering wheel on purpose, so your eyes don’t have to adjust too much to look down.
Front passengers have plenty of head and shoulder room, though the tall console does make for a sore knee after resting against it on a longer drive. But the rear passengers are in for a limousine-like ride, with a surprising 897 mm of leg room to let them really stretch out. The rear cargo area is pretty cavernous too, with 784 L on everything but the top-level XLE AWD Technology; that has a JBL woofer in the back to bring cargo down to 730 L.
On the road, those lower horsepower numbers do not reflect the quick acceleration of the bZ4X. It’s certainly no Tesla Plaid – it gets to 100 km/h in around seven seconds, yet it feels much peppier than comparably sized gas-powered SUVs. Stomp the throttle and it shoots ahead with a smooth, linear acceleration, making highway on-ramps a thrill ride. There is also a one-pedal drive option, but you still have to use the brakes to bring it to a complete stop.
The ride itself isn’t exactly sporty, but it is typically Toyota: firm yet still cossetting, offering spirited handling, which I took advantage of on the twisty cottage roads outside of Victoria. And while some people will lament that the one-pedal driving doesn’t bring the car to a stop, it did make for a more fun drive on these hills and corners, bringing the speed down instantly when needed. And the difference between the front-driver and AWD is so negligible, I’d probably put my money on the FWD version.
The bZ4X will be offered in four trim levels, with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 – it’s latest version of the suite of driver assist features – standard across the board. The front-drive base L, starting at $44,990, has an 8-inch infotainment screen, fabric seats, heated power side mirrors, smart key with push button start, and more. It’s not bad for the price.
But stepping up the trim ladder reveals a host of other features you would expect on more expensive cars. The LE for $49,990, for example, gets you a giant 12.3-inch infotainment screen, heated leather steering wheel with front passenger radiator heating, Blind Spot Monitor with Safe Exit Assist (to watch for cyclists when opening the doors), rear cross traffic alert, rain sensing wipers, a power rear hatch and foot lights on the side mirrors.
The XLE with AWD comes in at $54,990, and adds fabric and synthetic leather seats, a giant panoramic moonroof with shade, three drive modes with a Multi-Terrain select feature for ‘soft-roading’, X-Mode with settings for Snow/Dirt, Snow/Mud and hill decent control, wireless phone charging, HomeLink garage door opener and more. Finally, the top-line XLE AWD Technology adds sharp-looking 20-inch wheels, a premium JBL sound system, ventilated front seats, a rear spoiler and roof rails, a ‘digital key’ (ie, your phone is now the key), an eight-way power driver seat, and other unique features, all for $62,750.
Looking over the lineup, the Toyota bZ4X doesn’t offer anything really groundbreaking, but it doesn’t have to; it does bring value with its reasonable prices and a laundry list of usable features available. And don’t forget it also brings with it Toyota’s reputation for reliability, something that can’t be overlooked in this still-relatively-new EV segment.
In fact, that guy who stopped me in the pickup? He was driving a Toyota Tundra.