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2023 Toyota bZ4X: Quirky name, solid electric SUV [First Drive]

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To be sure, the 2023 Toyota bZ4X falls on the “quirk” side of the spectrum when you’re talking about design. It looks a little like a squat RAV4 with some interesting lighting signatures thrown in. And once you go inside, well, let’s just say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

All told, though, I think the bZ4X is a good little electric vehicle, and the fact Toyota only plans to sell 7,000 units in the first year doesn’t tell the whole story.

So, let’s dig into some of the questions I’ve received and talk about the drive.

Is this a compliance car?

I know that 7k number is really low. That’s a small fraction of all the vehicles Toyota will sell in a calendar year. But I look at this as more of a ramping up period than a compliance anything. Consider that both the Subaru Solterra and the bZ4X will be built in the same plant in Japan, and Solterra will push out a similar number. So, that’s 14k vehicles from two automakers who are just starting to take a real plunge into the EV world. (I don’t count the RAV4 EV, which was a compliance car.)

Initially, the bZ4X will roll out to ZEV states, followed by a national rollout. So, I imagine that first 7K won’t make it to most states. I know, that sounds like a compliance car. But here’s why I think it isn’t: The range isn’t just 100 miles per charge (like the Mazda MX-30). That, to me, says it’s a viable EV with long-range plans.

Range & charging

So, what is the range? Well, it depends on the trim as well as whether it’s front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Here’s the breakdown:

  • XLE FWD: 252 miles
  • XLE AWD: 228 miles
  • Limited FWD: 242 miles
  • Limited AWD: 222 miles

There are obvious reasons why the front- and all-wheel-drive models are different ranges, but the difference between XLE and Limited has to do with weight and added content.

Because my time with the bZ4X was so brief it’s hard to say if the range is accurate, but I will say it seemed accurate within the short distances I was driving. However, the one thing I did notice as the afternoon heat kicked in: When I turned on the air conditioning, it dropped about 30 miles of range immediately – even when I had the HVAC in eco mode.

In terms of charging, the bZ4X is equipped with a basic cable that allows you to plug into a 110v jack. But I wouldn’t recommend that because it’ll take you 55 hours to charge up. Toyota has partnered with ChargePoint to provide a home charger with the purchase of the bZ4X, and you can roll the cost of the charger into the financing. This Level 2 charger will bring you back to 100% in 11 hours if you are pulling in on “empty.”

If you opt to hit some Level 3 fast chargers, you can hit 100% in less than an hour.

One word of note: The bZ4X does not come with the ultra-fast charge capability we’ve seen in some newer vehicles, like the Hyundai Ioniq 5, which can charge up in 18 minutes or less.

2023 bZ4x

Interior things

When I posted a couple of short 2023 bZ4X videos to TikTok, I got hundreds of comments about the interior. Hundreds. And most of them fell along the same lines: They don’t like the steering wheel or piano black accents, and the interior looks dated.

Me, I’ll go back to my original beauty/beholder statement. The black lacquer is tough, but I think the steering wheel is fine and the overall interior, which is punctuated by a huge 12.3-inch infotainment screen, is plenty up-to-date.

My quibble is with the basket-weave fabric on the dash. It’s scratchy and looks kind of cheap.

Outside of that, the 2023 bZ4X is equipped with Toyota’s latest infotainment system, which it shares with the 2022 Tundra and 2023 Lexus NX. It allows for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, large map screens, swipeable surfaces and natural voice commands. I like all of those things.

The other visible target for comments was the digital gauge cluster. It’s hoodless and high up on the dash. People are worried you won’t be able to see it because of glare – you can, glare isn’t a problem. People think the steering wheel will bisect the gauge cluster, hindering visibility – it didn’t, at least not for me and my short driving position. But I will say taller drivers – from average height on up to 6-foot, 9-inch inches – did say the gauge cluster was a problem for them. So, this is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to during a test drive.

Personally, I like the position of the cluster, which operated more like a head-up display than a behind the wheel gauge. The graphics are plain and clear, and while I think there could be a little more pizzazz here, I’m not bothered by the simplicity.

No, Toyota didn’t name it after Elon Musk’s kid

Frankly, I don’t follow the names of Elon’s kid other than to know it’s kind of weird. But more than one person commented that Toyota must have named the 2023 bZ4X with X Æ A-12 (pronounced X-Ash-A-12) in mind. To be best of my knowledge, Toyota did not. But that is a hilarious correlation.

So, what in the heck is bZ4X anyway? Let’s break it down:

  • bZ: “Beyond Zero” is the new umbrella Toyota will put some of its electric vehicles under.
  • 4: The number denotes size of the vehicle, in this case it’s midsized.
  • X: This last letter denotes the shape of the vehicle, and X represents an SUV or crossover. We assume this means we’ll see “C” for a car.

We’ll be seeing more bZ vehicles from Toyota in the future, and they’ll follow a similar naming structure.

XLE vs Limited

There will be just two trims for the 2023 bZ4K: a base XLE and the up-level Limited. At the XLE level, you’ll notice things such as 18-inch wheels, a manual adjusting driver’s seat and cloth seating surfaces. Additionally, thinks like heated seats and steering wheel are optional. But, with the 12.3-inch infotainment screen and standard LED headlights, it still looks very well optioned.

Upgrading to the Limited model adds features and some additional design details. On the exterior, you get a brighter trim piece on the grille, projector beam LED headlights, a split rear spoiler, 20-inch wheels and optional two-tone paint. The interior brings fancier leatherette seating surfaces, power driver’s seat, available JBL audio, heated-and-cooled front seats and available heated rear seats.

But how does it drive?

I’ll state this flat out: There is nothing sporty about the 2023 bZ4X. Sure it’s electric, so there’s the instantaneous torque for excellent acceleration. But you’re only looking at 201 horsepower for the single-motor, front-wheel drive model, and it only goes up to 214 horsepower for the dual-motor, all-wheel drive model. And, if I’m honest, I couldn’t really tell the difference between the two. So, the decision, really is going to be whether you want a little more range, which comes with the FWD model, or the AWD.

Toyota did do one weird thing with the bZ4X and that’s the fact that they didn’t utilize a true one-pedal drive system. If you aren’t familiar, this is where you can use the accelerator pedal to control acceleration and braking – all the way to a stop – just by the amount of pressure you apply to the pedal. You do have an option for a more aggressive regenerative braking pattern, but you can’t bring the vehicle to a complete stop simply taking your foot off the accelerator.

The bZ4X isn’t meant to be sporty, though. It’s supposed to be comfortable and solid, which it is. Kind of like a RAV4 but only with a peppier start and full electric powertrain. Because of the quietness that comes with an EV, the only small downside I noticed while driving was the wind noise at highway speeds.

The price breakdown

Toyota managed to keep pricing at a reasonable range for the 2023 bZ4X – especially when you consider that the plug-in hybrid version of the RAV4 tops out around $50k. One thing to keep in mind, however, will be that Toyota is going to be running out of its federal tax credit soon, so I wouldn’t plan on factoring that into the price.

The complete breakdown is as follows:

XLE FWD$42,000
Limited FWD$46,700
XLE AWD$44,080
Limited AWD$48,780

The bottom line on the 2023 bZ4X

Toyota has targeted Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6 and Nissan Ariya as the primary competitors for the 2023 bZ4X. And the vehicles align well in terms of pricing and range. However, I will say the bZ4X lacks a certain amount of pizzazz. But that’s likely by design because, well, Toyota.

What you do have is an automaker who’s built its reputation on reliability, and a vehicle that could very likely help bridge the gasoline-electric gap with its Electrify America charging partnership and ChargePoint at-home charging offer.

It’s slightly quirky but mostly recognizable design will bring in the brand loyal EV curious types, but how many will buy it remains to be seen. And if its wildly successful, the next question will be how quickly Toyota can ramp up production.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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