EXPERT REVIEW

2023 Toyota bZ4X Review: Normal Toyota, Natural Step Into EVs

toyota-bz4x-2023-14-exterior-front-angle-red-suv 2023 Toyota bZ4X | Cars.com photo by Melissa Klauda
Photo of Aaron Bragman
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman grew up in the Detroit area, comes from an automotive family and is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Email Aaron Bragman

The verdict: If you like the simple, no-brainer operation of the Toyota RAV4 Prime or Venza hybrid, the easy-to-use bZ4X SUV is a natural step into pure-electric life.

Versus the competition: It doesn’t have the range or charging speed of competitors like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 or Kia EV6, nor does it offer as much info on what the vehicle is doing at a given time, but it feels well matched against the Volkswagen ID.4 for practicality and is more comfortable than the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

There seem to be two emerging schools of thought on how to make a mainstream electric SUV. The first says, “Make it a spaceship that has all kinds of whiz-bang technology, crazy styling, magic holo-screen effects and enough information displays to simulate the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.” Vehicles that fall into that category are the Ioniq 5 and EV6, as well as the Mustang Mach-E, to some extent. But then there’s the school that says, “We should make the experience as invisible as possible, making the electric vehicle feel as close to a conventional gasoline car as possible.” This is the strategy Chevrolet took with the Bolt EV, and what VW seems to be trying with the ID.4. And after having driven the new 2023 Toyota bZ4X (ugh, that name), I can attest that this is exactly the strategy that Toyota is pursuing with its first-ever 50-state-available EV as well.

Related: Up Close With the 2023 Toyota bZ4X: Terrible Name, Decent Effort

Looks Modern, But Not Weird

The first part of this plan seems to have taken hold in the styling department. The bZ4X is bold, modern and definitely turns some heads, but it’s no more out-there in its design than any of Toyota’s other SUVs and crossovers. It’s an attractive design that effectively hides its actual size — it’s very spacious for five occupants and also has a sizable cargo area that feels considerably more accommodating than the Ioniq 5’s or EV6’s. The most controversial aspect of the bZ4X are its dark-gray-painted front bumper panels, but I don’t mind them at all. They provide some visual interest when you get a bZ4X painted in a contrasting color, like red or silver, and you can make them effectively blend into the car if you go for a darker hue, like black.

Of note: There are two bZ4X trim levels, the well-equipped XLE and the premium Limited. The XLE comes with 18-inch wheels, while the Limited features 20-inch rims as standard equipment. This is more than just a styling difference, however, which will become important a little later on in this story.

Drives Like … Well, a Toyota

Most Toyota vehicles are notable, frankly, for their inoffensive driving characteristics, in my experience. If you’re not behind the wheel of a GR Supra or GR86, you’re likely piloting a front-wheel-drive family vehicle: a calm, comfortable driving appliance that’s meant to get occupants from A to B with minimal fuss and discomfort. People buy such vehicles by the millions because they’re simple, uncomplicated machines that do what’s asked of them.

That’s likely the experience you’ll have in the bZ4X; just replace the gas engine present in most other offerings with a silent electric powertrain. This thing drives, goes, stops and turns just like any of Toyota’s other conventional offerings, which is the entire point. There aren’t any hard-to-figure-out controls, bleating warning chimes or weird graphical displays to distract you or even remind you that you’re behind the wheel of a new EV. In fact, the only EV-related display you get is the one on the high-mounted gauge cluster, which provides a bare minimum of EV-related info like range and rate of consumption. There are no fancy graphics showing energy flows or messages to tell you how your car charging is progressing. If you do want that kind of info, the Toyota mobile app will give you a bit more information and control, but compared with the Ioniq 5, the bZ4X feels like it would almost rather you forgot that you were piloting an EV.

Acceleration with FWD — which uses a single motor and a 71.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, producing a relatively modest 201 horsepower and 196 pounds-feet of torque — is acceptably quick, especially if you put your foot down for some rapid motion. The all-wheel drive model uses two motors and a totally different 72.8-kWh battery, but the power and torque numbers are not that different from FWD: 214 hp in total and 248 pounds-feet of torque combined. It makes for a slightly quicker acceleration experience, but the bZ4X is certainly no slouch with FWD.

Braking feels typically electric-car vague, but not as artificial as it feels in some other models. There is no one-pedal-driving option, however, only a slightly more aggressive regenerative-braking setting that can be activated by a button on the center console. This seems to be another nod to keeping the bZ4X as conventional to drive as possible — the Ioniq 5 has several progressively stronger levels of regen braking, but not the Toyota.

The steering is also pretty conventionally Toyota — there’s not much in the way of feel or feedback, but this isn’t a sports car or an SUV pretending to be a sports car (lookin’ at you, Mustang Mach-E), so the handling, braking and steering characteristics are perfectly fine when measured against the bZ4X’s mission to be an inoffensive family runabout. The only factor I found that made a noticeable difference in how the bZ4X performed was when I switched from the Limited equipped with 20-inch wheels to the XLE with 18-inch rims: The Limited’s ride is busy to the point of almost choppy. It wasn’t nearly as bad as any Mustang Mach-E but still noticeably unsettled, even on the smooth roads around San Diego, Calif. But the smaller wheels with taller-sidewall tires on the XLE smooth that out considerably, and this improvement doesn’t come at the detriment of any handling prowess (as there really wasn’t much to begin with).

Latest news

hyundai-venue-2020-07-blue--exterior--rear.jpg
Exploding Plastic Inevitable? Hyundai Recalls 72,500 Venues for Seat Belt Pretensioners
volvo-v90-b6-awd-2022-02-black-exterior-front-row-wagon
Which Vehicles Offer Built-In Child Booster Seats?
chevrolet-bolt-euv-2022-01-angle--exterior--front--group-shot.jpg
Chevrolet to Retroactively Discount Some Bolt EVs, Bolt EUVs

Comfy, Quiet, and Spacious Interior

Inside the bZ4X, it’s a very Toyota-like experience — it’s comfortable, visibility is good, materials quality is well matched to the price and there’s plenty of headroom and legroom in front and back. The dashboard design is unusual in that the gauge cluster is mounted quite high. This eliminates the need for a head-up display, but it also means you’re looking over the top of the steering wheel while driving instead of through it. You get used to it pretty quickly, and it becomes a nonissue — but I do wish the gauges were a bit brighter and bolder. The speedometer and other displays use a rather slim font that’s not always easy to see, given how far away the screen sits from the driver.

The center console joins the dashboard and houses a standard 12.3-inch touchscreen running the latest and greatest Toyota Audio Multimedia system first introduced on the new 2022 Toyota Tundra. It’s a significant improvement on the old Entune system, to be sure, but it still could use some tweaking (a “home” screen would be welcome, for instance), and its voice commands tend to work only sporadically. The climate controls are also entirely capacitive-touch controls, which are never our favorite, but they admittedly seemed to work quickly and easily during our brief time in the bZ4X. Overall, the bZ4X feels more like a familiar family crossover than a high-zoot spaceship, which is exactly what Toyota was going for.

Brand New … and Already Behind?

So you have four possible bZ4X configurations to choose from — but the one I’d choose is the XLE FWD for two good reasons. First is range: Toyota says that the FWD XLE is rated to do 252 miles on a charge, while the AWD XLE does only 228 miles. Jump up to the Limited FWD and you’ll get 242 miles of range, dropping to 222 miles for the Limited AWD. This is on the low end of what the latest all-electric SUVs can do. A base ID.4 has an EPA-rated 280 miles on a charge, while the AWD version is rated at 251 miles. A single-motor EV6 long-range version has an EPA-estimated range of up to 310 miles, while its larger Ioniq 5 cousin can reportedly do 303 miles, which is the same as the Mustang Mach-E extended-range version. For the new Toyota to show up with a range on the low end of this spectrum, yet using a battery capacity not that different from its competitors, is decidedly curious. It suggests low efficiency, but Toyota says the EPA’s mpg-equivalent ratings range from an impressive 114 to 119 mpg-e combined with FWD and a competitive 102 to 104 mpg-e combined with AWD.

The other reason to go for the FWD lower trim is recharging rate — the peak recharging speed at public DC fast chargers with FWD is 150 kilowatts, while it’s only 100 kW with AWD (and its different battery). Toyota says that this means the AWD model can go from a low state of charge to about 80% capacity “in just under an hour” on a DC fast charger, which is decidedly slower than its Hyundai and Kia competitors. I’ve been able to charge a new Ioniq 5 from 20%-80% capacity using a 350-kW Electrify America charger in just 16 minutes, with the car hitting its peak of 238 kW in the process. Compared with that, waiting an hour in an AWD Toyota is a hard pill to swallow — it feels like the bZ4X is already outdated upon its arrival. Ouch.

The bZ4X is similarly behind in terms of its Level 2 charging rate, which affects home and lower-powered public charging. Its onboard charger, a potential bottleneck, is rated 6.6 kW, which is low by today’s standards and means a full charge from empty would take about 11 hours, according to Toyota. Many competitors now accept 10.5 to 11.5 kW.

However, the first shortcoming is really an issue only if you plan on frequently road tripping your bZ4X. If you only charge it at home and use it for daily use around town, as most people do, this fast-charge speed and lesser maximum range will likely not be an issue, and the slower Level 2 charging should still allow overnight charging unless you manage to put on hundreds of miles daily. The bZ4x’s other strengths provide sufficient justification for overlooking its battery shortcomings. It’s a solid, comfortable, easy-to-use entry into the world of EVs.

Its pricing also should help it make some friends — it starts at $43,215 (all prices include destination charges) for a FWD XLE, adding $2,080 for AWD, while the FWD Limited rings in at $47,915. For a loaded Limited AWD model, pricing tops out at just $5 shy of $50,000. Currently, all-electric and plug-in hybrid models may be eligible for up to $7,500 in tax credits for qualified buyers, but those might be running out soon, so if a bZ4X is something you’re considering, sooner rather than later might be the time to act on procuring one.

Related Video:  2023 Toyota bZ4X Video Review

Latest news

hyundai-venue-2020-07-blue--exterior--rear.jpg
Exploding Plastic Inevitable? Hyundai Recalls 72,500 Venues for Seat Belt Pretensioners
volvo-v90-b6-awd-2022-02-black-exterior-front-row-wagon
Which Vehicles Offer Built-In Child Booster Seats?
chevrolet-bolt-euv-2022-01-angle--exterior--front--group-shot.jpg
Chevrolet to Retroactively Discount Some Bolt EVs, Bolt EUVs