we tested the first 100% electric car from the Japanese manufacturer

A name to sleep off, a late arrival on the market and a technical problem from the first days of marketing. Could the story of Toyota’s first 100% electric car start in a worse way? If certain questionable strategic choices and other strokes of fate seem to plague the bZ4X, the fact is that the arrival of Toyota’s first zero-emission car is an event.
As such, we simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to test it. During a short test day around Copenhagen, we were able to get behind the wheel of one of the year’s most anticipated vehicles. How does Toyota fare for the first time? What else does this electric SUV bring to a market overwhelmed by SUVs? So many questions that we will try to answer in the following lines.

But before we look at these secondary questions, let’s address the essentials: why this name, why bZ4X? No, this is not a failed homage to R2D2 or C-3PO. For Toyota, this code has meaning. “bZ”, for “Beyond Zero, the name of the brand’s electric program. “4” for the segment or positioning of the vehicle, and X because it is an SUV. This therefore implies that there would be other bZs in development , probably 2, 3 and 5. We can’t wait!

Not the most consensual Toyota

Toyota’s latest productions had been praised for their audacity in design. From the CH-R to the Aygo X via the new Yaris, the Japanese seemed to have found a balance between originality of features and consensual aesthetics. It is not certain that the Bz4 will receive the same reception as the brand’s previous models on this point.

To design the bZ4X, Toyota started from the Rav4, one of its current successes. It is therefore not surprising that this electric SUV displays almost the same dimensions as its hybrid predecessor. But that’s about it for the similarities, because otherwise bZ4X has its own visual identity. It is based on a front surface cut with a billhook, in which the grid seems to disappear.
At the back, it’s almost the opposite effect with very massive lights joined by a strip of lights. Finally, there’s plastic, lots of plastic, especially on exaggerated wheel arches that venture all the way to the shield. Although it borrows the classic SUV shape, the bZ4X is unlike any other of these behemoths. Will it still seduce? This remains to be confirmed.

Inside: some flashing and many holes

In terms of originality, the interior of Toyota’s electric SUV is no exception. Small instrumentation screen moved back to surplus, large 12.3-inch screen floating in the middle of a dashboard suspended from one edge to the other… the ideas are not lacking. But among them some seem somewhat absurd. Toyota, for example, has decided to ignore the glove compartment. Passengers therefore have to make do with a storage space, albeit generous, instead of the transmission tunnel.

Now let’s get to the screens and more generally to the embedded system. Prioritize the screeninfotainment can be heard, but it is not a matter of neglecting the display of the instrumentation. At this point, however, Toyota is making a rather daring bet by moving the small screen that provides the most important driving information as far back as possible. Even more than its size, it is its position that questions, far, very far from the steering wheel, almost glued to the windshield. The visual effect is noticeable, the cockpit gives the impression of being more spacious, but in use it is less convincing. Even by adjusting the steering wheel height, it actually systematically blocks part of the screen. The result may be different depending on the size of the driver. Let’s just say that with our relatively average height (1.76m) we were constantly hampered.

In terms of OS, Toyota has made significant strides in terms of both responsiveness and ergonomics. Only problem: currently the manufacturer’s OS is blank. In fact, apart from the vehicle-related settings, the main menu has only one application. It’s all the more unfortunate that the operating system is full of very good ideas, such as applying a transparent filter to the preview of the vehicle when it is modeled on the screen. Parking maneuvers are made easier and the overall environment is clearer.

On the other hand, where Toyota pays its youth on 100% electric, it is on certain features that seem essential to us on zero-emission vehicles. It is therefore unfortunate that the navigation function in the bZ4X does not take charging stations into account. There is simply no travel planner. Ditto on the automatic preconditioning of the battery, which has been forgotten. Toyota certainly incorporates a heat pump, but we expected more from such a discerning manufacturer, which also benefited from extra time for the development of its electrical components.

During our various exchanges with Toyota officials, particularly about the operating system’s poor functionality or other surprising absences, the answer was often the same. The operating system is designed to be updated externally (OTA). These gaps can therefore be filled in the future. In the meantime, the first buyers of the bZ4X will have to be patient.

Autonomy: between good surprises and disappointments

Toyota prides itself, not without reason, on being a pioneer in terms of electrification. This mainly involves the hybrid and began in 1997 with the marketing of the first Prius. According to Toyota, this experience with cars with an electric motor and battery would be a significant advantage in the development of zero-emission vehicles. The subtext of this claim is as follows: Toyota is certainly coming after its competitors on the electric car, but its know-how on the hybrid is such that it would be enough to catch up. What exactly is it?

The first lesson of our bZ4X trip is confirmation: even Toyota can’t do anything against the laws of physics. A two-ton SUV, even one particularly well optimized in terms of battery/motor unit, will never be a consumer model. During our test loop, which included only a short passage on the highway, our meter read 18.7 kWh/100 km. In absolute terms, it is a quite decent score considering the size of the vehicle, but you have to take into account a rather demanding road in terms of relief, very mild weather and relatively gentle.
This part of our test necessarily requires extending the experience in bZ4X to get a more realistic overview of the beast’s consumption. In the meantime, it is possible to rely on the official figures provided by Toyota. According to the Japanese, the autonomy of his 100% electric SUV will vary between 411 and 516 km of autonomy depending on the version chosen. Note that the size of the wheels significantly varies the autonomy. Regardless of the engine, we also encourage you to choose 18-inch rims. It’s certainly less pleasing to the eye than the 20-inch version, but much more economical. If the consumer part offers honest performance, we can only regret the lack of options in terms of brake regeneration. On the bZ4X there is no “One Pedal” or monopedal mode. There is also no adjustment of regenerative braking intensity. Toyota only offers one, as standard, and that will be enough. In addition to the fact that the manufacturer does not encourage the user to use optimized driving, we simply regret that he leaves him no choice.

Our test vehicle had a rather rare but not uninteresting option: the solar roof. This will only be available for sale on the most expensive version of the bZ4X. Like the solar roof that we were able to test during our test of the Ioniq 5, from Hyundai, the Toyota’s roof is a source of auxiliary electricity, which of course does not allow the vehicle to be recharged, but which slightly extends its autonomy. According to data from the vehicle, the solar roof on our 150 km test loop would have recovered about 137 W of energy, enough to add 1.4 km to our journey. It goes without saying that the relevance of such an option depends on the level of sunshine in your region.

Charging the bZ4X is also a sensitive issue. The problem comes not so much from the displayed values, its 150 kW in fast DC charging is almost average, but rather from the offer. The first 3,000 models manufactured by the Japanese will be equipped with a charger of only 6.6 kW. It will be necessary to wait until this car inventory is exhausted to take advantage of an AC charger worthy of the name in 11 kW. The fault is no doubt a last-minute equipment change, which is sure to punish first-time buyers. Toyota says it has communicated transparently with its customers on this point. For our part, if you intend to spring for the bZ4X, we strongly advise you to wait for its availability in 11 kW.

bZ4X on the road, what does it look like?

We were eager to experience the possibilities of Toyota’s first electric car on the road. And with good reason, this first use of the e-TNGA platform is destined to make children. During our test, we got to enjoy the most muscular version of the SUV, a four-wheel drive version, which is based on two engines of 109 hp each. The torque, meanwhile, is 337 Nm, which promises nice acceleration, but also 0 to 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds. Beyond that, the speed is limited to 160 km/h, a value we didn’t come close to approaching given the urban environment of our test.

In terms of comfort, the 20-inch rims on our vehicle yield somewhat firm suspensions that barely filter the roughness of the road at low speed. Increasing the pace also improves comfort with one exception: air noise, which also indicates that Toyota’s engineers have not outdone themselves in terms of sound insulation. This is all the more harmful, as the rolling noise in electric mode is amplified. Nothing prohibitive for all that, but at this price level the user has the right to make some demands. In driving, the bZ4X is really comfortable, no real surprises, but interesting.

Toyota has also, quite surprisingly, decided to equip its 100% electric SUV with crossover capabilities. This is a configurable vehicle traction control, known as “X-Mode”. Concretely, it is a specific help on the uphill and downhill runs. The bZ4X can also cross waterways 50 cm deep and completely submerge its battery (placed in the floor) in the water. Fine, but what to do? In a good, big family SUV, the bZ4X wouldn’t really know what to do with its cruising capabilities. Who can do more can of course do less, but what’s the point of equipping their model with such powers when the ultimate obstacle for the vast majority of users will look like a speed bump on the way to l?’school.

Trial judgment

We expected Toyota to offer something different in the electric market. The size of the Japanese manufacturer, its aura, its performance culture and its know-how inherited from the hybrid gave hope for the best. Unlike some of its competitors, who had to rush to announce their first zero-emission models, Toyota had the luxury of time to develop its offering. The result is only more frustrating. The bZ4X isn’t a bad electric SUV, let alone a dishonest proposition, but it doesn’t excel anywhere and suffers everywhere. Finally, despite its late arrival in the market, Toyota made the same mistakes as the others a few years earlier without bringing much new. Therefore, the main interest of the bZ4X… is to be electric, which may not be enough compared to the competition.

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