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Toyota's electric crossover finally makes it to UK roads. It's on good form – just don't expect fireworks

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Toyota has mostly stayed out of the early electric car melee. After all, with its range of efficient hybrids, it didn’t need EVs to meet fleet CO2 targets. To the contrary: it has enough wiggle room to happily continue churning out GR Yarises and naturally aspirated V8 Lexus LC 500s. For that, we salute them.

But combustion-engine bans are coming and Euro 7 emissions regulations are looking tough, so Toyota has finally come up with an EV, the Toyota bZ4X. It arrives in the impossibly crowded medium SUV segment. How’s this for a list of some of its direct rivals: Kia EV6Tesla Model Y, Nissan Ariya, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Mercedes-Benz EQB.

The bZ4X's ‘Hammerhead’ design for the front end will become a signature for electric cars from Toyota.

You would think a catchy name would be a priority to stand out, but instead it’s called the bZ4X. There is a logic to it: ‘bZ’ stands for beyond zero, so it’s a battery-electric car; ‘4’ refers roughly to the size (it’s similar to the Toyota RAV4); and X signifies it’s an SUV. We’ve already seen the China-only bZ3 compact saloon, and other derivatives are on the way.

The long wait for a full-scale Toyota EV was made even longer by a very un-Toyota-like calamity. Shortly after the bZ4X went on sale, an issue with the wheel hubs was discovered, meaning there was a chance the wheels could detach. It wasn’t a simple fix, either. It took three months – during which the handful of customers who received their cars couldn’t drive them and Toyota couldn’t make any more.

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Now the car’s fixed, the question is whether Toyota has been able to use that time to watch and learn, or whether it’s simply behind the curve.

Range at a glance

Toyota offers just one battery size (71.4kWh), but there is a choice of single-motor/front-wheel drive or dual-motor/four-wheel drive. There are three trim levels: Pure, Motion and Vision. For a dual-motor bZ4X, you must upgrade to at least Motion.


*Version tested


02 Toyota bZ4X AWD RT 2023 rear driving

The bZ4X isn’t actually Toyota’s very first electric car. Back in 1997, it converted an original RAV4 to electric and it did the same a few years later for the second generation. Those weren’t full-scale production cars, of course. Lexus has had the Lexus UX 300e for two years, but even that was more of a toe in the water compared with the bZ4X’s full-scale attack on the EV heartland.

Toyota’s big EV plans are based on the new e-TNGA platform. As the name suggests, it is distantly related to the combustion-engine TNGA architecture, but unique enough not to be compromised.

The split roof spoiler comes on Motion trim and up, and has some aerodynamic effect, according to Toyota, but does little to keep the rear screen free of rainwater. A rear wiper would have been more useful.

The platform defines the position of the front and optional rear motor, the driver’s position relative to the front wheels and the width of the battery unit, but leaves most other elements variable. The bZ4X was developed with the help of Subaru, which is marketing a four-wheel-drive-only version as the Solterra. Both cars come with just one size of battery, but it stands to reason that there will be future Toyota EVs with bigger and smaller capacities.

The battery pack lives neatly in the structure of the floor, inside the long wheelbase, and in the case of the bZ4X has 71.4kWh of capacity. That’s a bit smaller than most rivals, which are in the high 70s.

As a result, the bZ4X lags behind a little on range. A front-wheel-drive entry-level Pure is rated for 317 miles, but go for Vision trim with its extra equipment and 20in wheels and the range drops to 277 miles. A dual-motor Vision model, like our test car, is rated for just 259 miles, whereas the equivalent Kia EV6 – an AWD GT-Line S – musters 300 miles.

Toyota’s battery technology may not be revolutionary, but it’s trying to grab headlines with a different innovation. Later this year, the bZ4X – together with its upmarket sibling model, the Lexus RZ 450e – will be the first production car with full steer-by-wire. Infiniti offered a similar system eight years ago but kept a steering column as a back-up. Toyota’s One Motion Grip supposedly has enough redundancies that it won’t need any mechanical connection to the wheels. Whereas Infiniti just simulated normal steering, Toyota goes one step further and replaces the wheel with a yoke. And unlike Tesla’s yoke steering, it’s only 150deg lock to lock, so it won’t require you to navigate the not-a-wheel while manoeuvring.


08 Toyota bZ4X AWD RT 2023 dashboard

Whether it’s the Toyota Corolla, RAV4 or C-HR, there is a certain consistency with Toyota interiors, so you know what to expect: not the last word in material richness and a slightly more disjointed design than German manufacturers tend to deliver, but you can count on form-follows-function ergonomics and impeccable build quality. It’s surprising, then, that the bZ4X is the opposite in many ways.

Toyota’s designers have employed fairly sober shapes to nonetheless create a distinctive, likeably futuristic design. Thanks to the fabric on the dashboard and the convincing synthetic leather, it even feels quite plush on first impression. Spend a bit more time in here, though, and you discover a mixed bag of materials, with plenty of hard plastics and disparate textures. None of it is offensive, but little of it stands comparison to the Skoda Enyaq iV or Nissan Ariya.

The smallish boot claws back some usability with a handy space under the floor that will easily swallow the charge cables and more besides.

What you won’t find is that flawless build quality and ergonomics that Toyotas are known for. Some components, like the instrument binnacle and door handles, feel downright flimsy, most of the buttons have been replaced by a gloss black touch-sensitive panel, and the adoption of a Peugeot-style tiny steering wheel creates more problems than it solves.

The driving position is clearly set up for the drive-by-wire steering yoke. Regardless of how high you sit, for the top of the steering wheel not to block your view of the instruments, you have to set the steering column very low, which isn’t especially comfortable and makes the car less intuitive to drive.

With the high-set gauge cluster being such a feature, you might imagine Toyota would have injected a bit more theatre. Instead, it’s very basic, with few customisation options and some slightly dated graphics. It’s clear enough, with the exception that there’s no way of displaying the battery percentage – only the remaining range in miles.

Things aren’t much better in the back. As is typical for skateboard-platform EVs, even adults won’t struggle for knee room, and head room is adequate, too. If the bZ4X feels plusher in the front than Toyotas traditionally do, you certainly don’t feel like you’re in a £50,000 car in the back. You get the essentials – a pair of USB-C ports and air vents – but everything else feels gloomy, barren and cheap.

While the rear seat space is competitive, the bZ4X’s boot space is disappointing. Some useful hooks and a square shape can’t compensate for the tight total space. At 452 litres, it offers less room than even the Kia EV6, let alone the cavernous Skoda Enyaq iV. There is a useful multi-purpose cubby under the floor, as well as some extra cable storage, but the front bonnet just hides the electronics.


12 Toyota bz4x awd rt 2023 infotainment 1 0

Depending on the trim level, the bZ4X features either an 8in or 12.3in touchscreen, but both versions run the same software that Toyota is rolling out across all its cars. While the 8in option isn’t starved of features, its small screen sits in the same bezel as the bigger screen, which makes for a very ‘poverty spec’ look.

We first tried the new infotainment on the Toyota Aygo X and praised it, because as a basic system it suits a basic car. In a £50,000 car, it doesn’t impress, however. The bZ4X lacks the Aygo’s physical buttons to switch between the native interface and smartphone mirroring, making this very cumbersome. We also experienced issues with the wireless Apple CarPlay. The native menus are logical enough, the screen responds well and the voice activation is surprisingly perceptive, but the navigation can take some unorthodox routes and doesn’t react to traffic too well.

Finally, it has a sound system where the bass guitar and kick drums feel and sound overwhelmingly prominent. Turning down the bass just makes the rest of the music sound very thin.


17 Toyota bZ4X AWD RT 2023 under bonnet

According to the spec sheet, the 4WD Toyota bZ4X makes do with dual 107bhp motors to propel two tonnes. For an electric SUV of this size, 2023kg is relatively light, but even so, that makes for a power-to-weight ratio of just 107bhp per tonne. For comparison, the single-motor Kia EV6 has 114bhp per tonne and the dual-motor EV6 154bhp per tonne, so the Toyota’s figures shouldn’t make for particularly sprightly performance.

On the road, it feels faster than we expected, and on the test track it proved half a second quicker to 60mph than the single-motor EV6 we tested last year. It’s possible Toyota underrates its motors, but it also uses a shorter reduction ratio (13.8 versus 10.7), which may explain why it isn’t faster to 100mph, or from 30-70mph, than the Kia.

On the road, it feels faster than the spec sheet led us to believe, and on the test track it proved half a second quicker to 60mph than the single-motor EV6 we tested last year.

The front-wheel-drive bZ4X has a 7.5sec claimed 0-62mph time – only 0.6sec slower – so it’s clear the dual-motor version is intended for those who need four-wheel drive, rather than a performance model.

That may look somewhat disappointing on paper, but for a family SUV, the bZ4X is more than quick enough - even in front-wheel drive guise - which does feel less planted than its dual-motor sibling. In this version, power is delivered smoothly, but overzealous acceleration will spin the wheels. 

When it comes to braking and regen, Toyota has kept things simple. As standard, the car slows gently when you lift off the throttle, or if you press the ‘regen boost’ button in the centre console, it slows down quite strongly. That’s where your choices end, though: there’s no coasting mode, no true one-pedal mode (you still have to press the brake pedal to come to a complete stop) and no adaptive mode. Different drivers prefer different styles of regen and other manufacturers cater to that, so it’s odd Toyota doesn’t, particularly since the bZ4X’s sibling car, the Subaru Solterra, does offer paddles.

The brakes are a by-wire system with a mechanical back-up, which gives a very firm, slightly artificial feel. However, it’s very well judged, making it easy to modulate and to achieve smooth stops in normal driving. In our emergency stop test, however, most cars are more composed than the bZ4X. The Toyota briefly locked up one of the front wheels, had a very loud ABS pump and pitched quite a lot on its suspension. It achieved a respectable 48.1m stopping distance from 70mph and there was never any danger of a loss of control, but it could be more reassuring.


18 Toyota bZ4X AWD RT 2023 front corner

The chassis tuning of the bZ4X has echoes of the Corolla in the way it is quietly talented. Neither car is what you would call sporty, dynamic or engaging to drive, but they do feel carefully tuned for the job.

You can clearly feel how the bZ4X’s low centre of gravity helps give it tight roll control without making the ride needlessly hard. With the rear unloaded, it will gently rotate into a corner without doing anything as dramatic as fall into oversteer. The traction and stability control works quickly and smoothly and therefore unintrusively, though given the limited grip of the Bridgestone Alenza tyres, the systems do have to work a bit harder than in other cars.

Getting the AWD version unlocks a suite of off-road modes. We tested these on the launch and were impressed by the 500mm wading depth and the way it finds traction on a muddy slope. It’s ultimately limited by ground clearance, but it will get further off road than other EVs.

19 Toyota bz4x awd rt 2023 rear corner 0

The steering itself is moderately weighted, and while there’s no real feedback to speak of, that’s not especially critical in this type of car. The rack is geared relatively slow by modern standards. In other Toyotas that just makes the steering nicely calm and intuitive. However, the bZ4X’s tiny steering wheel simply feels dissonant with the car’s otherwise relaxed demeanour. Such a thing works on a Caterham because it delivers hair-trigger responses, but on a big SUV with some body roll and slow steering, it seems rather out of place.

It feels like a slightly half-hearted alternative to the One Motion Grip steer-by-wire system, which wasn’t on the test car but which we have had a taste of on an event. The constantly variable system has two very distinct feels: an almost aggressive turn-in at low speeds to tackle tight manoeuvres and then a more relaxed movement at higher speeds and softer corners. Both feel weird at first, but you soon get used to them. The system felt like it could still use some fine-tuning but the technology shows a lot of promise.

Comfort and isolation

Toyota bz4x dashboard 0

The quiet talent evident in the bZ4X’s handling continues in its comfort. Toyota has resisted making the suspension on its do-it-all SUV too stiff, and even the 20in wheels have fairly chunky 50-aspect tyres. As a result, it isolates you from the worst road imperfections. It’s not perfect, and over some bumps it can feel slightly bouncy, but overall this is one of the more comfortable-riding cars in the class.

As long as you can deal with setting the steering column very low so you can see the gauges, the driving position is comfortable as well. You sit relatively high, in broad, fairly softly padded seats with plenty of adjustment.

Noise isn’t a particular strong point of the bZ4X, a mix of road and wind noise making it 1dBA louder at 50mph than the Skoda Enyaq iV and 2dBA at 70mph. Thankfully, it doesn’t have the irksome resonances that you get from the Tesla Model Y’s echo-chamber boot.

Assisted driving notes

00132 Toyota bz4x awd rt 2023 assisted driving

With its latest generation of active safety systems, Toyota has taken a considerable step forward. Aside from the blindspot monitoring, driver monitoring, safe exit assist and automatic braking during parking, every system is standard even on the lowest trim level. None of the systems is especially intrusive or liable to false positives, and lane keeping assistance can easily be disabled using a button on the steering wheel. However, if you want to adjust any of the settings or sensitivities, you have to do so through the gauge cluster, whose menus are not especially user-friendly to navigate.

The adaptive cruise control, in particular, is much better than in most existing Toyotas, as it’s more responsive and anticipates better, while the lane following no longer ping-pongs within the lane. We have yet to experience a flawless speed limit recognition system, but Toyota’s is better than most.


01 Toyota bZ4X AWD RT 2023 lead

Prices for the bZ4X start at £45,710 for a front-drive Pure, rising to £49,510 for a well-equipped mid-range Motion. That roughly splits the difference between the equivalent Kia EV6 and Skoda Enyaq iV with the optional heat pump, which Toyota fits as standard.

Toyota quotes a battery capacity of 71.4kWh, but won’t say whether that’s usable or total. 

Unless you really need four-wheel drive, the single-motor bZ4X is the better choice. Pure trim misses out on a lot of equipment, so Motion is worth paying more for.

When the car first launched, it drew criticism for its poor efficiency - and when we turned on the heater during our test, confusingly, the estimated range could easily drop by 40 miles. 

Similarly, the range indicator would currently indicate zero miles when there is actually still 8% of the usable battery capacity remaining. An update recently amended these issues, delivering a more realistic range estimate and displaying the battery percentage in the gauge cluster.

Our initial winter drive with the bZ4X AWD averaged 3.1mpkWh – a decent result for a dual-motor SUV in winter. Assuming a usable battery capacity of 67kWh, that means it could stretch its relatively small battery to a range of 208 miles.

A trip in the front-wheel drive bZ4X, meanwhile, which included stints along some gradient-filled Scottish B-roads, faster A-roads and some urban streets, claimed an impressive 3.8mpkWh. A second trip in the bZ4X AWD presented 3.4mpkWh - a significant improvement on the pre-update car.

With an estimated 64kWh of usable battery capacity, those translate to ranges of 243 and 217 miles.

The bZ4X may have suffered some teething problems, but Toyota still has a reputation for reliability. Since last year, it has advertised a manufacturer warranty “up to 10 years” and 100,000 miles. In reality, though, it gives just three years and 60,000 miles as standard, and adds a year and 10,000 miles every time it is serviced at a Toyota dealer.

The battery is warranted for 70% of its capacity for a minimum of eight years and 100,000 miles, and up to 10 years and an interstellar 600,000 miles. That is a lot, but it’s bad news if you prefer to use an independent garage.

The bZ4X also wants servicing every year or 10,000 miles, which is rather a lot for an EV with no engine oil or filters to change.


20 Toyota bZ4X AWD RT 2023 static

When a company like Toyota, which makes some of the best everyday cars like the Corolla and Yaris, as well as some of our favourite enthusiast’s cars like the GR Yaris and the GR86, takes its time to enter a hot new segment, you expect it to do so with something special.

The bZ4X isn’t. In most respects, it’s fine. It’s quite nice to drive, its assisted driving features are tuned well and it’s priced in line with its rivals. Its range and charging performance are about average, too.

Those plus points are dragged down by a few areas where it lags behind competitors, however. Inside, it has neither the welcoming ambience of a Skoda Enyaq iV or Nissan Ariya nor the ‘hewn-from-rock’ feel or faultless ergonomics of most Toyotas. It’s also not exceptionally roomy for the class and the in-car tech is behind the curve.

None of these failings is especially aggravating, making them low-level annoyances rather than deal-breakers, but the bZ4X also lacks any real standout features to etch it into the minds of buyers.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester
As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.