The bZ4x is as good to drive with a single motor as it is with a dual setup, but it still suffers from some fundamental flaws
Although this top-spec Vision model is well equipped, and its single-motor powertrain feels just as good to drive as the dual-motor version, the bZ4X is difficult to recommend in the increasingly tough all-electric SUV sector. The range figures deplete horrendously in winter, and the driving position is infuriating. It’s good to see that Toyota’s traditional build quality will continue into the all-electric era, however.
Toyota is no stranger to electrification, with no fewer than eight hybrid-powered cars in its current line-up. The Japanese giant has never launched a fully electric car before however (unless you include the hydrogen-powered Mirai), so this bZ4X is a significant moment for the brand.
We’ve driven it before in dual-motor, all-wheel-drive form, but now it’s the turn of the single-motor, front-wheel-drive version. Perhaps most crucially, our initial assessment of the bZ4X arrived in the midst of summer, but we’re testing the bZ4X FWD in the depths of winter – the season that often proves particularly tough for pure-electric cars.
The bZ4X has received a price hike across the range since it launched earlier this year. This top-spec Vision model comes in at £51,410 – £2,600 less than the all-wheel-drive version. On paper it looks like a no-brainer to choose the cheaper single-motor option, because it offers 277 miles of range compared with the AWD’s 257 miles. The FWD utilises a 201bhp electric motor on the front axle, instead of the 215bhp AWD, and as a result it’s only 0.6 seconds slower to 62mph, at 7.5 seconds. The FWD is also 85kg lighter than the dual-motor option.
Based on Toyota’s e-TNGA platform that underpins the mechanical identical Subaru Solterra and the upcoming Lexus RZ 450e, the bZ4X uses a 71.4kWh battery – which is a little off the 77kWh unit fitted to the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and the Volkswagen ID.4’s 82kWh battery. We tested both of these against the Toyota earlier this year.
Toyota is a little late to the all-electric SUV genre and there are many further rivals for the bZ4X to contend with, such as the Skoda Enyaq, Kia EV6, Renault Mégane E-Tech and our 2022 Car of the Year, the Nissan Ariya.
Something Toyota has made sure is in the favour of its newest EV is equipment levels. Even the base-spec £45,710 Pure model gets 18-inch alloy wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a reversing camera and various safety features including pre-collision avoidance assist, lane-keep assist and parking assist.
Step up to this Vision model and you’ll find the central touchscreen has expanded to 12.3 inches. Toyota’s infotainment system is intuitive and responsive enough if a little bland; the home screen looks a little barren, with just a couple of sub-menus to choose from.
Beneath the large landscape-orientated screen are a selection of individual touchpoints for the climate controls and the heated seats and steering wheel. They’re all very easy to use and feel sturdy – a sentiment that can be applied to all the controls within the bZ4X. Further down the centre console you’ll find a flap for the wireless mobile phone charger, but while the generous use of piano black on the fascia might look premium to some eyes, it’ll scratch quickly enough.
Hop into the driver’s seat and you’ll soon notice Toyota has given the bZ4X its own bespoke feel compared with the firm’s internal-combustion engined cars. There’s an eight-inch driver’s display mounted well ahead of the steering wheel and a huge storage area underneath the centre console. Many other EVs have removed this, but it’s nice to rest your thigh on during long journeys.
An immediate issue is the obstruction of the driver’s display by the steering wheel rim. It’s something we’ve encountered in Peugeot’s i-Cockpit set up and the only remedy is to drive with the wheel in your lap – otherwise you can’t see the speedometer. Another gripe is the lack of a rear window wiper. The rakish rear window gives the bZ4X a coupe-SUV style but it means water droplets can stay on there for a while.
On the move the bZ4X FWD feels very similar to the AWD model. It’s exceptionally refined and with no powertrain noise to speak of, there’s still little intrusion from wind and road noise. The eTNGA platform is derived from Toyota’s TNGA architecture so in many ways the bZ4X feels like a quieter and more sprightly RAV4. The initial low-speed torque you get from the electric motor does tail off at higher speeds but the instantaneous response means motorway overtakes are a doddle.
The bZ4X’s not-insignificant 2,465kg kerbweight results in some jiggles around town over ruts and bumps but it does settle down once you’re up to speed; it certainly is one of the more comfortable all-electric family SUVs of its kind. This comfort doesn’t come at the expense of cornering ability, either. The steering is quick and the front end is responsive enough, plus there’s lots of grip to be had and when it runs out it slowly transitions to safe, predictable understeer.
The scuttle panel is very low in the bZ4X, making visibility excellent. Around urban areas it really is very easy to thread through narrow streets, although it’s deceptively long (106mm longer than the VW ID.4).
As we said before, we tested the bZ4X FWD in chilly conditions, requiring the heating to be on. Despite selecting the pre-heating function, which is available on all bZ4Xs courtesy of a standard-fit heat pump, efficiency fell from Toyota’s 4.4 miles/kwh to just 2.6 miles/kWh. This obviously had an effect on range, with the car struggling to reach 200 miles.
The bZ4X scores fairly average for practicality too because its 452-litre boot (there’s no front space) is a long way off the 543 litres you get in the Volkswagen ID.4’s and the Ioniq 5’s 527 litres. The rear seats don’t fold flat either, but if you’re a passenger back there, at least you’ll have plenty of head and legroom.
Now read our list of the best electric cars…