2023 Toyota bZ4X Review:Driving Impressions

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Aug 02, 2022

Introduction - Find the best Toyota deals!

For decades, Toyota has led vehicle electrification. For instance, the original Prius was one of the first gas-electric hybrid vehicles to go on sale in the United States. Examples of the limited-production RAV4 EV, based on the first- and third-generation versions of the popular crossover SUV, remain an occasional sight on the road. And the Mirai was the first hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle to sell in meaningful quantities.

So, while the 2023 Toyota bZ4X is not the automaker's first battery-electric vehicle (BEV), it is the first Toyota BEV designed and engineered in the modern mold. In other words, it is a long and low compact crossover SUV aimed at the likes of the Ford Mustang Mach-EHyundai Ioniq 5Kia EV6, and Volkswagen ID.4. Toyota developed the bZ4X in partnership with Subaru, which sells its version of the EV as the Solterra.

This review will focus on initial driving impressions gathered during a media drive in Southern California, where I spent 30 minutes traveling 19 miles in the bZ4X. A more comprehensive look at the new bZ4X will come later.

2023 Toyota bZ4X Price and Release Date - Find the best Toyota deals!

Toyota offers the new bZ4X in XLE and Limited trim levels and with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Prices range from $42,000 to $49,995, not including the $1,215 destination charge to ship the bZ4X from Japan to your dealership. It is on sale now but is available only in certain states, and inventory is extremely limited.

The test car was a bZ4X Limited with FWD, extra-cost Supersonic Red paint, a JBL premium sound system, all-weather floor and cargo liners, a radiant front leg- and foot-warming system, heated rear seats, and a split-roof rear spoiler. The manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) was $49,739, including the $1,215 destination charge.

Note that Toyota's federal income tax credits for EVs will soon start phasing out because the automaker has reached the 200,000-unit threshold that triggers the credit loss.

Reportedly, you can get the full $7,500 credit if you buy and register a bZ4X before October 1, 2022. After that, the credit will be $3,750, and then it will fall to $1,875 before elimination in October 2023. However, as I write this review, a Senate bill that includes an extension of the EV tax credit is under consideration, so this situation may change.

Independent Expert Opinion: Design, Comfort, and Utility - Find the best Toyota deals!

2022 Toyota bZ4X Red Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Toyota's electrified icons take the design road less traveled, and not always in a good way. The Prius has always been polarizing, the Mirai was decidedly odd-looking until the second-generation version arrived, and the upcoming 2023 Toyota Crown is to the 2020s what the AMC Eagle sedan was to the 1980s, and the Subaru Outback sedan was to the 2000s.

And so it is with the Toyota bZ4X. Not only does it have a name like one of those suggested passwords that you always reject, but it's got funky dark gray paint bleeding from the headlights and taillights and coating the bodywork over every wheel. The weird paint detailing is a shame because the bZ4X's underlying styling is genuinely appealing. Nevertheless, the electric crossover looks better in person than it does in pictures.

Open the driver's door using the conventional handle and you'll find a futuristic-looking interior. Again, the cabin looks better in person than in pictures, and I especially liked the fabric material on the dashboard, which helps keep the bZ4X from looking cheap. However, gloss black surfaces and the center touchscreen easily collect dust and fingerprints, and there are numerous nooks and crannies that are hard to see and reach for cleaning.

The bZ4X has a small digital instrumentation panel mounted high and close to the windshield. The presumed idea is a noble one: mount the instrumentation higher, almost like a head-up display. However, the 7-inch display is small, packed with details, and ultimately distracting as your eyes search for the data they seek.

Furthermore, I could not find a suitable driving position while maintaining a clear line of sight to the gauges. I prefer to sit high for the best view, but the tilt/telescopic steering wheel could not accommodate me. Lowering the driver's seat helped to create a proper relationship with the steering wheel, but then it blocked a portion of the instrumentation. With this approach, it sure seems like Toyota is being different just to be different.

To the right of the steering wheel you'll find a standard 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Below are touch-sensing climate controls rendered in a gloss-black finish that casts reflections. Fortunately, the dual-zone system's temperature controls are metallic piano key switches that are easy to use.

The Limited's driver's seat is comfortable, providing good thigh support thanks to a dished design. In the bZ4X, you're sitting in the seat instead of on it. The SofTex simulated leather is soft, and the test vehicle's front seats had heating and ventilation.

Getting into the bZ4X's back seat, I whacked my head on the roof while entering the vehicle. Once I'd gotten settled, Toyota's new EV provided plenty of legroom but not much foot room. As is true of the front seats, the back seat offers good thigh support and is comfortable. The bZ4X also has rear air conditioning vents, USB-C ports, and cupholders in the center fold-down armrest. The test vehicle included the optional heated rear seats.

Storage space is plentiful, especially in front. Cargo space is on par with other compact electric SUVs at 27.7 cubic feet behind the back seat and 56.9 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down.

Independent Expert Opinion: Infotainment, Technology, and Safety - Find the best Toyota deals!

2022 Toyota bZ4X Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The bZ4X has the same new Toyota Audio Multimedia infotainment system that debuted in the redesigned 2022 Tundra pickup truck. In addition to the 12.3-inch touchscreen display, it comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio with a complimentary 3-month trial subscription, and several connected services plans. Most of those plans include three years of complimentary service before you need to pay for the subscription on your own.

Unfortunately, none of these services were active in the test vehicle. That meant I couldn't try the "Hey, Toyota" Intelligent Assistant technology, the cloud-based navigation with Google points-of-interest data, or the Wi-Fi hotspot with access to Apple Music and Amazon Music. There are many other features, too, ranging from safety-related functions such as emergency assistance to remote charging, remote starting, and remote cabin pre-conditioning while the bZ4X is still connected to the electrical grid. You can even use a digital key to enter, start, and drive the vehicle.

Due to time constraints, I couldn't pair my phone to the bZ4X's Bluetooth to run Apple CarPlay and stream some music. Also, the satellite radio trial had expired or never been activated. Since the driving route passed through an area of Southern California with terrible radio reception, this trifecta of obstacles meant the JBL premium sound system went without my evaluation.

I can share that the system's menus and notifications are not entirely intuitive. As with the digital instrumentation, there is plenty of data baked into the technology, and it can be challenging to remember where you previously found and accessed something. While I have no doubt the system would be better with all the connected services active, the tech caused frustration and distraction during the short drive.

Furthermore, in the time allowed, I could not discern a useful metric for battery power consumption measured in miles per kWh or kWh per 100 miles. Understanding vehicle efficiency is paramount in an EV, but Toyota's onboard trip computer either doesn't share that information or isn't easy to find and review.

Switching now to a discussion of safety features, the new 2023 bZ4X has Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 (TSS 3.0). It includes TSS 2.5+, enhanced with a better camera and upgraded radar. New features include motorcyclist detection and guardrail detection, and Toyota claims it has improved the lane-centering assistance tech.

On a short stretch of freeway in moderate traffic, TSS 3.0's adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance worked well, and I detected less of the constant steering corrections that tainted previous versions of TSS. However, this was far from a complete evaluation of TSS 3.0's capabilities, so this assessment may change over more extended periods of use on different kinds of highways.

I can tell you, though, that while driving the bZ4X on a mountain road, TSS 3.0 detected a car parked on the shoulder but close to the pavement, issued a forward-collision warning, and then momentarily activated the automatic emergency braking system before determining a threat did not exist.

Independent Expert Opinion: Driving the 2023 Toyota bZ4X - Find the best Toyota deals!

2022 Toyota bZ4X Red Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Unlike its current rivals, Toyota bases the Toyota bZ4X on a FWD platform instead of a rear-wheel-drive architecture. With FWD, the EV makes 201 horsepower and 196 pound-feet of torque with a single electric motor. With AWD, one front motor and one rear motor generate a combined 214 hp and 248 pound-feet of torque. Toyota says the bZ4X front-driver scoots to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds while the bZ4X AWD reaches that speed in 6.5 seconds.

The bZ4X certainly feels quick from a stop, but not at mid-range speeds when you want to pass slower vehicles. It's also pretty easy to break the inside front wheel loose when accelerating out of a corner, which engages the traction control system. This is common in FWD vehicles and is quite different from what I've experienced in the bZ4X's RWD competitors.

The car's driving range measures between 222 and 252 miles, depending on the trim level and drivetrain configuration. The Limited trim has 20-inch wheels that add aerodynamic drag and more equipment that increases the curb weight. The AWD system also reduces range by up to 24 miles. So, if you want the most range, get the XLE FWD. If you're willing to trade range for power, traction, and stuff, get the Limited AWD.

Recharging the bZ4X takes about 9.5 hours when using a Level 2 home charging station, and Toyota allows you to roll the purchase of a ChargePoint Home Flex charging unit into your lease or loan payment. All you need to do is pay for the installation. Toyota also provides one complimentary year of charging at EVgo charging stations. Visit one, plug into a DC fast charger, and you can get to an 80-percent charge in about 30 minutes with FWD or about 60 minutes with AWD.

I drove the bZ4X 19.1 miles, and the indicated remaining range dropped by 30 miles. There is a good explanation for this. My route included more than 1,000 feet of elevation change, and the trip back up the mountain was a twisty road driven with enthusiasm. Also, it was a hot day, and the bZ4X's climate control system worked overtime to keep the cabin cool. So, consider my experience a worst-case scenario.

Like other EVs, the bZ4X can ride firmly due to the weight of the battery and electric motor. Their locations lower the crossover's center of gravity, resulting in a flat, stable cornering character. Still, the bZ4X feels nose-heavy, and the front tires can start to scrub sooner than expected, resulting in some understeer if you attempt to take a corner while carrying too much speed.

Additionally, while the bZ4X does have a regenerative braking system that you can set to an aggressive level, it does not include a true one-pedal driving function that will bring the vehicle to a complete stop. In my opinion, that can be one of the fun things about driving an EV. On the highway, the bZ4X suffers more wind noise than expected, and on uneven road surfaces the suspension can make some racket that enters the cabin.

Considering the test vehicle's FWD configuration, I did not venture off-road. However, with its 8.1 inches of ground clearance, available AWD, X-Mode settings including Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud, and a Grip Control system that provides constant speed on steep and/or slippery surfaces, the bZ4X could prove reasonably capable when the pavement ends.

Independent Expert Opinion of the 2023 Toyota bZ4X - Find the best Toyota deals!

Sometimes, it can seem like all EVs drive the same way. Toyota's bZ4X, however, is different due to its FWD layout. And unfortunately for the bZ4X, the acceleration and handling traits common to FWD vehicles are evident here in the form of nose-heavy handling and corner-exit wheelspin followed by traction control intrusion.

With that point made, the reality is that most Toyota bZ4X owners are rarely going to drive this EV in a way that reveals those traits. Furthermore, a FWD layout can have benefits in certain kinds of weather, though buyers in those regions of the country will likely choose AWD or will, at the very least, run the bZ4X on winter tires when appropriate.

Aside from the unique driving dynamics, the Toyota bZ4X offers its own take on instrumentation. In my opinion, the approach doesn't work as well in reality as it probably sounded in theory. I'd still prefer Toyota put the instrumentation in the traditional location, coupled with a head-up display configurable for the most commonly referenced information.

So no, all EVs do not drive the same way. And while I do think the Toyota bZ4X is a sophisticated vehicle, it's my least favorite to drive in a small segment that will only grow in the years to come.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with nearly 30 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. He has held editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, and others. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals including Autotrader, Capital One Auto Navigator, CarGurus, Kelley Blue Book, WardsAuto, and more.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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