Toyota, the biggest player on the global passenger vehicle scene, has been notably absent from the electric vehicle market.
As the competition produces a fleet of second-generation battery-powered vehicles, Toyota introduces the weirdly-named bZ4X as its first foray into the sector.
Weirdly-named bZ4X is Toyota’s first electric vehicle
Toyota’s absence from the electric vehicle market has been attributed to its belief that hydrogen fuel cells were the alternative to internal combustion engines. Research continues on that front but the company that pioneered hybrid vehicles, now finds itself playing catch-up in the electric vehicle segment.
Toyota says bZ stands for beyond Zero which will apply to all Toyota electric vehicles and 4X designates this model as a compact crossover.
The bZ4X comes in three trim levels – L, LE and XLE AWD – and two drive configurations. The first two trims use a 201-horsepower electric motor to power the front wheels, the XLE uses a pair of motors with a combined output of 214-horsepower, one at each end, to power all four wheels.
Under ideal conditions, the AWD model is rated for a range of 367-km and will take 19 hours to charge on a 120-volt outlet, or nine hours on a Level 2 (240-volt) charger. A DC fast-charger will allow a recharge to about 80% in about one hour.
Charge times and range of the Toyota bZ4X do not stand up very well against the competition.
Neither does performance.
Electric vehicles are noted for their instant and abundant power. The bZ4X is certainly sprightly off the line, capable of getting to 100 km/hr in about seven seconds. But that is at least one second slower than the others.
The bZ4X displays typical top-notch Toyota build quality, and attention to detail throughout. There is a reasonable amount of rear seat and cargo space considering the overall size of the vehicle.
There is more hard plastic inside than expected from a $65,000 vehicle and the instrument cluster is small and rather crowded.
By most standards the Toyota bZ4X is a worthy contender in the compact electric vehicle class. Most importantly, it is a Toyota with all the feel-good qualities attached to that name. But it is a rather lacklustre competitor in range, performance and charge times.
The world’s pre-eminent hybrid vehicle manufacturer has been dragged kicking and screaming into the battery-powered sector.
It’s first effort may be feeble in comparison to the established competition from the likes of Audi, Ford, Hyundai/Kia, Mercedes and VW. But, as the industry has learned – never underestimate Toyota!
At a technical briefing during the opening of a new battery plant in Europe this summer, Toyota outlined its plan for a series of four EV vehicles based on four separate families of solid-state batteries. The holy-grail of battery developers, solid state batteries promise fast-charging times of 10 minutes or less. Toyota says it will have them by 2027-28.
It is also working on less-expensive LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries. Lithium-iron batteries are regarded as safer than lithium-ion units because they are less prone to overheating or exploding.
Toyota says it has three separate new battery types on the way.
Performance – Lithium-Ion phosphate with a range of 800 kilometers, a 20% lower cost and a recharging time of 20 minutes or less compared to those used in the bZ4X.
Popularization – Lithium-iron phosphate – 20% increase in range and 40% reduction in cost with a recharge time of less than half an hour.
High Performance – Expected in the 2027-28 time frame, this one will mate a high nickel cathode with a bipolar structure with lithium-ion chemistry. The promise is a 10% cut in cost than the Performance type, and a recharge time of 20 minutes.
After a shaky start, Toyota appears set to establish the same leadership in pure electric vehicles it did with hybrids.
FACTS & FIGURES – 2023 Toyota bZ4X XLE
As tested: $65,918 including freight
Blind spot monitoring with safe exit alert, lane tracing assist, emergency braking, auto dimming. mirrors
31-cm infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, one Type A media charging port, four Type C USB ports, navigation system, satellite radio
Adaptive cruise control, smart key with push button start, wireless smart phone charging, 20-in alloy wheels, power heated mirrors, panoramic sunroof, automatic levelling headlights, windshield wiper de-icer, power heated and ventilated front seats, dual zone automatic climate control, heated tilt & telescope steering wheel
Technology black interior, two-tone, $8,870: panoramic view monitor, power rear door with kick sensor, digital key, intelligent clearance sonar with rear cross traffic brake, SofTex- trimmed seats, LED Headlamps, technology package, heated front and rear seats, front radiant foot-and-leg warmer, advanced park, nine speaker JBL audio system
A pair of permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors, 106-horsepower and 124-lb. ft. of torque each. Direct-drive automatic transmission, liquid-cooled 72.8 kWh lithium-ion battery, all-wheel-wheel-drive, 406-km range
Length, 4,690 mm; width, 1,860-mm; wheelbase, 2,850 mm; weight, 2,000 kg