Toyota bZ4X: Toyota’s First Full Electric Car is Designed to Delight … And Prius Fans Will Rejoice 

Toyota Bz4X Featured Image
Toyota bZ4x featured image

Everything you love and everything you need.

Prius fans, I get you. You were an early adopter of hybrid technology for its promise for the future: zero emissions, record-setting fuel economy and futuristic technology in a reliable, low maintenance car. You are willing to vote with your dollar and you support companies that share your values. But you’ve been sitting on the sidelines of electric cars because while the promise of the technology is great, they’re still limiting: until now they have’t allowed the long distance driving you need and the long-term reliability was questionable. Prius people, your patience has paid off: Meet the Toyota bZ4x, an all electric car with up to 252 miles of driving range, flexible room for 5 passengers, plenty of cargo space, all wheel drive and a price tag of $42K-$46K before tax incentives.

The bZ4x is the company’s entree into the electric car market. While Toyota has dabbled in electric cars in the past, and has some very good plug-in hybrid electric cars—Prius Prime and RAV4 Prime—the company has finally introduced its first all electric car built with a new framework that will set the stage for an entire lineup of electric cars to come. 

Related: 2023 Toyota bZ4X First Look: An Impressive Start to Toyota’s New Electric Car Lineup

The Rear End Of The Toyota Bz4X

The rear end of the Toyota bZ4x. Photo: Scotty Reiss

First, this Name: bZ4X

If you’re a Prius fan, you can wrap your mind around the name, which sounds more like a code, and that’s because it is. Once you understand it, it makes sense: bZ refers to beyond zero, as in not just zero emissions, but built with sustainable materials that reduce waste and with processes that will help Toyota work toward its corporate goal of a carbon negative future. Then, 4: the vehicle size, which is mid, not small, not large, and marked by 4 doors and seating for 4 (or 5 if you use the center rear seat). ‘X’ designates that this is a crossover; pop it into X mode for added all wheel drive capability. 

Related: How to Decide if an Electric Car Is Right for Your Lifestyle

A Side View Of The Toyota Bz4X

A side view of the Toyota bZ4X. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Why a Crossover, Prius Fans Ask; And, Isn’t this More Like the RAV4?

The first question is purely a function of the battery and motor design: the batteries sit under the passenger seats to form a foundation for the car; the size and space they occupy create an SUV-like framework and ground clearance that, while not full SUV height, is higher than typical sedans. 

The bZ4X is available in front wheel drive, in which there is a single motor that powers the front wheels. It’s also available in all wheel drive in which two motors, one on each axle, power all the wheels.

And the nice benefit is that while it’s probably not the car you’ll take off roading, it’ll have plenty of capability in snow and slippery situations, even in the front wheel drive version (I particularly like that Toyota decided to go FWD with the single motor option; FWD cars are so much more capable than rear wheel drive cars in bad weather). 

Then, the comparison to the RAV4 is a natural; they have a similar shape and size, though the bZ4X is longer (by 3.7”) and wider (by .2”) than the RAV4. They both have optional AWD, a lift gate, folding rear seats and a familiar cargo area. But in my opinion, the similarities stop there. The RAV4 is a workhorse with slightly higher ground clearance and designed to power through anything in front of you. 

The bZ4X is a more refined electric car experience. It can do most of what the RAV4 can do, but with a distinct style and electric driving that sets it apart from Toyota’s popular SUV. Think of the RAV4 as your favorite stylish lug sole hiking boot and the bZ4X as a stylish Italian boot with a rubber tread sole; both are comfortable and capable, but they are not the same at all.

Related: Why You Need to Go to Electrify Expo (When It Comes to Your Town): To Shop for an Electric Car

A View Of The Driver'S Seat In The Toyota Bz4X

A view of the driver’s seat in the Toyota bZ4X. Photo: Scotty Reiss

An Inventive Interior That Prius Fans Will Love

This is where “Prius” rings a clear bell. The controls and technology are minimalistic and simple, designed for every function you need without a lot of overwhelming gear to figure out. 

Slip into the driver’s seat and you’ll see an elongated steering column topped by a driver information screen set so far forward it almost bumps against the windshield. This detail actually brilliant: It’s positioned where a head up display is typically positioned, designed to keep your eyes on the road as much as possible. You can easily shift your gaze between the road and the driver information screen without having to refocus your eyes, and that’s the point.

However, the driver information screen is set a a position that may not be comfortable for all drivers. If you position the steering wheel for your comfort, taller drivers may find the screen blocked by the wheel, as may shorter drivers. It took some experimenting with the seat position and steering wheel to be sure I could clearly see the screen.

At the center of the dashboard is a 12.3” wide multimedia screen that holds Toyota’s newest technology. The system is both touch and voice activated so you can say “Hey Toyota” and the screen lights up to answer your request. Turn on the windshield wipers, find an electric car charge station or turn up the radio, pretty much whatever you need, the system is designed to accommodate. 

All along the dashboard— which does not include a glove box, there simply isn’t one— Toyota used a soft woven fabric to cover the surface, rather than a soft touch plastic, which is more typical. There are a lot of hard plastic surfaces in the car, so this fabric acts to dampen the sound, a nice touch that looks good around the air vents and behind the media screen.

The Elongated Steering Column And Driver Information Screen In The Toyota Bz4X

The elongated steering column and driver information screen in the Toyota bZ4X. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Regnerative Braking for Even Better Efficiency

Just beneath the screen are buttons for climate control, and below that is the driver command center: a dial gear selector (push and turn right for drive or left for reverse); drive modes (eco and snow) and an unfamiliar button with a foot and arrows: push this for enhanced regenerative braking. In this mode you’ll feel the car slow more than is usual when you lift your foot off the accelerator; this is active regenerative braking that channels unused energy back into the battery. 

While some electric cars’ regenerative braking acts as one-pedal driving, effectively allowing you to come to a full stop only by easing off the accelerator, the bZ4X does not; the regen braking system still allows the car to creep forward at very low speeds while still recuperating unused energy.  

The Wireless Charge Pad Is Hidden In This Clever Cubby

The wireless charge pad is hidden in this clever cubby. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Wireless, Digital, Magical

Toyota added its best technology to the bZ4x, and this includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless phone charge pad and on the Limited edition, a digital key. 

The wireless phone charge pad, as simple as that is, is cleverly tucked into a cubby with a clear graphic cover; tap it and it flips open to reveal the charge pad. Closed, it adds to the simple, edited feeling of the cabin. It’s a small detail but one that adds a novel feel to the space.

I didn’t get to try out the digital key, but essentially, once you’ve downloaded the app and signed in with your VIN number, you can open, start, drive and lock the car without a key. You only need your phone. This is the future of driving, and just think how easy it will be for any member of your household or office to be able to drive the car without the scramble to find the key fob. 

The Front Face Of The Toyota Bz4X

The front face of the Toyota bZ4X. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Driving the Toyota bZ4x

Here’s where Prius drivers will really fall in love: this car is quick, agile and easy to drive. In regenerative braking mode you can easily and quickly scoot around town, and you can hop in and out of the car as you run errands. You don’t even need to tap the start button, you can simply get out and lock the car as you walk away and it powers down. The smart key awakens the car when you get back in.

On the highway it got up to speed quickly — part of the magic of electric cars is how fast they are— and in traffic it easily kept up with the flow. 

The Seats Fold Flat In The Toyota Bz4X

The seats fold flat in the Toyota bZ4X. Photo: Scotty Reiss

A Little Extra Icing On the Cake: Free Charging

To entice buyers, Toyota addresses the elephant in the room: How do I charge this thing? Most buyers will charge at home, and that’s easy enough to do; you only need to install a 240v wall outlet, similar to the outlet a household dryer uses. But if you want a unit that has its own cord (so the cord that comes with the car can stay with the car) communicates with your smart phone and looks nicer than a simple outlet, Toyota is offering one from ChargePoint for a $695 addition. 

And when charging on the road, Toyota partnered with EVgo to offer bZ4X owners a free year of unlimited charging. EVgo stations offer DC fast changing, which will replenish up to 80% of the battery in less than an hour (10%-80% in about 40 minutes is typical, though Toyota was not specific on this detail). 

What You Get for the Money

  • The base XLE model includes the 12.3 multimedia screen, 5 USB ports, wireless charge pad, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, panoramic sunroof, Softex leatherette seats, blind spot monitor, rain sensing wipers and Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 with pre-collision braking, lane departure alert and assist, automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control and road sign reader.
  • XLE FWD, with a 201 horsepower motor and an estimated range of 252 miles $42,000
  • Limited model with FWD, digital key, ambient lighting and height adjustable lift gate, $46,700
  • Add AWD, with 214 total horsepower and up to 228 miles of range $2,080
  • Heated seats and steering wheel, $500
  • Limited models, which come with 20” wheels, are estimated to get 242 miles of range in the FWD version and 222 in the AWD version
  • All bZ4X models qualify for federal and state tax incentives and may qualify for local incentives from governments and utility companies depending on where you live.

Yes, there’s a lot to unpack here, and that’s the thing about electric cars; we have to learn how to live with this new technology. But we’ll also learn to appreciate how easy it is to manage (easier and better than going to a gas station and dropping $70 each time), how fun they are to drive and how the technology is designed to teach us to be more efficient and over time, use even less energy to power our journey. We learned this in the Prius, and now, in the bZ4X, the electric future for Toyota fans begins. 

Disclosure: I was Toyota’s guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.

A Soft Woven Fabric Covers The Dashboard Snd Frames The Air Vents

A soft woven fabric covers the dashboard snd frames the air vents. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss