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car review

The 2023 Toyota bZ4X.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Toyota has finally brought its first battery electric vehicle to market – the 2023 bZ4X SUV. It joins a growing family of electrified vehicles, which includes plug-in hybrids, self-charging hybrids, and fuel-cell vehicles – a portfolio that accounted for 28 per cent of Toyota Canada’s total sales volume last year. That’s up nearly 76 per cent compared to 2020.

While it may be late to the BEV party, Toyota aims to expand its electrified models globally to 70 by 2025. Toyota currently sells 18 electrified vehicles. By 2025, they say 15 will be BEVs, including seven that will wear the bZ, short for Beyond Zero, brand moniker.

The bZ4X, which will start at a hair less than $45,000 and meet federal EV incentives, is first out of the gate. But if you want one, you better act fast. “There is no secret to the fact that there are lineups today for Toyota vehicles and that’s true for everybody in the industry,” said Stephen Beatty, vice president and corporate secretary of Toyota Canada Inc. at the bZ4X launch in San Diego. He said ramping up production requires scaling up the full supply chain and “frankly building more cars of any description right now is a challenging activity.”

The bZ4X is similar in size to a RAV4. It’s slightly longer, lower and wider with a 160-millimetre longer wheelbase. Too bad it didn’t have an easier name to remember – the alphanumeric nameplate doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive configurations, the all-wheel drive version has dual electric motors – 80 kilowatts in the front and 80 in the rear; while the front-wheel drive version has a single motor (150 kilowatts). The all-wheel drive model has 214 horsepower and a claimed range of 367 kilometres. The front-wheel drive one produces 201 horsepower with a claimed range of 406 kilometres.

The Toyota bZ4X features a dial-type gear shifter.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The battery pack lies along the floor of the body frame. The total battery capacity with front-wheel drive is 71.4 kilowatt-hours; while the all-wheel drive is 72.8 kilowatt-hours. The small difference is because there are two different vendors for the batteries, said Scott MacKenzie, senior national manager of external affairs at Toyota Canada. To charge, simply plug into a 120- or 240-volt outlet or a DC fast charger. The 6.6-kilowatt on board charger lets the vehicle charge fully in about 11 hours on a Level 2 charger, or 240-volt outlet. Toyota says in optimal conditions it will charge to 80 per cent on a fast charger in roughly one hour.

Driving along California’s picturesque Pacific coast, the bZ4X feels solid, smooth, and secure – similar to other electric vehicles like the Volvo XC40 Recharge or Hyundai Ioniq5. You can also turn the regenerative braking on or off with a switch on the centre console. To reduce energy consumption, especially in hot or cold climates, there’s also a heat pump.

Say “Hey Toyota” and Toyota’s personal assistant comes to life, letting you use voice commands to do everything from change the radio station to find directions and adjust cabin temperature. If you say “Hey Toyota. I’m cold,” it’ll raise the temperature by a few degrees. While it’s not as advanced as some systems like Mercedes-Benz, which can open or close the sunshade, it’s still impressive. There’s also standard wireless AppleCarPlay and AndroidAuto capability, Amazon Alexa, and five USB ports in the cabin.

The bZ4X arrives in dealerships in Canada this June, starting with British Columbia and Quebec, which qualify for provincial EV subsidies in addition to federal incentives. Four trims will be available, ranging in price from $44,990 to $62,750.

Tech specs

The bZ4X doesn't come with a front trunk, like many rivals.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

2023 Toyota bZ4X

Price: $44,990 – $62,750

Motors: single motor (150 kilowatts) or dual electric motors 160 kilowatts (80 kilowatts at the front; 80 in the rear)

Battery Capacity: 71.4 kilowatt-hours (front-wheel drive); 72.8 kilowatt-hours (all-wheel drive)

Charging capability: – Level 2 charging stations (240-volt) 11 hours

Power: 201 horsepower (front-wheel drive); 214 horsepower (all-wheel drive)

Torque: 196 lb.-ft. torque, front (front-wheel drive) and 124 lb.-ft/124 lb.-ft. front/rear (all-wheel drive)

Claimed Range: 406 kilometres (front-wheel drive); 367 kilometres (all-wheel drive)

Alternatives: Hyundai Ioniq5, Kia EV6, Volkswagen ID.4, Nissan Ariya, Subaru Solterra

Looks

It is balanced and sleek with sharp character lines. My all-wheel drive tester adds striking 20-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels (18-inch are standard) and a two-tone colour scheme. Supersonic Red set against a black roof and black accents over the wheel wells and part of the side charge port door add personality. Privacy glass on the rear side, quarter and liftgate windows are a nice touch, too.

Interior

The bZ4X interior features some hard plastics, but cool textures like fabric on the dashboard, which is made of recycled materials.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Some hard plastics, but cool textures like fabric on the dashboard, which is made of recycled materials. While I like my tester’s 12.3-inch centre touch screen, I’m not a fan of the top-mounted display in front of the driver. It’s positioned too far back and hard to read because it’s obstructed by the steering wheel. With the dial-type gear shifter, push down and turn right to engage drive; left to reverse. Push a button for park. New foot heating for the driver and front passenger is a nice touch for Canadian winters.

Performance

Pleasant road manners. It’s composed, smooth, quiet, and confident. The all-wheel drive version can accelerate to 100 kilometres an hour in 6.9 seconds; the front-wheel drive model does it in 7.5.

Technology

While I like my tester’s 12.3-inch centre touch screen, I’m not a fan of the top-mounted display in front of the driver.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection can now detect cyclists in lowlight, motorcycles in the daytime and guardrails. And for the first time, you can get a digital key on the top trim so you can lock, unlock, or start the vehicle with an app.

Cargo

The bZ4X has 784 litres of cargo space with all the seats folded down.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Cargo room is spacious with 784 litres of space behind the rear seats. The 60/40 rear seats also fold down to create a long, flat surface. There’s no front trunk unlike some competitors.

The verdict

It took Toyota a long time to go all-electric, but it was worth the wait.

The bZ4X is composed, smooth, quiet and confident.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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