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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2023 Toyota bZ4X XLE FWD review

2023 Toyota bZ4X XLE FWD
Mark Savage
Savage On Wheels
2023 Toyota bZ4X XLE FWD

Electric vehicles are growing in number, range, and pricing options.

That’s all well and good, but not all steps feel like a big step forward. When that feeling comes from a Toyota, it simply feels odd. It’s especially weird since Toyota and Subaru, two long-time winners in design and function, worked together on their cousins, the bZ4X and Solterra, respectively.

I haven’t driven Subie’s Solterra, so the judgment of that must wait. But the red and black bZ4X I tested during a chilly February spell left me, well, cold.

Where to start?

Well, the name is atrocious. No one in their right mind will even remember it as it’s so muddled — especially with a lowercase “b” while the rest is uppercase. Toyota says bZ4X stands for … hold on now … below Zero (get it?) as emissions are zero. But I’m pretty sure they can’t be entirely below zero. The “4” indicates this is close in size to Toyota’s popular RAV4, and X means crossover. Got it? Stop giggling!

Assuming that you’ll never tell anyone what your new vehicle’s name is, consider its range. Electrics mostly have ranges of 280-310 miles now and often are AWD while still managing 250 miles of range. The Toyota (I won’t pound that alphanumeric cluster into your mind again this time) is rated at 252 miles which is right at the edge of that range bubble. But, note that this is a front-drive model.

Note too that Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, Volkswagen’s ID.4, Hyundai’s Ioniq5 and Kia’s EV6, all have greater range.

Not to pile on, but I never saw more than 201 miles of range when charging this in my garage with 120V of power. But I charged for 30+ hours and once when the batteries were at about 2/3 capacity, I got just 40 miles of range. The digital screen would frequently register 240 miles or so initially, but by the time I’d backed from my driveway, it dropped to 201 miles. My driveway is not 39 miles long.

Toyota says its compact crossover will fully charge from a low level in 9.5 hours on a Level 2 (240V) charger, or from a low level to 80% charge in 30 minutes on a fast charger (150kW, or more). It says going from near zero to full takes 50 hours on a common 120V outlet such as mine. My experience shows that to be optimistic during the winter.

On top of all that, there’s also a few glitches such as the regenerative braking boost pedal not working all the time. This is the button on the console that allows the driver to use one-pedal driving. That means you use the accelerator primarily and then there is boosted regenerative braking to slow the vehicle as you let off said accelerator. It recharges the battery more quickly than just driving like a gas-powered car and coasting to stoplights, etc.

It did work, just not all the time and would give a screen message saying it was disabled.

Then there was another message about the digital phone not connecting that continually popped up on the large infotainment screen. It offered two choices: retry for a hookup or cancel. I hit cancel and the message would disappear for about 2 minutes, then pop up again, and again, and again. First world problem, but annoying as all get-out and distracting.

There were some other issues, but we’ll get to those later as I now need to tell you, dear reader, how this Toyota drove. I wish I had better news.

Certainly, the acceleration is good, as in all electrics. If you tromp the accelerator, the Toyota jumps to life and quickly exceeds highway speeds. The power is smooth and quiet via the automatic transmission and the power is rated at 201 horsepower. Fine!

But the ride is stiff and choppy, sort of what one might expect from a short-wheelbase car, not a crossover on a 112.2-inch wheelbase. The handling is just OK but feels heavy while turning. Naturally there’s a low center of gravity here with batteries located in the chassis. But a RAV4 feels much more nimble by comparison.

Combine that with a somewhat hollow or unmuffled sound to the interior which could be noisy at times. Additional sound deadening material is needed to dampen the noise level.

The Supersonic Red ($425 extra) and black exterior was fine. The black trim over the wheel wells being a bit more extreme than on most crossovers so it’s helpful in differentiating this model from other Toyota crossovers.

Inside though, well, the design is early Jetsons like it’s trying too hard to be futuristic and that’s even without a steering yoke like Tesla offers. That yolk IS available here, but this gray and black interior featured a regular steering wheel and textured cloth seats. All seats are manual.

The driver’s instrument pod is mounted high and far back in front of the tilt/telescope wheel that extends only at a low angle. All the moveable steering column’s hard gray plastic are exposed but matches the instrument pod’s hood. With a yoke one, could probably see all the pod’s digital screen, but with this wheel, short drivers will have to lay the wheel basically in their lap to fully view the screen.

Then there’s the giant long console that acts like a bridge over a monster open bin. It’s great for storage, but hard to retrieve any item as the console is wide and creates an awkward angle to reach in, at least for a driver less than 6-foot-1.

Next to that, and in front of the passenger, is a carpet or seat cloth-covered dash with no glove box. One can assume that Toyota designers figure a family will use that big storage area beneath the console. I put the three driver’s type manuals in the door pocket to avoid them sliding back and forth in that bin as they initially did.

Overhead, too, is a fixed-panel panoramic sunroof which is good to let in light even though it can’t be opened. The shade to cover it is powered though.

The seats are well contoured and comfy, but again, manually adjusted. The dash buttons and the touchscreen are easy enough to use and there’s a wireless charger atop the console. But it has a flip up cover to enclose it. That cover’s edge sort of gets in the way when retrieving a phone.

The Toyota will certainly carry four adults comfortably and five will fit if needed. The storage room behind the split rear seat is good too but there’s no power hatch. And this unpowered hatch is heavy. For power, one must move up to the top Limited trim level which is the XLE. There are only two trims.

The Limited adds a nine-speaker JBL sound system, heated rear seats, a digital key, 20-inch alloy wheels, heated and cooled front seats, fake leather seating, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, 360-degree camera and the powered hatch. But note that its range drops to 222 miles on Limited according to Toyota.

Cost jumps from a very reasonable $43,215 for the XLE model to $49,995 for the Limited. AWD (the Subaru system) is available as a $2,080 option and electric power is increased to 214 horsepower. The test vehicle settled at $44,409 with just its three options.

For the record, the Subaru version of this vehicle, the Solterra, comes standard with AWD, but starts at $46,220 to account for that.

Toyota also includes its fine Safety Sense 3.0 suite, even on this entry-level trim. It includes pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, smart cruise, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and road sign assist. There’s also blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. That’s a benefit.

Note too that the weather package here adds $500 to the cost but includes the all-important heated steering wheel and heated front seats.

It seems the bZ4X (sorry) was kept quite basic and given some odd design tweaks to keep it as low in cost as possible, plus allow this FWD model to slot in below its Subaru counterpart. I applaud the effort to keep costs down, but its interior styling and functionality is less than I’d expect from Toyota.

FAST STATS: 2023 Toyota bZ4X XLE FWD

Hits: Good acceleration, moderate cost for electric. Panoramic sunroof, big screen, heated and supportive front seats, heated wheel, solid safety systems, wireless phone charger.

Misses: Range limited to 201 miles in cold weather, stiff ride, heavy feel in turns, fairly noisy interior, sunroof doesn’t open, manual seats, no glove box, regenerative braking boost mode did not always work, no power hatch, odd dash, odd driver instrument pod, odd repeat digital messages on screen, and odd name.

Made in: Japan

Power: Single electric motor (150 kW), 201 hp/196 torque

Transmission: Automatic

Weight: 4,266 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.2 in.

Length: 184.6 in.

Cargo: 27.7-56.9 cu.ft.

MPGe: 131/107

Range: 252 mi/201 observed

Base Price: $43,215 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

XLW weather pkg. (heated steering wheel, heated front seats), $500

Supersonic Red paint, $425

Carpeted floor, cargo mats, $269

Test vehicle: $44,409

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
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