Henry Payne: Smooth and comfortable bZ4X is an electric car for faithful Toyota owners |

Encinitas, California – Toyota has pioneered the green car segment 20 years ago with the egg-shaped Prius, expanding its customer base of Camry shoppers, Tacoma off-roaders and Supra speedsters to include tree-hugging hybrids.

Then watch those loyal customers over the past decade when Tesla stole Toyota’s green eco scarf with its all-electric Model 3 Y.

Believers have finally been rewarded with the all-new Toyota PZ4X 2023, Toyota’s first all-electric vehicle built on a skateboard chassis. Just like Tesla, but Toyota fied.

Stepping on the (electric?) throttle, I exited a stop sign on the Carlsbad Highway north of San Diego, leaving traffic behind. Tesla has made macho acceleration an EV brand — unlike the snail-like Pious — and the bZ4X doesn’t disappoint. Fluid as smooth and as quiet as a beach breeze, the SUV is fun to drive around town devoid of a CVT or V-6 transmission. Toggle the return button (located conveniently next to the rotary gearshift) and you can drive with one pedal. Just like Tesla.

But the top drawer, fitting for a Michigan AWD driver, has 214 horsepower dwindling next to the 384 horsepower that wraps the neck of the AWD Model Y—good for 4.4 seconds from 0 to 60. The two Toyotas arrived two seconds later.

That puts it at the back of the pack of fictional Model Y models (Tesla dominates the electric vehicle market with about 70% of sales) that have flooded the market, including the Subaru Solterra (which shares the bZ4X skateboard platform), the Volkswagen ID.4, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, Volvo C40 and my favorite, Ford’s Mustang Mach-E.

Like the Camry sedan and RAV4 SUV, the bZ4X’s game plan is all about reliability and space. Frome? not much. Unlike some automakers who have set dates for the future of their all-electric vehicles, Toyota recognizes that electric vehicles are a niche right now. Want excitement? Take a look at the all-new GR86 sports car with a gas and twin-turbo V6 Tundra – also released this year.

Like its companions in stability, the bZ4X will turn your head. Borrowing design cues from the Alphabet’s range of sources – the fascia from the X, the wings from the Lexus NX, the fender designation from the RAV4, the taillights from the Prius – make a coherent statement of premium design. Which is a good thing because the bZ4X starts at $42,000 (on par with ID.4, Ioniq 5 and Co.), just north of the RAV4 hybrid.

Less attractive is the alphabet soup with the name: bZ4X. Don’t worry, I’m speaking alphanumeric.

Translation: BZ is an acronym for Beyond Zero (important for its valid image, but questionable claim to zero emissions since the SUV battery is mined from the world’s lithium deposits, then shipped across the US fossil-fuel power grid). Then things get really meaningless. 4 stands for mid-size vehicle (3 for compact, 2 for subcompact, and so on). and X for the intersection.

Turned the Toyota RAV4 (translation: 4WD Active Recreational Vehicle) into a winner, who am I to judge?

The biggest problem is the bZ4X’s tech-hybrid case underneath the attractive interior package. I played the stunning tidal wave of the center console’s black trim into the 12.3-inch wide screen, then shouted, “Hey Toyota! Take me to Boulders Resort, Scottsdale, Arizona.”


Tesla would have understood my southern accent, plotted the 504 miles to the destination, and included roadside charging stations complete with restaurants and shops where Mrs. Payne and I could graze while the car inspired electrons. Not Toyota.

I turned to the trusty touch keyboard and found Boulders, but my online guide had no idea where to find the quick chargers along the way. Finding refueling stations is my job, it seems.

Toyota says the charging station updates are scheduled for future over-the-air updates (another Tesla innovation), but it would be hard to sell to desperate California greens for something different than the six Teslas cars in their block. Toyota knows its target audience. Six-digit families with a multi-car garage with a Land Cruiser nowhere near zero to use when family road trips are needed.

The BZ4x is for local trips after plugging in your home’s 240V charger overnight (estimated cost $2,000, including the $700 ChargePoint charger, which Toyota helpfully offers as an accessory).

While competitors like the Ioniq 5 boast 800-volt fast-charging platforms, Toyota has settled on a 355-volt platform that will quickly charge from 10-80% within a leisurely 60 minutes. The range puts it at the lower end of the segment with 228 miles for our AWD XLE testers. That’s better than a standard battery pack, the AWD Mustang Mach-E’s 211 miles, but shy of the AWD Model Y’s 330 miles and 256 miles of the Hyundai Ioniq 5. Comparable. Don’t even think about pulling something behind the Toyota.

Like the Mach-E, the bZ4X features a smart, uncovered display behind the wheel because electric vehicles don’t need large screens with RPM dials. Basics like MPH, a speed limit, adaptive cruise indicator, and automatic high beams (Toyotas usually come loaded with standard safety features) are displayed in what is essentially a non-reflective display.

Unfortunately, the steering wheel gets in the way. I had to lower the wheel into my lap, which weakened the aggressive driving maneuvers. Once again, Toyota knows its buyers: this is a city cruiser, not a corner carver.

Relaxing tics aside, the cabin is as comfortable as your sun terrace.

Letting sunlight in is an excellent panoramic roof, a standard component that Tesla made a signature of the SUV class. Under the glass dome is a plush back-seat sofa with 47.1 inches of legroom similar to a Land Cruiser — 10 inches more than the RAV4. My giraffe legs loved it, and they dug up the hot backseat option as well. Not to be left outside, front passengers get heated/cooled seats – and a special heated space (like a sun terrace in winter) where the glove compartment was previously.

That’s right, the bZ4X eliminates the glove compartment — and innovates on the passenger side just as much as it does on the driver’s dash.

Expect more of these breakthroughs as interior designers learn about the advantages of electric vehicles that no longer have driveline tunnels through the middle of the cabin. The BZ4X foregoes the glove compartment because it has a bottomless center console into which you can drop air gauges and locking cards—it’s so deep that Toyota offers an upper bay so you can split it. Underneath the electronic transmission there’s more room for your wallet, tissue box, and a small dog (I’ve heard they’re all quite the rage these days).

The focus on space doesn’t extend to the car, which is another flagship feature of Tesla (for those who count, that’s fluid torque, OTA, panoramic roof, large screen, tailgate) Ford has adopted with its Mach-E and Lightning Pickup. Mach-E was intent on creating a Tesla clone to steal Model 3/Y buyers. Toyota? not much. They just make a friendly electric car for brand loyalists.

They will give her the bosom of a large tree.

2023 Toyota BZ4X

Vehicle type: 4-door SUV, battery powered

Price: $43,215 including $1,215 destination fee ($49,970 limited front-wheel drive and $52,050 limited all-wheel drive as tested)

Motor: 71.4 / 72.8 kWh Li-ion battery driving single / dual electric motors

Power: 201 horsepower, 196 pound-feet of torque (FWD); 214 hp, 248 lb-ft of torque (AWD))

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.1-7.5 seconds (AWD-FWD, mfr.); Clouds, fuhgettaboutit

Weight: 4266-4464 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA estimated range 252 miles (XLE FWD), 228 miles (XLE AWD), 242 miles (limited front-wheel drive), 222 miles (limited four-wheel drive)

report card

Heights: spacious interior. Smooth driving

goes down: odd position of the steering wheel; Cutting long distance shipping information

Overall: 3 stars


Henry Payne is an auto critic for the Detroit News. You can find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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