First drive: Toyota enters the fully electric age with its promising new crossover

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First Drive: Toyota Enters The Fully Electric Age With Its Promising New Crossover First Drive: Toyota Enters The Fully Electric Age With Its Promising New Crossover
Surprisingly this BZ4X is Toyotas first foray into fully electric cars.
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Michael McAleer

Toyota has been making hay with its so-called self-charging hybrids of late. Yet for all the buzz the brand has created about striving to move away from diesel and the like, surprisingly this BZ4X is the brand’s first foray into bespoke fully electric cars.

The name may resemble someone’s login password, but BZ is Toyota’s new sub-brand for its dedicated electric vehicles (EVs). The “4” is this car’s position in BZ’s future seven-car line-up, which will run from Yaris-sized models up to large saloons, and maybe a pick-up.

Toyota says all will be built on the new e-TNGA platform, which can be shrunk or stretched to carry most sizes of car. Battery packs will change according to need.

Given market tastes, unsurprisingly the BZ4X is a crossover, so it gets a 71.4kWh battery pack featuring 96 cells and capable of taking a fast charge up to 150kW.

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Toyota says that will mean a 0-80 per cent charge in 33 minutes on a fast charger.

The BZ4X is offered in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, and Toyota estimates the range varies from 450km to 410km between the two, although official Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) figures will not be available before March.

Toyota says it is applying a conservative approach to the BZ4X’s range, which translates from PR-speak into meaning it hopes the WLTP figures will actually be higher than those initial estimates.

Snappy family crossover

Clearly range depends on ambient temperatures and Toyota’s engineers believe you get the best performance from the battery packs at similar temperatures to the normal cabin. So the system brings the battery temperature to 19 degrees, which of course uses power depending on the surrounding temperatures.

Power output is either 150hp through the front wheels or 80hp on each axle in the all-wheel drive version. That might not sound momentous, but it’s snappy enough for a family crossover.

What’s more, it’s powerful enough to get it out of the dirt. Toyota is adamant that this not just a suburban warrior, but a car with credible off-road ability and impressive on-road handling.

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So much so that for its pre-launch drive, half the time was spent mud-plugging on the grounds of Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al-Attiyah’s Spanish villa.

Admittedly, this car’s capability is more to do with Subaru software than any hardware from Toyota’s legendary Hilux or Land Cruiser.

Toyota and Subaru recently announced they will work together to build all-electric vehicles, develop driverless cars and acquire even more stock in each other’s companies. This Japanese love-in means the BZ4X gets Subaru’s X-Mode off-road system, while in turn its new all-electric Solterra crossover is effectively a revised version of this car.

Irish Toyota buyers will have to wait several months for all-wheel drive versions, and it will only be offered on the two higher-grade versions. However, it is worth considering for anyone who has to cope with mud or might have to trek through winter snow. Or even water. As if to prove wrong some political comments about electric cars and water, the test route took us through a deep pool of water to prove the point that this EV can wade in up to 50mm without issue.

It’s not purporting to be an electric Land Cruiser – and there is a more rough and tumble BZ model coming later, but this is aimed to match the sort of terrain suburban buyers will pitch at a RAV4. Towing capacity is limited to 750kg unbraked.

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Back with the batteries, and Toyota claims that 25 years of hybrid experience give it a serious lead on rivals, even if it’s relatively late to the EV market. And on the back of that experience it offers a 10-year or one million kilometre guarantee on the battery, promising after this time it will still retain 70 per cent of its capacity when new.

The car itself is a sizeable crossover, slotting between the RAV4 and Highlander in terms of scale. Front seat space is divided by a centre console dominated by a 12.3in touchscreen similar to that in the new Lexus NX.

Steady acceleration

Passengers in the back have impressive legroom, though the under-floor battery means no footwell, so the seating position leaves your knees up like in the back of a sports coupe. Boot space is decent for an EV, though an odd trait in the cabin is the lack of a glovebox or an abundance of cubbyholes compared with some crossover rivals.

Acceleration is steady rather than sporty and flooring the throttle gets a spurt of surge which tapers off as quickly as it arrives.

Where the BZ4X excels is in the bends; this big crossover handles with the nimbleness of a hatchback while the ride quality is as adept as any of its rivals. It soaks up the bumps but without off-putting bodyroll. Its handling is all the more impressive when you consider the BZ4X weighs in at more than 2½ tonnes – that’s more than rivals like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, for example.

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In fact, the deft handling of this BZ is its biggest – and most pleasant surprise. Behind the wheel, this car doesn’t feel much different to manoeuvre than a Corolla.
Toyota will unveil its new steer-by-wire system as an option the BZ4X in the near future (it will come first on the new Lexus RZ crossover, which is derived from this BZ).

This system promises more responsive handling, but its real importance is as a stepping stone towards Toyota’s plans for autonomous driving. For now the jury is out on whether it will be worth the extra spend to be a cog in Toyota’s grand plans for autonomy. Given the handling prowess of this crossover now, it will need to be pretty stellar to justify the extra spend.

For those ready to buy, pricing is right in the hot spot for EV crossovers right now. Starting at €43,302 after grants for the entry Advance version, it rises to €47,935 for the Sport grade and €52,910 for the Premiere Edition.

What you get for your euros is a spacious all-electric crossover on a par with the RAV4 but slightly more spacious, and Toyota’s years of hybrid experience.

That should pay dividends in terms of battery technology, but the real story will be seen when the WLTP figures are released, and we get to compare them to the real-life performance on Irish roads.

Toyota engineers seem quietly confident on this front and if they can manage that, then its transition to full electric will please buyers – and worry rivals.

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