2023 Toyota BZ4X Review: Bad Name, Decent EV

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The 2023 Toyota BZ4X might have a dumb name and a wacky face, but it’s still a smooth, comfortable electric SUV that feels like a Toyota. I’ve always said that familiarity breeds comfort when it comes to getting longtime drivers to consider an electric vehicle, and in that sense, the BZ4X is ready to put in some work.

The quirkiest parts of the BZ4X are all front-loaded, literally and metaphorically, with the vehicle getting more and more normal as you pass beyond first impressions. The concave front bumper gives the BZ4X an avian appearance (it picks up a whole lot of bugs like a bird, too), while the off-color fender bleeds all the way around to the front, like someone didn’t change the sensitivity of Photoshop’s fill tool. It may look quite weird in photos, but everything gels pretty well in person.

The weirdness continues upon opening the door. The BZ4X’s interior is daring for a Toyota, with an instrument cluster pushed to a HUD-like position, a long dashboard swathed in fabric and a positively Brobdingnagian center console that rises up to meet a massive infotainment display. It’s a very funky layout for the driver, but it’s not hard to get used to. Just take that bumper-car-size steering wheel, point it at what feels like your belly button and Bob’s your uncle.

I love the use of textured fabric on the dashboard, and the faux leather seats feel comfy, but there’s an awful lot of hard plastic throughout. The glossy black finish on the center console is annoying in direct sunlight, too, as it constantly tries to sear a hole in my retina. Sunglasses should come with every purchase.

Glossy center console with shift dial

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Glossy center console with shift dial

If I ever run for public office, I will campaign on the promise to ban highly reflective materials from vehicle cabins.

Andrew Krok/CNET

As you may expect from an SUV with a Toyota badge, the BZ4X offers practicality in spades. The door pockets are deep and capacious, and the same can be said for the huge undertray below the shifter. The wireless charger gets its own dedicated space, which is good, because the storage under the center armrest is surprisingly limited. The rear seats offer solid headroom and excellent legroom. Moving farther back, the 27.7-cubic-foot cargo area is decently large and free of protrusions that hinder loading and unloading. While it’s enough storage for a family, and more than you get from a Hyundai Ioniq 5 (27.2 cubic feet) or a Kia EV6 (24.4 cubic feet), the Toyota lags behind the Ford Mustang Mach-E (29.7 cubic feet) and the Volkswagen ID 4 (30.3 cubic feet).

Once the BZ4X hits the road, all that eccentricity fades into the background. Thanks to a low center of gravity and the right amount of damping and tire sidewall, the BZ4X’s ride is almost Lexus-smooth, right up there with the also-cushy Venza hybrid crossover. Visibility is good, and exterior noises are hushed but not fully eliminated. Sure, the steering is lifeless, but it’s responsive enough and the smaller wheel diameter doesn’t feel awkward. The throttle is easy to manipulate, and while I appreciate the ability to boost the regenerative braking, I really wish a true one-pedal mode were available. As it stands, shedding the last 5 mph is left to your own foot.

I don’t know why people think a frunk is some sort of given with EVs. They still need a ton of components to work, and those parts have to go somewhere. Would you rather they eat into cabin space?

Andrew Krok/CNET

In its most kitted-out form, the BZ4X offers all-wheel drive from two electric motors, one on each axle, producing a net 214 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Even though those numbers don’t exactly leap off the page, the Toyota’s instantaneous electric torque means passing and other maneuvers are executed with ease. Switching to the EV’s Eco mode dulls the throttle response a bit, but since I never find myself wanting more, it’s the preferred mode for me.

Squeezing every bit of efficiency from the battery is necessary, because the BZ4X’s electric heart is on the small side. AWD models get a 72.8-kilowatt-hour pack, which translates to a paltry EPA-estimated range of 228 miles in XLE trim and 222 miles in Limited. A single-motor, front-wheel-drive configuration is available on both trims, and while output is lower at 201 hp and 196 lb-ft, it boosts range to either 252 miles (XLE) or 242 (Limited).

As with most other EVs, Toyota offers a wealth of data regarding charging and efficiency, and it’s baked right into the infotainment system.

Andrew Krok/CNET

From my time behind the wheel, I’d say the AWD estimates are pretty on par. The onboard computer shows an overall efficiency of about 3.5 miles per kilowatt-hour, about what I achieved on the Hyundai Ioniq 5. EVs are obviously less efficient at higher speeds, where more consistent power is needed to fight the air, and my highway efforts result in a readout of roughly 2.0 miles per kWh. Again, that’s about what I got in the Ioniq 5, but the Toyota’s small battery means a little bit of range anxiety on longer trips.

When it comes time to charge, I am again left wishing for some more oomph. The BZ4X’s AWD battery chemistry will only accept 100-kilowatt DC fast-charging, less than other competitors offer. Moving to the FWD configuration changes the battery chemistry, and in that guise the battery can take up to 150 kW. That’s closer to what you’ll find from Ford or Volkswagen, but it pales in comparison with the fraternal twins from Hyundai and Kia, which run 800-volt architectures and push the max charging rate up to 225 kW. If you charge at home through a Level 2 wall box, expect about 11 hours to go from empty to full — just plug ‘er in when you get home from work, and by the morning it’ll be all set to go.

The BZ4X may have all the requisite ports for DC fast-charging, but its architecture can’t handle most of the blazing-fast speeds we’re seeing nowadays.

Andrew Krok/CNET

Thankfully, the Toyota BZ4X’s cabin tech feels a little more cutting-edge than the power hardware. A honkin’ 12.3-inch widescreen display runs the latest version of Toyota’s infotainment system, which was developed in-house and can also be found in the new Tundra pickup, as well as the new Lexus NX and RZ. It’s a great system, with a smart layout and Google Maps integration, although the menu structure may take some getting used to. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but they can still run through the sole USB-A data port in the center console. Otherwise, each row gets a pair of power-only USB-C ports to stay topped off. I thought the high-mounted gauge display would take some getting used to, but since it’s just a hair below the usual HUD height, it’s easy to glance at all the important bits without getting distracted.

While the 2023 Toyota BZ4X may be sized between the RAV4 and Highlander, its pricing starts a bit higher than that. A base XLE with front-wheel drive will set you back $43,215 including $1,215 for destination, with the Limited stepping it up to $47,915. That’s with one-motor FWD, mind you; adding dual-motor AWD adds about $2,000 to either trim. My tester is pretty well loaded at $52,050 out the door, which includes $350 for heated rear seats and a heat pump, $580 for a JBL audio upgrade, a $200 spoiler and $425 for white paint. In fact, every color that isn’t black costs extra, which is stupid.

Don’t let a funky first impression lead you astray. The 2023 Toyota BZ4X places a focus on practicality and comfort that makes the whole package feel less like an EV with a Toyota badge and more like a Toyota with an electric powertrain. It feels exactly like you’d expect, which for Toyota die-hards will go a very long way. I just wish it had a battery that could go a very long way, too.

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