The right power surge is missing: Toyota bZ4X - not yet at eye level

Toyota has struggled with e-mobility for a long time.

The right power surge is missing: Toyota bZ4X - not yet at eye level

Toyota has struggled with e-mobility for a long time. However, the world's largest carmaker is now putting its first battery-electric car into the race. The bZ4X is a crossover, but it's not yet on par with the competition. And that doesn't just apply to the current load capacity.

Admittedly, this Toyota stands out. Quite a few of the countless cyclists in downtown Copenhagen crane their necks, following the softly humming SUV with their eyes. Even though electric cars are no longer a rarity in Denmark's metropolis, the first purely electric Toyota is attracting attention with its extravagant appearance alone. And by its designation, which is difficult to say.

"bZ4X" is emblazoned on the rear, with the first few letters being the most important. Because "bZ" stands for the English "beyond zero" and thus expresses the new Toyota motto. "Beyond zero" the Japanese want to tackle climate change with all bZ models that will soon be added, and not just the emissions are meant. It is also about all services related to the e-car.

Well then, Toyota is now going "properly" electric. Since 1997, the group has been regarded as a pioneer of what was then a new type of drive. The first Prius combined its internal combustion engine with the power of a small battery, which was primarily used to save fuel in city traffic. Since then, Toyota has sold more than 20 million so-called hybrids in many different models. All with the drawback that although they blow significantly fewer pollutants into the air, they are still classic combustion engines.

Toyota explained the long-delayed change to a pure electric car with the insufficient number of charging stations and the associated hardship and range anxiety of customers. Because the network of charging stations is now slowly becoming denser, the mega-corporation sees its time as coming.

The first model, like the Prius back then, was to be recognizable as a special Toyota simply by its appearance. The 4.70 meter long crossover surprises with a strongly contoured side view, which, depending on the incidence of light, creates exciting shadow effects. At the same time, the surroundings, such as other cars driving by or street life, are represented as if in the distorting mirror of a panopticon. The front end is rather conservative, with a smooth bonnet and a narrow slit for LED headlights and radiator grille. Last but not least, a rear light clasp wraps around the rear, giving the rear part a powerful touch and modernity. All in all, the design is quite daring with a view to the rather conservative Toyota clientele and is based a little on the appearance of the noble brand Lexus.

In contrast, a living room atmosphere prevails in the interior with contoured seats, coverings made from renewable materials and smooth surfaces with a piano finish look. The narrow central instrument with the speedometer and fuel consumption indicator has been pushed far to the windshield and mounted so high that, in Toyota's opinion, a head-up display can be dispensed with. Solidity also includes the 12.3-inch monitor in the top models (otherwise only 8 inches), under which real push-button switches can still be operated. Including one for handling the four-wheel drive reserved for the flagship bZ4X. The electronics can be prepared for driving through water, on snowy or muddy terrain, even for crawling skills over small obstacles or quite steep ascents and descents on slopes. "An SUV with off-road qualities," says chief developer Ido Daisuke and reassures: "Don't worry, the battery is waterproof."

The fully equipped bZ4X with all-wheel drive costs almost 60,000 euros, but shines with two electric motors, each with 109 hp, which drive the front and rear axles. Depending on the current driving situation, the electronics distribute the drive and torque. As with comparably powerful e-cars, the Toyota impresses with its sovereign and naturally jerk-free acceleration from a standing start as well as during intermediate sprints. The steering is currently still conventional, from next year the so-called "steer by wire" should come. The on-board electronics send steering commands, so that the classic mechanics are obsolete. The computer always selects the ideal angle. And that even with 180-degree bends. The Unspeakable already pampers its occupants with the level of comfort and space for the back benches that is befitting its status.

If desired, the driver can be supported with almost all known assistance systems. For the entry-level model, they are combined in two packages for just under 8000 euros. The front-wheel drive (from 47,490 euros) only has a 204 hp engine in front, but offers a clear range advantage. With up to 510 kilometers per battery charge, it comes a good 100 kilometers further than the heavier all-wheel drive Toyota and also costs a whopping 12,500 euros less. So it's no wonder that, according to Toyota estimates, a good 75 percent of future buyers will opt for the front-wheel drive bZ4X in favor of range and their own finances.

Toyota wants to fix a weak point in both models by the end of the year. Currently, the bZ4X can only be charged with 6.6 kWh on wall boxes, which is incomprehensible for a new car, so it has to be plugged in for hours at home. With the update, the usual 11 kWh should then be possible. On the way, you can dock at a 150 kWh fast charging station, which fills the battery up to 80 percent again in 30 minutes.

Eliminating another shortcoming compared to the established competition will take even longer. The navigation system and on-board electronics do not currently work together when it comes to planning charging stops or battery temperature management over the kilometers before stopping at the charging station. However, a heat pump that relieves the battery of tasks is already on board.

The bZ4X, whose "4" stands for vehicle category and the "X" for crossover, is just the beginning. In order to transform the Japanese from the electric slow train of recent years into an ICE, Toyota is preparing other models on the newcomer's new platform, initially probably a smaller, compact SUV.

A total of 15 electric vehicles should be in dealerships by 2025. At the same time, however, the hydrogen drive, which is already fueling the Mirai, is being further developed. By 2035, Toyota intends to only offer zero-emission models in Western Europe. And it will probably have to after the EU decision this week.

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