8 March 2024

Off-roading in an EV? New Toyota bZ4X proves it can be done (just be prepared to feel a bit sick)

| James Coleman
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SUV on dirt road

The Toyota bZ4X charging up to the summit of Mount Coree. Photo: Toyota Australia.

Off-roading is hilarious fun … when you’re the one at the wheel. Because you’ve got something to hold onto.

When you are a passenger, off-roading is unequivocally a form of torture. You become the clothes peg that found its way into the washing machine. You wind up battered, bruised and, in my particular case, a bit car sick, too.

Toyota launched their first EV in Canberra last week, the bZ4X, and as you do when you launch a new crossover EV, the first point of order is to find out how it performs around its natural habitat.

How easy it is to park in Civic? What does the regenerative braking feels like? And do you need a PhD in computer science to sync your phone? Etcetera.

And sure enough, the other journalists and I were given a few kilometres along Parkes Way to find out there are cameras everywhere, you can’t tell when the regen braking is doing anything until the needle dips into the blue ‘Charge’ section on the rev meter (it’s that refined) and how the infotainment system works in the real world.

Oh, and the steering wheel is also a weird shape, and you look over the top of it to the dials rather than through it.

But then we arrived at the Cotter and headed straight into the Brindabella Ranges. This was a terrible idea. But not because the car couldn’t do it. Well, one could.

There are two bZ4X models available: one with an electric motor on the front axle for $66,000 and another with an electric motor on each axle for $74,900. Before you ask, the range is 535 km and 485 km, respectively, and it can be charged in around 30 minutes from a maxed-out DC charger.

None of this screams something you’d see in the ARB 4×4 Accessories store car park, but the bZ4X has also been developed in partnership with Subaru, who agreed to hand over their ‘X-Mode’ off-road systems in exchange for Toyota’s electric know-how (Subaru also got the better name because ‘Solterra’ beats a batch code).

The AWD model comes with heated and ventilated seats. Photo: Toyota Australia.

X-Mode, only available on the AWD model, does many complicated things for the ‘Snow/Dirt’ and ‘Deep Snow/Mud’ settings. It also includes ‘Grip Control’ and ‘Downhill Assist Control’ so you can crawl down hills without having to touch the brake pedal. But I only used it once.

As it was, the 2WD models were left at the base of Mount Coree, but the others didn’t need much help to bound up the rocky path with barely a hint of wheel spin.

On the outside, there’s a lot of black plastic, combined with what Toyota calls their new “hammerhead” front, a combination of flat bonnet and slim headlights “emulating the distinct appearance of its underwater predator namesake”. It looks very Lexus-like.

Dips along the way had me cringing about what sort of noise this hammerhead would make when ploughed into the dirt, but because the car is so long between the wheels – the same as a Kluger – there’s hardly any front or rear overhang. And the entire underbody is “fully covered”.

Another surprise from the driver’s seat is a distinct lack of bone-jarring you’d expect from pounding 20-inch wheels into rocks and ruts.

The bZ4X drives much like an electric Camry. It offers the same isolation from the harshness of the outside world, quietness, solidness, and smoothed-over bumps like riding a wave of treacle. (Unlike a Camry, however, it’s far more rewarding when greeted by a whiff of exuberance.)

But that’s just the problem.

Rolls-Royce made the same mistake with its new Ghost a couple of years ago (a comparison Toyota would undoubtedly be chuffed about). The soundproofing was so effective, some occupants reported feeling sick from the total silence. Engineers had to go back to the drawing board and work on a “continuous whisper”.

I never thought I’d say this, but it’s too quiet, Toyota.

man standing next to a car on a mountain

Toyota bZ4X chief engineer Masaya Uchiyama. Photo: Toyota Australia.

2024 Toyota bZ4X AWD

  • $74,900
  • Front and rear-mounted electric motors, 160 kW / 337 Nm total
  • Automatic, all-wheel drive (AWD)
  • 0-100 km/h in 6.9 seconds
  • 485 km estimated range
  • 5-star ANCAP safety rating.

This car was provided for testing by Toyota Australia. Region has no commercial arrangement with Toyota Australia.

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