12 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.

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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 subtle) and the infotainment system … still takes getting used to.

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. Like a Peugeot.

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.

There are two bZ4X models available: one with an electric motor on the front axle (FWD) for $66,000, and another with an electric motor on each axle (AWD) and slightly more power 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 is outstanding when compared to rivals, especially the Tesla Model Y. The main drawcard is that it’s a Toyota, and therefore built properly.

Nor does it scream something you’d see in the ARB 4×4 Accessories store car park, but the bZ4X has 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 moderately rocky path with barely a hint of wheel spin.

READ ALSO Toyota launches first EV in Canberra, 23 years after the original Prius

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 I imagine an electric Camry would. The same isolation from the harshness of the outside world – the quietness, the solidness, and the way it smooths over bumps like you’re 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. 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”.

Maybe it’s a bit 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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Properly? Worst specs of any EV. The ad is right, no actual valid reason to buy other than the badge, with inferior charge, range and wheels literally falling off. DO NOT BUY the bozo4x unless you’re a Toyota fan boy in which case you’re getting what you deserve.

Those picture don’t show off-road. That is a road, although a shaky, rough one.
My Subaru XV has been more off-road than what I can see there, and I don’t take it anywhere too extreme, so no steep river gullies for instance. It’s driven across country (no roads) in the real outback, picked its way over long erosion trenches in dirt tracks, gone through mud. Once even I’m told driven on three wheels (tricky situation and I think it’s better I didn’t know at the time, as scared enough. The things you can be talked into!) And it’s only AWD. (It just doesn’t like really long, steep gravelly hills, as it lacks power. It’s bigger cousin the Outback doesn’t have this problem though.) It has a greater range too, and can carry a jerry can to extend distance. Plus it’s been places overnight where there’s no electricity. Then when in urban areas its not too big.

So you went driving in the Brindabella Ranges without a spare wheel, that’s a bad plan James.

Great! They’ll do more damage to 4WD tracks than dirt bikes. Giving National Parks more reason to shut down access.

All the appearances of being tested in the outback, but in reality not far from civilisation. In reality, totally impractical for the outback, unless gum trees have DC chargers. After all, you can’t carry jerrycans of spare batteries

If your EV battery gets wet, even a little bit. Then you do NOT have a functional vehicle even after the battery dries out. You have an unrepairable vehicle that needs a complete battery replacement. EV SUV’S are a pretend off-road vehicle and most manufacturers actually warn you NOT to take them into certain types of terrain ( through water especially). But of course the author knows that, doesn’t he?

Elle Cehcker6:53 pm 10 Mar 24

All dwellings are supposed to be waterproof too…but we all know how that goes David

I fact-checked your links (a favourite ploy of the loopy left, but available to the more sensible in society also). The first link does indeed say that EV batteries and components are sealed, but you missed out the caveat about only ‘light’ water exposure. You also chose to ignore the point about ‘it is generally not recommended to drive a vehicle through water any deeper than 10cm’. The second link is completely irrelevant. So, in fact, David, there is absolutely no way anyone contemplating even the most pedestrian off-road pusuits would ever buy an EV.

@Elle Cehcker
“All dwellings are supposed to be waterproof …”
Really? You got any facts to back up that outlandishly ridiculous statement?

Capital Retro12:10 pm 10 Mar 24

Any taxpayer-funded grants (apart from the usual subsidies and concessions) available on these?

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