Toyota released new details about its upcoming electric compact SUV, the BZ4X, which includes an optional solar roof and a steering yoke similar to the one featured in the latest version of the Tesla Model S.
The steering yoke, which Toyota describes as having a “wing-shape,” employs a steer-by-wire system, where there is no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and tires. The yoke only needs to turn up to 150 degrees from side to side and the driver doesn’t ever need to remove their hands. This will eliminate the need to change grips when steering, which the company argues will make U-turns and other maneuvers easier.
Toyota first revealed the BZ4X earlier this year at the Shanghai Auto Show, along with an electric vehicle strategy that the company said will result in 15 new battery-electric vehicles released by 2025.
The BZ4X will be built on a flexible platform that it developed in partnership with fellow Japanese automaker Subaru. (Toyota currently owns a small stake in Subaru.) The e-TNGA platform will enable several characteristics, including a steer-by-wire system, all-wheel drive, improved visibility, and a regenerative braking system that is common among electric vehicles. Toyota said the BZ4X would be released globally by the middle of 2022. Subaru is said to be designing its own electric vehicles built on the e-TNGA platform.
The BZ4X will also come with a standard steering wheel and system, for those not interested in going full yoke. (The Model S yoke has been controversial, with Consumer Reports saying it can make driving awkward.)
The interior of the car features a unique instrument cluster, with the screen set back from the steering wheel in a way that Toyota says will improve driver visibility. The central infotainment screen appears to be floating above the dash as opposed to embedded within it. And there are a number of physical buttons in the center console and on the steering wheel, proof that Toyota is not fully embracing the digital user experience like companies like Tesla.
Toyota’s designers took some inspiration from the hammerhead shark when outlining the BZ4X’s exterior. That said, it still retains a conventional shape and appears to be similar in size to a Toyota RAV4.
It will come with two powertrains: a 201-horsepower front-wheel-drive, and a 215hp all-wheel-drive that will have estimated ranges of 310 and 286 miles per charge, respectively. (Those estimates are based on the global WLTC rating, which tends to be higher than the EPA’s estimates.) The vehicle is equipped with a 71.4kWh battery pack, which is on par with the Volkswagen ID 4 and the Nissan Ariya in terms of energy capacity.
There are other quirky options, including a solar roof that Toyota says can generate electricity “equivalent to 1,800 km of driving distance per year.” It’s also capable of bidirectional charging for vehicle-to-home capacity, much like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Ford F-150 Lightning.
The electric SUV is expected to land first in Japan in mid-2022, though Toyota hasn’t said whether it would be available in the US. More details about pricing and production are expected in the coming months.
The news comes on the heels of Toyota’s announcement that it will invest around $13.6 billion in battery tech over the next decade, including a $9 billion investment in production, as it attempts to electrify its vehicle lineup. Although the company was an early leader in gas-electric hybrid cars with the Prius, it reportedly viewed hybrids as a stopgap measure until hydrogen fuel cells became competitive. Now, the company is playing catch-up with the likes of Nissan and has reportedly lobbied to slow the US’s transition to electric vehicles.