Toyota bZ SUV Concept Is a Muscular EV Powered by AI Assistant

Toyota bZ SUV Concept Is a Muscular EV Powered by AI Assistant

Alongside Wednesday’s all-new Prius and Prius Prime hybrid debuts, Toyota revealed a new bZ Compact SUV concept that gives us a glimpse at a possible addition to the Japanese automaker’s green car brand. The battery-electric concept is built around Toyota’s “Beyond Zero” ethos and a “Clean-Vital” design approach, which basically means it’s built from the ground up with zero tailpipe emissions, sustainable materials and eco-friendly manufacturing in mind. Along with showcasing a more athletic take on Toyota’s EV design, the concept also revives the automaker’s conceptual AI assistant, Yui.

Exactly what it says on the tin, the bZ Compact SUV is a sportier interpretation of the chunky aesthetic established by the bZ4X EV (and echoed in the new Prius). Gone are the contrasting fender flares, replaced by bulging wheel arches filled by 21-inch wheels and Bridgestone Potenza Sport tires. Those wheels are pushed toward the extreme ends of the bZ concept’s length and flared outward for an assertive stance. The SUV’s body then pinches inward in the middle, creating a narrow waist that emphasizes EV’s aerodynamics.

The more I look at it, the more I see a more aggressive version of the Toyota Crown’s elevated sedan DNA in this bZ concept’s proportions.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET Cars

Toyota’s new Hammerhead-style headlamps are featured up front, highlighting the sharp leading edge with a full-width light bar. Out back, the coupe-like roofline flows into an almost flat liftback that features dual winglet spoilers. Three-dimensional brake lights sit in an undercut into the rear end, which ends abruptly, not unlike the Mustang Mach-E. Taking it all in, I dig how the concept’s lines go from organic curves at the front end to harsh geometrics at the tail.

Inside, a pair of flexible OLED displays drape and fold as if melting over the dashboard’s upholstered fabric surface. Along with a small floating center console that’s home to the electronic shifter and a pair of wireless chargers, the dashboard is held up by an architectural beam that slants down to the floor between the two front seats.

Toyota’s concept AI assistant, Yui, rather than the displays, is the true centerpiece of the bZ’s cabin tech philosophy. Following the 2017 Concept-i and the 2019 LQ concept, this is Yui’s third appearance in a wedge-y Toyota design study. Here, it’s represented by a pulsing blue orb on the steering column between the digital instrument cluster and the steering yoke. Ready to react to voice requests and commands from passengers on either row, Yui responds with audio and lighting cues that move fluidly around the cabin.

Still just a concept at this point in its evolution, Toyota says that the bZ Compact SUV concept “showcases another possible vision of the very near future with our battery electric vehicles.” As such, the automaker hasn’t released specs for performance or range. Considering that this is technically the second time we’ve seen this bZ concept — its first appearance was among the crowd during Toyota’s big Beyond Zero kickoff event last December — I’d say the odds of that “possible vision” becoming a reality are fairly high.

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