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Subaru Solterra First Drive Review: Totally On-Brand

Subaru Solterra First Drive Review: Totally On-Brand

There’s an inherent sense of adventure baked into every Subaru. Even the BRZ and WRX sports cars feel ready to be driven into the ground, and this long-lasting, go-anywhere, do-anything attitude has long been a hallmark of the Japanese brand.

Happily, this ethos is very much alive and well in Subaru’s first EV, the 2023 Solterra. But positioned against a fiercely competitive set of compact electric crossovers, is a strong sense of adventure enough to seal the deal?

Subaru car

The Solterra is the result of a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota, so you’ll see this car’s doppelganger running around as the stupidly named BZ4X. I haven’t driven the Toyota, so I have no idea how similar the two EVs feel on the road. But Subaru and Toyota managed to differentiate the demeanors of their other kissin’ cousins, the BRZ and GR86, so perhaps the electric SUVs will follow suit.

One big difference between the two EVs is that, while Toyota will offer both front- and all-wheel drive versions of the BZ4X, Subaru is sticking to the latter with the Solterra. Of course, considering Subaru is pretty much synonymous with all-wheel drive, the default dual-motor configuration makes sense.

Powering the Solterra’s pair of electric motors is a 72.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack nestled between the axles. Total output is 218 horsepower and 249 pound-feet of torque, numbers that put the Subaru well below dual-motor examples of the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Tesla Model


Y and Volkswagen ID 4. Even so, this EV has no trouble getting up to speed or quickly passing slower-moving traffic. It just doesn’t feel as punchy as its competitors. Even the portly ID 4 Pro is more entertaining to drive.

That’s not really a surprise, though, considering Toyota took the lead on dynamic tuning. The Solterra’s steering is as lifeless as any Prius, and despite the low center of gravity afforded by the battery pack’s ballast, the Solterra’s soft suspension means it lacks the cornering composure of rivals like the Kia EV6 or Mustang Mach-E. At least Subaru offers multiple levels of regenerative braking, selectable via paddles mounted to the steering wheel, and the Solterra’s maximum regen level is strong enough to allow for one-pedal driving — something you can’t do in an ID 4

Subaru interior

That said, you bizarrely can’t use the high-regen setting in conjunction with the Solterra’s X-Mode all-wheel-drive tech. Similar to the system found in other Subaru crossovers, X-Mode incorporates things like hill start assist, hill descent control and different traction and stability parameters. It’s a low-speed affair only, and the system will beep at you if you forget to turn it off when you’re back on a paved road.

Subaru ev technology

Crucially, the Solterra has 8.3 inches of ground clearance, which is a lot more than other EVs in this class — well, except the identical BZ4X. Combine that with the Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud parameters of X-Mode, as well as easy-to-modulate electric torque, and the Solterra has no trouble traversing the occasional rocky trail or rutted hill on my test drive outside of Scottsdale, Arizona. I’d be curious to see how capable the Solterra is with its standard 18-inch wheels and a good set of all-terrain tires. But even in loaded Touring spec with 20s and all-season rubber, I’d feel more comfortable taking this Subaru down paths I wouldn’t dare try in a Mach-E.

Subaru ev car

But that’s all in a day’s work for a Subaru, and this off-the-beaten-path prowess is what separates the Solterra from other electric CUVs. However, in order to get an EV with this kind of capability, you’ll have to live with some compromises. Chief among them: charging speed. The Solterra’s 72.8-kWh battery has a maximum DC fast charging speed of 100 kWh. The ID 4 and Mach-E can handle 135 kWh and 150 kWh, respectively, to say nothing of the 800-volt architecture in the EV6 and Ioniq 5 that allows them to accept a 250-kWh charge. Said another way, a Solterra takes about an hour to reach an 80% state of charge on a Level 3 charger. An Ioniq 5, meanwhile, can go from 10% to 80% in as few as 18 minutes.
On that note, the Solterra’s range is equally disappointing. The EPA estimates a driving range of 228 miles for the base car, or 222 for the Limited and Touring, placing the Solterra behind most other EVs in this segment. Sure, 228 miles will be fine for most buyers — especially those who can plug into a Level 2 charger at home each night — but some people are hyper-focused on the numbers, and it’s hard to argue against a Kia EV6 or Tesla Model Y that will do more than 270 miles per charge. 

Subaru electric

Thankfully, the Solterra’s tech game is strong, with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver-assistance aids standard on every trim. Pre-collision braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning, full-speed adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition — they’re packed into every Solterra, though Subaru doesn’t yet have any kind of sophisticated highway driving aid like Ford’s BlueCruise or even Nissan’s ProPilot Assist.

The Solterra has great cabin tech, too, though it’s all thanks to Toyota. The base Solterra comes with an 8-inch touchscreen that incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but Limited and Touring models have a larger 12.3-inch display, just like what you’ll find in the new Tundra pickup. This infotainment tech bundles easy voice commands and cloud-based navigation, and it’s actually leagues better than Subaru’s own Starlink setup.
Overall, I like the Solterra’s interior. The design is mostly clean and there are a few nice textured elements like the fabric on the dashboard and the vaguely digital motif on the center console. The flush-mounted haptic controls below the touchscreen work well and there are hard buttons for commonly used drive settings on either side of the weird dial shifter. The steering wheel is a little busy and the digital gauge cluster’s placement far back on the dash takes some getting used to.

Despite the lack of a glovebox, there’s plenty of storage. The center console is large and deep and there’s a big cutout below the center console complete with a pair of USB ports and a 12-volt outlet. Four adults will fit just fine in the Solterra, though rear headroom is on the slightly tight side. Subaru says there’s 30.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, which do fold flat for added convenience, but the heavily raked liftgate restricts the ability to carry taller objects.

Speaking of the hatch, Subaru says it’s aerodynamic enough that the Solterra doesn’t need a rear wiper, though I’d still like one for clearing off snow, dew or droplets left from overnight rain. All of the little vents and angled edges around the Solterra are meant to improve aerodynamics, though the design as a whole is… polarizing to say the least. I’m actually warming up to it, especially the front, and I think the Solterra looks much better in colors where the gray cladding isn’t such a harsh contrast. (This thing looks awful in red.) Plus, when’s the last time Subaru made a truly pretty car? Like it or not, even here, the Solterra is totally on-brand.
Subaru says a whole bunch of its owners are ready to make the switch to EV life, and if you already own or are considering something like a Forester, nothing about the Solterra should turn you off. Further backing up that point, so many folks have reserved Solterras that Subaru’s entire 2022 production run — only about 6,500 cars in North America — is already spoken for.

Personally, I’d rather have an EV6, Ioniq 5 or Mustang Mach-E; inside and out, I find them to be more compelling, better to drive, have better tech and look so much cooler. But none of these EVs have the ground clearance or off-pavement chops of the 2023 Solterra, and for the traditional Subaru set, maybe ticking the adventure box is really all that matters. 

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