by Ian Wright
The Subaru Solterra is the automaker's first electric vehicle and a crossover. It features love-it or hate-it styling, a quirky interior, and only comes with all-wheel drive so it can deal with slippery road conditions and venture off-road. As a toe in the water for an all-electric powertrain, the Solterra is totally on-brand for Subaru. It enters what's already a competitive market with excellent electric crossovers already available like the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Hyundai Ioniq 5. However, all the current direct competition models are focused for the road - including Solterra's almost-twin, the Toyota bZ4X. Like the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 sports car, the Solterra and strangely named bZ4X are the result of a joint project between the Japanese automakers. Unlike the Toyota model that is offered in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the Solterra sticks with what Subaru knows its customers want and need - a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.
On paper, the Solterra doesn't hold up to its rivals with only 222 or 228 miles of range, depending on trim level. Its 215 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque are on the tamer side of crossover EVs, and its 72.8 kWh battery with a 100 kWh charge time isn't class-leading. However, nobody else in the class is compromising on-road range with off-road ability.
The 2023 Subaru Solterra EV is an all-new arrival and is the first electric SUV from the Japanese automaker. It's also Subaru's first global all-electric vehicle, but many more are expected in the future. The Solterra has much in common with the Toyota bZ4X - the two vehicles even have similar bold styling. As standard, the Solterra gets the brand's symmetrical all-wheel-drive system and a total of 215 horsepower from its dual electric motors. The Subaru Solterra's range is claimed to be at least 222 miles and it has an acceptable ground clearance of 8.3 inches. The 2023 Subaru Solterra's release date is scheduled for midway through 2022.
The 2023 Subaru Solterra's USA price starts at $44,995 for the Premium, going up to $48,995 for the Limited. The Touring will cost $51,995. The Subaru Solterra's MSRP excludes the destination charge of $1,225.
See trim levels and configurations:
Despite the numbers on paper, the Solterra is peppy off the line and doesn't let up on the way to freeway speed. To be fair, that's all anyone needs and is on-brand for Subaru crossovers. The ride is softer than most electric crossovers we've driven but without being bouncy. While there's extra weight from the batteries, it's central and low, and you can feel that in the center of gravity. The steering is light and the Solterra is reasonably composed in the corners, but nothing to write home about. Behind the wheels are paddles to give the driver control of the regenerative braking level. The difference between each level is not drastic, and one-pedal driving doesn't bring you to a full halt. Overall, the Subaru Solterra is a perfectly and consistently pleasant compact crossover to drive in all situations. Then, you take it off-road, and it's just as relentlessly consistent.
We found ourselves on the island of Catalina off the coast of Southern California with Subaru to explore the dirt tracks, scrabble up some bumpy hills, and see how it deals with low-grip surfaces on all-weather tires. The ride takes the edges off of dirt tracks and big bumps to the point that you have to actively try to jostle a passenger around. Scrabbling up steep, bumpy hills using the X Mode setting for dirt and snow is where our passenger got bounced around a little, but the ground clearance, considered approach and departure angles, and the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system did its job and got us to the top without breaking a sweat. For a more challenging climb, we used the Grip Control setting which acts like a crawl control feature, and works brilliantly. Using Hill Descent and going manual for going back downhill, the Solterra was just as composed and accomplished. On-road, the Solterra is middle-of-the-road and feels like a blend of a Subaru and Toyota vehicle - but off-road, it's all Subaru.
Ultimately, the Solterra is everything a Subaru crossover owner or someone contemplating becoming a Subaru crossover owner will be looking for. The interior is spacious, comfortable, and well thought out if the steering wheel adjustment and placement of the gauge cluster work for you. There's plenty of storage and much thought has gone into how families will use their Solterra. On-road, it's not exciting, but off-road, it's more than capable for what its owners will need. The range is going to be a sticking point for some, but the reality is that for daily commutes with a garage prepped for charging, the range is more than enough for the vast majority of Americans. For day trips to trailheads or lakes and weekends away camping, a full charge will get you a long way and back. If you're venturing more than a hundred miles for your outdoor excursions, then Subaru won't stop making the Outback anytime soon. However, if you're looking for a rugged Subaru for off-road use and electric power will suit your lifestyle, the Solterra is not going to disappoint.
You could easily go for the Premium trim model and be more than happy with the features and technology included - in all likelihood; there will be a real base model further down the road. However, depending on federal and state rebates available, it would be easy to talk yourself into going for the Limited trim level to take advantage of the added adjustment in the front seats, the larger infotainment display, and the 20-inch wheels. For those feeling flush and living in warmer climates, we wouldn't begrudge them splashing out for the top trim for the ventilated seats and panoramic roof, as well as extra ambient illumination and two-tone paint.
A comparison between these corporate siblings was always going to be inevitable. They share a platform and even look quite similar. Perhaps one of the biggest differences is that Toyota sells a less powerful but more efficient front-wheel-drive variant of the bZ4X. With a range of over 250 miles, it's a smart choice if you don't absolutely need all-wheel drive. This model exceeds the Solterra's maximum range by over 30 miles. In the Toyota, even the base model comes with features like a glass roof and a 12.3-inch touchscreen - these are only standard on upper trim levels of the Solterra. The Subaru has 0.2 inches of added ground clearance, a figure that aptly puts into perspective the marginal differences between these two crossovers. One big plus is that Toyota provides two years or 25,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance. This, together with the Toyota's better range, makes it our pick.
The Outback looks positively ancient alongside the Solterra. With its wagon body style and even more rugged finishes, it's more of an old-school Subaru, whereas the Solterra is a new-age crossover with a hint of off-road capability. You'll need to go for the turbocharged, 260-hp Outback to compete with the Solterra's acceleration. The Outback proves that ICE cars still have their place. Not only can it tow up to 3,500 lbs, but it can travel over 500 miles on a tank and has up to 9.5 inches of ground clearance. That all makes it a much more capable vehicle. Then again, the Solterra has a more modern cabin with more advanced technologies such as a surround-view monitor. The Outback is more of a known quantity and is still better for traversing the great outdoors, but the Solterra is a more refined city slicker with enough practicality to appease most. However, it doesn't do anything significantly better than other EVs. As things stand now, we believe the Outback will answer the needs of the typical Subaru customer more effectively.
The most popular competitors of 2023 Subaru Solterra: