We get behind the wheel of the Solterra mid-sized SUV – the first pure electric car from Subaru…
The Subaru brand has a relatively low profile here in the UK. Elsewhere, in countries such as the US and Australia, the Japanese company’s cars are more appreciated and sell in much bigger numbers.
Subaru’s very capable 4x4s are renowned for their durability, and traditionally, owners are intensively loyal, holding onto their cars for longer than any rivals.
Quite what they will make of the all-new Solterra is another matter because it’s sayonara to Subaru’s signature boxer engines and effective ‘symmetrical’ four-wheel drive system.
Before we begin, let’s deal with the elephant in the room, because the Solterra has been co-developed with the Toyota bZ4X and Lexus RZ.
In fact, it’s manufactured alongside its cousins in the same plant at Motomachi, Japan, and they all share the same e-TNGA platform.
It also bears more than a passing resemblance to the Toyota and Lexus. However, there are some key differences.
The most important is that Subaru has kept things simple with the Solterra, which is only available in twin-motor four-wheel-drive form. That also means it has a higher starting price than some single-motor rivals.
There are just two trim choices too – entry-level Limited (£49,995) and top-spec Touring (£52,995). Both seem to be almost identical mechanically, which means they share a 71.4kWh battery pack and two electric motors, producing a combined total of 215bhp and 249lb ft of torque – enough for 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds.
Significantly, Limited has a claimed range of 289 miles, while Touring tops out at 257 miles. The only obvious difference between the two is that the latter has 20-inch wheels (Limited has 18s) and Touring weighs 25kg more.
In other words, on paper it’s hard to justify the extra few thousand quid for a shorter range and a few spec upgrades such as an electric passenger seat, (synthetic) leather and a passenger door mirror that tilts when reversing.
As Subaru customers would expect, the 4×4 system is permanent, plus there’s an X-Mode button which helps you navigate tougher terrain such as deep mud, snow and steep, slippery slopes — all in a controlled, calm way.
We tried some light off-roading and the Downhill Assist Control, the speed of which can be adjusted via a simple switch on the steering wheel, is particularly effective.
What’s more, with a minimum ground clearance of 210mm, it can tackle trips some EV competitors can’t and it has a water-fording wading depth. It’s also worth noting that the Solterra has a towing capacity of just 750kg.
Inside, it’s not unlike Subarus of old in that it has a feel of functionality and durability, but it is a tad dark and drab.
Like its Japanese cousins, there’s the same unconventional layout for the driver. In other words, they share the same Peugeot-esque low steering wheel position and high instrument binnacle, plus centrally mounted 12.4-inch infotainment touchscreen.
That said, it is easy to get used to the driving position and the infotainment system works well.
There’s plenty of room for adults to sit comfortably in the rear, while the boot capacity is a useful 452 litres (441 litres in the Touring version). On the minus side, there’s no ‘frunk’ under the bonnet to store charging cables and no glovebox inside.
It’s well equipped too and, as Subaru owners will like the fact that it boasts the latest safety equipment, achieving a maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP.
All-round visibility is good, and if you need extra assurance, there’s a reversing camera and 360-degree surround-view monitor. Our only gripe is that there’s no rear wiper, which is OK in light rain, but a nuisance on filthy motorway journeys.
On the road the Subaru Solterra feels solid, composed and surprisingly agile for a relatively large, heavy car.
Push it on more challenging roads and body roll is kept to a minimum, there’s also plenty of grip and the steering turns in keenly.
There are three driving modes (Eco, Normal and Power). As ever, Eco dulls the driving experience, so it’s fine on motorway runs, but Normal is best for everyday tootling along, while Power is fun for overtaking.
Even though the 71.4kWh battery and two motors are on the modest side compared to some competitors, the Solterra seems to have plenty of poke.
Unlike some EVs, the brakes are fairly progressive, while brake regeneration can be adjusted via paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.
One final thought. If you test drive a Solterra, choose a smooth stretch of road and listen out for noise. Our Touring spec test car wasn’t quite the whisper-quiet experience we’d hoped for. Harsh, when even a bit of wind noise is noticeable in an EV, but we’ve come to expect no more than a distant wine from those electric motors.
As for charging, it’s capable of delivering an 80% boost in as little as 30 minutes via its (average) 150kW fast-charging system. The same charge at home will take 7-8 hours. Our charging experience wasn’t ideal because the weather was cold, so we couldn’t match the 30-minute target time or get close to the advertised charge rate.
Perhaps more importantly, our Touring spec Solterra only gets a 257-mile range, which in real-world driving is closer to 200 miles, so not ideal. What’s more, if you switch on the heating, for example, the range takes another hit. As we said before, stick with entry-level Limited spec for those extra miles of range.
Looking in the small print, the Solterra is covered by a three-year/60,000-mile warranty (whichever is sooner). However, the bZ4X benefits from Toyota’s warranty which covers your vehicle for 10 years (up to 100,000 miles), provided your car is serviced by a Toyota dealer.
The Solterra’s electric SUV rivals include everything from the Tesla Model Y, Skoda Enyaq iV and Nissan Ariya to the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5.
So, the Solterra isn’t perfect, but don’t be put off. We like it, and in fact, we’d say it just edges the bZ4X.
Verdict: The handsome Subaru Solterra SUV is a confident EV debut. It’s not without a few gripes, but overall it delivers an assured drive, it’s easy to live with, well equipped, safe and spacious.