Subaru finally enters the battery-electric vehicle (BEV) market with its 2023 Subaru Solterra. How does it stack up? We put it to the test.
Best known for rugged all-wheel-drive vehicles like the Outback and Forester, Subaru is the latest manufacturer to enter the battery-electric vehicle market with the 2023 Subaru Solterra.
To get a sense of how the 2023 Subaru Solterra stacks up against the brand’s traditional models — as well as competitors like the Kia EV6 and Volkswagen ID.4 — we headed out to California’s scenic Catalina Island for a day of driving.
From almost 1,000 feet up, I can hear the Pacific surf roaring against the cliffs at the northern end of Catalina Island. That’s one of the unexpected joys of taking the new Subaru Solterra out on the back trails of this pristine wilderness. Aside from the gentle motor hum and the crunch of its tires, the battery-electric vehicle operates in near silence.
And with a modified version of the Japanese automaker’s familiar Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive technology, the Solterra easily handled the well-worn trails and steep climbs we put it through during our day’s drive.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
2023 Subaru Solterra Review
An Expanding Alliance
While Subaru now offers hybrid technology, the 2023 Solterra is its first battery-electric vehicle — and it has an unusual genesis, emerging from a partnership between Subaru and industry giant Toyota.
The two companies have already worked together successfully, last year launching the second-generation Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR 86 sports cars. So, the question was whether they could expand that relationship to include battery-electric vehicle technology.
We’re about to find out, with Toyota just launching its version, the bZ4X, and with Subaru soon to follow with the Solterra.
As with the BRZ/GR 86 program, the two electric crossovers are virtually identical visually, but for minor tweaks to their grilles and, of course, unique badges. The grille is nonfunctional, as there’s no need for airflow under the hood. However, smaller openings below the bumper help provide cooling air for the battery pack and motors — and help reduce turbulence around the front wheels.
Under the Skin
With EVs, range-extending aerodynamics are essential to design. As a result, the windshield and back-glass are steeply raked, with all but the base version of the Solterra adding a split upper spoiler.
Lined up side by side, Solterra is nearly identical in length to the familiar Subaru Forester, with a total length of 184.4 inches, a width of 73.2 inches, and a height of 65.0 inches. But the wheelbase is a full 7 inches longer than the Forester’s.
The new EV rides on a skateboard-like platform that places the battery pack and other key powertrain components below the load floor. The approach has several advantages — allowing the wheels to move close to the corners, for one thing, while freeing up space generally devoted to an engine compartment. That translates into a size-above cabin and plenty of cargo space.
The interior won’t shock those familiar with the existing Subaru lineup. Instead, Solterra picks up on crucial design cues — and even offers the StarTex fabric that is popular with those who spend time on outdoor adventures. The material makes it easy to clean up, even after a muddy romp.
However, the instrument panel has a bit of a high-tech feel, dominated by a 12.3-inch touchscreen display. Here’s one of the small places where Subaru’s partnership with Toyota pays off.
Solterra uses a version of the bigger automaker’s new infotainment system with its Amazon Alexa-style voice assistant. Say, “Hey, Subaru,” and it will accept a destination for the navigation system, but let you say things like, “I’m cold,” intuitively bringing up the cabin heat.
A more dubious “benefit” of the partnership is the smaller digital gauge cluster. As in the bZ4X, it’s designed to be viewed from above, rather than through, the steering wheel. But we found portions remained obstructed, a concern expressed by several media colleagues.
Your Dog Will Approve
In typical fashion, Subaru tweaked its EV to be pet-friendly, with an unpainted bumper that won’t get scratched by a dog jumping into the cargo bed. There’s a surprising amount of space back there, including a hidden lower compartment where the portable charger resides. Surprisingly, Solterra does not offer a “frunk,” or front trunk, something a number of competitors feature.
The drivetrain is another area where Subaru and Toyota took different turns. The bZ4X is offered with a choice of either front-wheel or all-wheel-drive. Solterra comes exclusively with a version of its symmetrical all-wheel-drive technology modified to work with electric motors.
It also adds the now-familiar X-Mode for dealing with off-road conditions at speeds up to 25 mph. The trick, the automaker explained, is to rein in the burst of instant torque that motors normally make in order to maximize grip. At the same time, that torque can be used to help creep over otherwise insurmountable obstacles.
While we didn’t have the chance to do any rock crawling, we found the system handled with aplomb everything we threw it along the Catalina trails, including some insanely steep hill climbs.
Power and Range
The twin motors — one per axle — in the Solterra make a combined 215 horsepower and 249 pound-feet of torque. During a later drive out on the California coast, I found the new EV to meet Subaru’s conservative estimate of around 6.5 seconds from 0 to 60.
That’s mid-pack among the flood of new compact electric SUVs coming to market. The Kia EV6 GT-Line, for one, needs just 4.5 seconds, while the Volkswagen ID.4 AWD Pro takes 5.7 seconds to hit 60.
The range also lands on the more modest side, Subaru (and Toyota with the AWD bZ4X) squeezing 228 miles out of a 72.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion pack. The ID.4 Pro delivers 249 miles while the EV6 is EPA-rated at 274 miles.
Subaru claims that charging up from 10% to 80% takes about an hour, using a public quick charger of at least 100 kilowatts. Final figures for home Level 2 charging have yet to be released, but should take 6 to 8 hours based on the size of the pack.
A Minimal Learning Curve
On the whole, there’s a lot to like about the 2023 Subaru Solterra — and the automaker clearly succeeded with a key goal: delivering a BEV that will minimize the learning curve for those who haven’t driven electric before.
There is, however, one feature we’d have liked to see. To maximize range, battery-electric vehicles use regenerative braking to recapture energy normally lost during braking and coasting.
A number of new models add an especially aggressive version of regen known as 1-Pedal. It feels much like a gas-powered vehicle downshifted several gears. In routine driving conditions, you seldom have to hit the brakes, adjusting speed — even coming to a complete stop — by modulating the throttle.
Subaru chose not to offer 1-Pedal, instead, adding a less aggressive S-Pedal mode that will require you to flip-flop from throttle to brake and back more often.
Despite such quibbles, however, the 2023 Subaru Solterra is a battery-electric vehicle that is worth considering. On-road, it handles well, with good road feedback and predictable steering. Off-road, it matches the capabilities of products like the Forester.
Solterra Supplies Are Limited — For Now
The challenge will be finding one. Subaru plans to import just 6,500 of the BEVs this year, with production set to rise in 2023. According to planning manager Garrick Goh, almost all have been preordered, though you might find “one or two” available if you check with enough dealers.
To help ease concerns among buyers who occasionally make extended trips, Subaru is introducing a novel program. It lets Solterra owners borrow conventional gas models like the Outback and Forester for up to 10 days.
Meanwhile, buyers will have the choice of either getting $400 in free energy credits at EVgo charging stations or applying that money to the installation of a QMerit home charger.
The 2023 Subaru Solterra starts at $46,220, including $1,225 in delivery fees. But with federal and state incentives, Subaru said, some buyers could pay as little as $35,000. The well-equipped Touring package jumps to $53,220.
To dive even more into the specs of the 2023 Subaru Solterra, and maybe try to find one to buy for yourself, go to Subaru.com.