Subaru's very first EV, the Solterra mid-sized SUV, offers the suburbs something a little different, thinks Jonathan Crouch.
Ten Second Review
It's hard to find an EV that's properly capable off-tarmac. For the time being, Subaru's Solterra is probably as close as you're going to get to a full-battery-powered model delivering that kind of capability to any great extent. Developed with Toyota, it's the brand's first purpose-built EV and includes quite a lot of what Subaru's learned in the last few decades about off road technology.
What will the Subaru of the future be like? It certainly can't be anything like the Subaru's of the present - and in this age of electrification, must be far removed from the Subarus of the past. So the brand has brought us this, the all-electric Solterra, the name derived from a combination of the Latin words for 'sun' and 'earth'. This car comes with a pledge from its brand - that existing Subaru customers "can feel it is truly a Subaru". Well that could be a stretch because, as you might notice if you've been following the EV market lately, this car shares most everything with its close cousin, the Toyota bZ4X.
To be fair, the Solterra isn't merely a re-badged design. The company has played at least an equal part in the development both of the car itself and the EV platform it sits on, called 'e-TNGA' by Toyota and 'e-Subaru Global Platform' by Subaru. It's all part of a move by the marque towards electrification, though its targets are decidedly modest. By 2030, when many manufacturers will switched to an all-EV range, Subaru hopes that 40% of its model line-up will have full-battery power. A change which starts right here.
Inevitably, Subaru had a lot to say over the configuration of the 4WD system - in this case a twin motor drivetrain - for this joint venture model. The company has engineered in its 'X-Mode' system to enhance this EV's off-road credentials. And added in a 'Grip Control' mode enabling the Solterra to travel more stably at speed over rough trails.
The pair of 107bhp motors, one on each axle, develops 214bhp and rest to 62mph is dispatched in 7.7s. Power, as with the Toyota bZ4X, comes from a 71.4kWh battery which offers 289 miles of range for the base 'Limited' model (it's 257 miles for the top 'Touring' version). For the future, there's also a single motor front-driven model with 201bhp, a range of 330 miles and a 0-62mph time of 8.4s.
Subaru expects the majority of customers though, to want the dual motor variant, with drivetrain electronics that claim to offer precise control of each wheel through the turns and 'flexible driving force between front and rear'. The strong, stiff 'e-Subaru Global Platform', allied to a low centre of gravity due to battery placement, should limit body roll through the turns. Subaru is also planning a higher performance STI version.
Across the range, the steering is interesting. It's an innovative 'steer-by-wire' system which removes the mechanical link between the steering wheel and the front axle. The engineers reckon that this enhances control because the directional influences of rough services and braking are minimised. And, to suit the EV mood of the moment, there's a 'single pedal' driving mode, which maximises regenerative braking to the extent that you'll hardly ever have to use the actual brake pedal unless coming to a complete stop.
Design and Build
This Solterra is pretty much the same size as Subaru's conventional Forester SUV, measuring 4,690mm long, 1,860mm wide and 1,650mm tall. It shares most of its body panels with its Toyota bZ4X development cousin, but gets its own front grille and headlamp design to link into the look of the brand's existing models. Huge black wheel arch extensions house rims of between 18 and 20-inches in size. It's all broadly representative of what we saw from the brand's 'EV Concept' car, unveiled in 2021.
As you'd expect, the interior pretty much duplicates that of the bZ4X too. So there's a compact instrument pack behind the wheel with a 7-inch screen. And the usual large wide infotainment monitor at the top of the centre stack. It's all very modern and feels particularly light and airy with the optional twin sunroof arrangement fitted. But what's most impressive about this cabin is the amount of space you get in the back, thanks to this design's particularly long wheelbase. It's around 900mm, which is comparable to what you'd get from a boardroom-level luxury saloon. Boot capacity isn't quite as large as you get from one of those but at 452-litres, it should be more than adequate for the needs of most likely owners.
Market and Model
As you might expect, the pricing for this car can get nowhere near the level required for it to benefit from the government's Plug-in grant: the asking figures start from around £50,000 - that's for the base 'Limited' model; for £53,000, you can get the plusher 'Touring' version. Both variants are well equipped. Even the base 'Limited' gets 18-inch alloy wheels, a multimedia system with an 8-inch display, a 7-inch digital screen in the instrument binnacle, a reversing camera, smart keyless entry and a climate control system with a remote operation function that lets owners warm up or cool their car ahead of a making a journey.
Options include roof rails and a towing pack. If you want more, plusher versions give you a powered tailgate, privacy glass, parking sensors and electrically adjustable heated front seats. The top trim level includes 20-inch alloy wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, Remote Control Parking Assist and a heated steering wheel.
Cost of Ownership
We gave you the driving range figure for this car in our 'Driving Experience' section - up to 289 miles for the 'Limited' version. For the future single motor front-driven model, it'd be more like 330 miles. An 80% charge of the 71.4kWh battery takes around 30 minutes, if you can find a suitably rapid charger. An optional 11kW AC charger in future will help with overnight charges for those with a compatible wall box.
The brand says that the battery will hold 90% of its range for the first ten years of its life, aided by water cooling for the cells, with active thermal management of the battery further aiding durability and range. That range is optimised courtesy of an on-board solar charging system that aims to minimise the effect of cold weather on usability.
As for the warranty, well as with all Subarus, there's the peace of mind of a five year / 100,000 mile package that embarrasses the three year / 60,000 mile package most rivals offer. You also get a three year recovery and roadside assistance programme you'll almost certainly never need.
The last few years have been truly dismal for Subaru: in the UK in 2020, the brand didn't even manage to sell a thousand cars. That's what you get for missing market trends - first, then move towards SUVs and now the trend for Electric Vehicles. The Solterra though, does at least belatedly introduce the company into the EV market - and with a very competitive product.
If you already own a Subaru Forester or an Outback - perhaps you live in a rural area or on a farm - this is probably your future car. With its 'X-Mode' and 'Grip Control' systems, it's probably the best 4WD Electric Vehicle currently out there and with a set of chunky tyres, there won't be many places you currently take your Outback or Forester that you couldn't also take a Solterra. Which ought to broaden this car's appeal beyond Subaru loyalists. But we've said that before about new models from the brand, then seen the sales figures trickle in. Will this car be different? It needs to be. We think you should give it a chance.