Expert Insights

Subaru Solterra Road Test

Laurance Yap
June 20, 2023
The Subaru Solterra is a crossover that combines the virtues of a Subaru with the virtues of an electric car. What's it like to live with in the real world? Read on to find out.
Subaru Solterra Exterior view on the road

The Subaru Solterra

The great outdoors, all-wheel drive, and a green thumb have always been part of Subaru’s DNA. Its popular Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek models combine off-road ability with practical packaging and much better fuel economy than conventional SUVs, meaning they tread a lot more lightly in the wilderness than bigger, heavier vehicles. Now, there’s the new Subaru Solterra, which combines all the virtues of an electric car with all the things that made the brand a success: it's an EV crossover with all-wheel drive, extra ride height, and a reasonable starting price that should put it within reach of many American families.

Solterra is the product (like the BRZ sports car) of a close collaboration with Toyota, who have been electrifying cars for over two decades. It shares its basic platform with the Toyota bZ4X and Lexus RZ540e all-electric crossovers, giving it solid EV credentials. It has a very distinctive look, with a blanked-out “grille” at the front, angular creases on the sides, and a long rear spoiler to improve the aerodynamics. There is also lots of aggressive-looking, but also practical, black body cladding, which can take the bumps and scratches of everyday life better than painted surfaces can.

Subaru Solterra Interior Dash

Step Inside the Solterra Interior

As with most EVs, there’s a surprising amount of space inside the Solterra given its relatively compact footprint. A very long wheelbase means that there’s plenty of room front and rear for tall folks, and the cargo area is wide and deep, easily accessed through a standard power liftgate. The interior also has many practical storage spaces, including a large center console bin, a space underneath the shifter and control panel big enough to hold a purse or a camera bag, and large pockets in each of the doors. There are USB-C charging ports all over the place as well, to keep your family’s devices charged and the kids entertained.

Behind the wheel, the model’s driving position feels a little bit odd at first. While the seat itself is supportive and very comfortable, you sit high, with a tiny oval steering wheel in front of you. Instead of looking through the wheel at an instrument cluster, you look over it. There’s a small digital display almost at the base of the windshield that displays essential information like range, power output, and the state of the various systems. A halfway house between a conventional cluster and a heads-up display, the screen actually works really well, and the wheel is dotted with physical switches for the cruise control, audio systems, and driver assists.

One of the best things about the Solterra’s interior, in fact, is the presence of physical controls for all of the important functions. Drive modes, park assists, cameras, and climate functions are all operated with physical knobs and switches, with the large 12-inch central touchscreen being used for navigation and infotainment features.

The infotainment system itself isn’t the most intuitive; it has layers and layers of menus, and the text is small and difficult to read. On the other hand, once you pair your smartphone – it’ll work with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – you rarely have to dig into the car’s menus, and the phone-mirroring function works very well. I only wish there wasn’t so much shiny piano-black trim everywhere; it picks up fingerprints very easily, making it difficult to keep the interior clean.

Subaru Solterra Front Headlight View

What to Expect: Solterra Security and Handling

While it shares its platform with the bZ4X and RZ450e, the Solterra differs in a number of important details. In line with Subaru’s adventurous positioning, the Solterra comes with standard symmetrical all-wheel drive and dual motors. Total power output from the two motors isn’t huge – 215 hp and 249 lb-ft of torque – but it feels more powerful than that because EVs produce all of their torque instantly, without waiting. 0 to 60 mph takes about six and a half seconds.

Thanks to the all-wheel drive, which sends torque instantaneously sent to the wheels with the most available traction, as well as the low-set 78.2-kWh battery, the Solterra corners with confidence. The tiny steering wheel guides the front wheels with precision, and there’s plenty of grip around ramps and on country roads. The Solterra also has a trail-friendly 8.3 inches of ground clearance, Subaru’s X-Mode software for the all-wheel drive system improves performance in off-road and low-friction conditions. You can use it to fix the power split between the front and rear axles at 50/50, and there are also hill descent and ascent assistants, which can be set to maintain a controlled speed off-road.

On the road, where it will spend the majority of its time, the Solterra is a silent, comfortable, smooth cruiser – more refined and luxurious than its $44,995 starting MSRP would suggest (those Lexus genes help). The ride quality is excellent even on the big 20-inch wheels, and there’s very little wind and road noise that intrudes into the cabin even at freeway speeds. Like all electric cars, it is relaxing, and leaves you feeling refreshed even after a long stint behind the wheel. Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist technologies, blind spot monitoring, and other standard safety systems add extra security.

Subaru Soltera Tire and Headlight View

Solterra Range, Charging, and Value

An EPA range estimate of 228 miles – 220 miles with the bigger wheels – gives the Solterra more than enough legs for all your daily duties. If you set yourself up to charge at home, you’ll only need to plug it in every few days, and it is an efficient runner, rated at 104 MPGe by the EPA. On a road trip, you’ll need to plan ahead a bit, as the model's fast-charging capability tops out at 150 kW – well below the rapid-charging capability of vehicles like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6. Charging the Solterra from 10 to 80 percent takes a bit less than an hour on the right kind of Level 3 charger.

Subaru fans will find a lot to like in this EV vehicle. It has the rugged looks, practical interior, and intelligent features they’ve come to love about the brand, now in electric form. Compared to other EVs in its price range like the Volkswagen ID.4 and the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the Solterra is class-competitive, but there’s nothing specific, other than its looks and its standard all-wheel drive, that make it stand out. While it may not be the most exciting EV on the market, however, it should prove to be a great ownership proposition, with its solid construction and Subaru (and Toyota)’s reputation for reliability and resale.