Subaru Solterra: First drive & US pricing – $ 45K for amazing AWD, but that range …

Subaru has revealed US pricing for their new all-electric crossover, the Solterra. As a matter of fact, I was flown to Catalina Island and got to experience the Subaru Solterra – then got lost, had a flat tire, and almost missed my plane. But lived to tell the tale.

The Solterra is coming in hot, offering a highly competitive price for one of the best AWD systems on the market today, electric or otherwise. If you’re willing to forgive the slower speed at which the car can roadtrip, then Subaru’s impressive first attempt at a BEV could be in your future.

Despite their best effort to safely corral media personnel in a pampered and carefully planned route, the Subaru team has made an electric vehicle that pulls at the heartstring of the true wanderer. I sauntered off course, almost slid off the road, got a flat tire, lost out on work time, and raced back across gravel roads to prevent being stuck overnight. I loved it!

The Solterra is wonderfully equipped in so many ways, and the drive experience really brought it all together.

For standard AWD, Solterra pricing is quite competitive. With a 50/50 split motor system and Subaru’s advanced AWD software, we’re looking at a great price for an electric adventure vehicle. Keep in mind Subaru is just beginning to take advantage of the $ 7,500 US federal tax incentive and various other state incentives, which will bring the Solterra in line with ICE alternatives.

Solterra Premium Solterra Limited Solterra Touring
$ 44,995 + $ 1,225 D&D $ 48,495 + $ 1,225 D&D $ 51,995 + $ 1,225 D&D
Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive 20 ″ alloy wheels Glass roof with retractable sunshade
X-MODE with Grip Control LED fog lights Ventilated front seats
8.3 ″ of ground clearance Roof rails Display rear view mirror
EyeSight Driver Assist Technology Dual liftgate spoilers Interior illuminated trim
Blind Spot Monitoring Power rear gate Available two-tone roof
8.0 ″ multimedia system with wireless CarPlay & Android Auto Power driver seat Gloss black hood cowl
Cloud-based navigation and voice
assistant capability
Heated rear seats & steering wheel
Automatic Climate Control StarTex trimmed upholstery
18 ″ alloy wheels 12.3 ″ multimedia system
Roof rack capability Wireless phone charger
Heated front seats Harman Kardon premium audio
360 degree surround view camera
Automatic parking
Digital key

Solterra understanding

I can’t dance around it: The major drawback I see is the combination of unimpressive range and a slow max charging speed. The EPA range is 222 miles for the 20 ”wheel version, and 228 for the 18” wheel version. Charge rate caps at 100kW and we’re told it has a fairly flat curve at that rate. This puts the Solterra at a disadvantage when comparing these specs to pretty much every other major contender in the “E-CUV Class of 2022.” For charging and range, I was expecting much more from a brand with lifestyle imagery that evokes long trips to escape the city.

Subaru was eager to mention that battery lifespan can be improved by slow charging, and that the smaller pack enables a lighter weight platform. I see this as less of a silver lining, and more of a consolation prize. If Subaru was concerned with battery longevity, they would use the higher shelf Panasonic batteries that Toyota puts in the FWD BZ4X. I don’t know why, but Toyota uses the Chinese made CATL batteries in the AWD models of the BZ4X, as well as inside all of the Subaru Solterras, and all trim levels are AWD. While the Solterra is lightweight for its class, it doesn’t translate into range or acceleration. Perhaps it benefits in off-road performance, but I’ve never tried others in that environment.

Spec 2023 Solterra
EV Range (estimated miles) More than 220
Horsepower 218
Torque (lb.-ft.) 248
Passenger volume (cu.ft) 95.7
Cargo volume upper / lower cargo floor position (cu.ft.) 27.7 / 30.3
Cargo volume from lower row (cu.ft.) 30.3
Total passenger & cargo volume (cu.ft.) 126
Rear cargo opening width (in.) 41.3
Wheelbase (in.) 112.2
Length (in.) 184.6
Width (in.) 73.2
Height (in.) 65.0
Seating Capacity 5 passenger
Ground clearance (in.) 8.3

When twins wear the same outfit

The Subaru Solterra is made in partnership with Toyota, and the Solterra is unmistakably similar to the BZ4X in many, many… many ways. Both have the same exterior in almost every way, the same dashboard, infotainment, and basic drivetrain. Both of these companies use the same motors and the same CATL batteries (for AWD models). I’m making a safe bet that the vehicle is primarily led by Toyota, and the Subaru side was tasked with adapting this platform. Or at least putting logos around the car. Here’s a look at the two:

The plastic trim around the wheel wells, and in the back of the hatch looks… weird to me. Unfortunately, Subaru was leaning on these trim pieces for some connection to their brand and design language, and for me, it really missed the mark.

I could harp on Subaru for making an uninspiring EV, but in the era of shortages, I can’t fault them for relying on Toyota to get something out the door as fast as possible. Subaru plans on making around 7,000 of these vehicles this first year of production, and they have already amassed reserves for all of them. In 2023, they hope to jump to the production of 13,000. That’s a few days of Tesla production.

Solterra highway drive

During the road-driving portion of the event, the Solterra felt very nice to drive. The wide 112.2 ″ wheelbase made for a much quieter and smoother ride than I was anticipating. My limited experience with adventure vehicles had me anticipating a reverberant tin can, but this was truly plush by comparison. Acceleration was slower than I was expecting, (Subaru says 0-60 ~ 6.5sec) but I’m assuming the challenge was the higher ground clearance and short, flat nose of the vehicle.

Subaru was happy to mention that the short hood and wide wheelbase made for a roomier cabin, and it really shows. I’m 6-feet tall, and I put the driver’s seat all the way back to test out the rear legroom. Behind the rear-most seat, I had a lot more room than the ID.4, even contending with the EV6 and Ioniq 5. While the cabin space was large, the trunk space was pretty average: 30 cubic feet. In the cockpit, the Solterra does have a decent sized center console, with a lower spot for a purse or fanny pack, but the downside is that it doesn’t include any frunk space and oddly enough doesn’t include a glovebox. In the place of the glovebox is a fabric-wrapped dashboard that simply houses the passenger vent.

The cockpit gave a sense of control and tightness with a myriad of physical buttons at my disposal. Many automakers can’t decide what to do with the driver controls, the battle between clean / minimal, and intuitive / busy. I would put the Solterra more in the busy side of the scale, and I like it that way. For my personal preference, the car is an instrument, and not an ornament.

Easy to get lost in the moment

Solterra off the beaten path

I was very impressed by the off-road capabilities. During the time-constrained off-road section of the drive, we got to see a bit of the picturesque Catalina Island off the California coast. Perhaps subconsciously I missed the turn and strayed into an hour-long detour of the beautiful scenic island. Finally, we retraced our steps and found the intended path. At this point, we were still likely to make our return flight back to the mainland. While getting some extra time behind the wheel, I really enjoyed the automatic off-road features of Subaru’s “X-Mode.” Despite my personal reservations of ascending up steep, uneven inclines, the X-Mode gave me a sense of control I wouldn’t have otherwise. Cresting the hill was not only relieving from the accomplishment, but also allowing me to put more trust in the vehicle.

Flat tire

At the top of this short and intimidating climb, we found the Solterra tire was completely flat. As anticipated, the Solterra doesn’t come equipped with a spare tire, or even a donut. At this point we certainly would miss our scheduled flight, but there was more in the afternoon queue. Fortunately, we had enough cell signal to alert the event team of our predicament. While patiently waiting, I got the chance to break out some binoculars and reminisce about my youth spent on the Oregon coast. Now in the throes of adulthood, I’m hearing louder and louder the primordial call of nature.

Solterra lookout

The support team arrived with a spare tire, and we were ready to resume our adventure. Time must have slipped by faster than I realized, gazing longingly into the comforting rhythm of the waves, as we were obliged to turn around and head back to the airport before we missed the last scheduled flight off the island. Turning around and coming down was frightening indeed. Going up, I didn’t realize that a bad spill looks like it could drop us into the ocean itself. The below press photo, taken at the same event, properly illustrates the surreal feeling of driving into the watery horizon.

Aye, a watery grave indeed

As it turns out, a bit of caution was plenty enough. Crawling down at about 1 mph, I carefully chose my lines and the downhill descent mode automatically applied the brakes. Subaru’s X-Mode was very impressive, it really felt like an electric bike, suddenly gaining powers I know are beyond my experience. After landing back on the main dirt road, we broke the island’s speed limit racing back to the small airport. One wrong turn and we would be stuck on the island overnight. Of course, I had to stop for a selfie with the resident buffalo.

Airplane can wait.

With 15 minutes to spare, we made it to the plane, and back to the mainland to regale the event staff with our heroic tale.

Electrek’s Take

Subaru is offering new owners of the Solterra 10 free days of a gas-powered loaner. The goal is to cover the once / year trips that regular Subaru owners statistically take outside the current charger network. While this is a thoughtful way of enticing a gas customer to go electric, it really doesn’t show confidence in their first EV product. In fact, it seems to imply the opposite.

I’m an instant fan of Subaru’s AWD technology, it was an eye-opening experience to see how capable a low-weight EV can be in precarious terrain. That tech is so good that I feel like they could slap that into a ho-hum EV of any kind, and instantly come out with a compelling vehicle. Subaru stalwarts will certainly appreciate this vehicle.

Is that what they did?

Personally, I can’t seem to get past the 228-mile range and the 100kW charge rate. The technology specs here map closer to a 2017 Chevy Bolt with its larger 238-mile range and 50+ kW charging. Around that same time, Tesla and others were going to multiple-engine AWD electric systems that blow away the complex, efficient web of axles and drive shafts that plague single engine ICE cars. In fact the 2018 review of the Jaguar I-Pace shows that it would have been the perfect Subaru. Subaru should have realized that their monopoly on elegant AWD cars was abruptly ending. Here we are 5 years later.

Today, you can buy an E-GMP Hyundai / Kia or Tesla AWD vehicle with up to 100 more miles of range, double the charging speed, and, in Tesla’s case, far more charging locations. These vehicles aren’t purpose-built to go off-road obviously, but it is hard to get over these differences.

My top-level takeaway: In less than ideal conditions, Solterra is limited to slow or mapped-out trips, instead of impulsive exploration, and that’s not very on-brand for Subaru.

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