The Subaru Solterra is an all-electric SUV, jointly developed with Toyota to usher both an entry point into the electric vehicle age of enlightenment. Subaru and Toyota are late to the electric party, nevertheless, when two tribes go to war a point is all that you can make. The point of the Solterra is to put Subaru on the electric avenue in order to grab a share of the EV market. But is the Solttera too little too late or just a taste of things to come?
To begin with, the Solttera may be somewhat late, but it isn’t little, it’s about the size of a BMW X3. The UK spec Solterra is available in two model trims, the Limited starts at £49,000 and the top-spec Touring starts at £52,000, both come with AWD as standard. The exterior design language is very striking, contemporary, not overstyled not understyled. Based on the exterior styling alone, I would be very happy to own a Soltterra. Next up is the interior, very nicely done, fabric on the dash console is a sustainably neat touch. Inside is a mix of soft touch and tough touch plastics, not as plush as a Subaru Forester or even the Outback, but it is solidly well built and feels much more premium compared to a Volkswagen ID4.
Interior space is generous, all human form factors are accounted for, and the rear boot space of 452-litres enlarges considerably more with the rear seats folded flat. No frunk, but the rear boot does have underfloor storage, big enough for a couple bags of shopping. So far so good, very impressive and I haven’t even driven the Solterra thus far. One of the biggest Achilles heal of the Subaru and Toyota partnership is the integration of a decent infotainment system.
Not a problem with the Solterra, the 12.3 touchscreen display features a sleek, modern, and high-definition software experience. Clearly, a lot of investment has gone into the design and functionality. It’s fairly straightforward to use, any infotainment system will have a certain amount of frustration built it into. Once you get used to the menu system it works fine. Although it isn’t perfect. For example, I would have liked a graphic displaying the charge time remaining and the percentage when recharging.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto are standard, but the integration is a bit strange. Switching between the stock UI and back to Apple CarPlay or Android causes the menu system to twist itself into a knot. That being said, it is the best digital interface/UI Subaru has ever integrated into its car, but software updates are needed to improve functionality.
Other than that equipment levels are generous, a full leather interior with very comfortable heated seats, an electric tailgate, 360 camera, decent sound system, Apple CarPlay, Andorid Auto, Bluetooth indeed the Solterra is fully loaded with equipment. It also has a suite of standard driver and safety assists. The Solterra also supports fast charging speeds of up 150kW.
Power is supplied by a 71.kWh lithium-ion battery pack and drive is motioned by a 2×1YM AC permanent magnet synchronous electric. The total system power for the Solterra Touring is 218 bhp and 338 Nm (249 lb-ft) of torque. Doesn’t sound like much to pull a 2,030kg vehicle, however, the immediacy of power and torque generated from the electric drivetrain propels the Solterra from a standstill like a rocket lifting off at launch. The Solterra has driving modes, but any mode has more power than you will ever need.
Electric cars require extra support and beefier suspensions to account for the extra weight the battery pack places upon the chassis. The standard practice is to stiffen the suspension and damping, which compromises the ride and handling. However, although the Solterra has a stiff underlying ride, it felt well planted, body roll was fairly minimal and ride quality was accomplished enough to relay a smooth and cosseting feeling whatever road surfaces lay ahead.
I didn’t explore the handling to its absolute limits, SUVs, any SUV must observe the laws of physics. The Solterra did slightly break the rulebook. The immediacy of power delivery allows for sharp throttle control and you can use the throttle to maneuver the mass precisely.
When feathering the throttle from one corner to the next power is delivered instantly followed by a surge of traction. It’s quite lightfooted, and a good steering setup combines to yield a fairly agile chassis.
The AWD drive system makes the Solttera feel stable and secure on the motorway and is the perfect foil for nonoptimal weather conditions. Subaru’s AWD system is more than capable off-road, but I never got the chance to try it out because I really don’t do glamping that much these days.
So, the Subaru Solttera, all seems fine. I like how it looks, how it drives, how it rides and how it handles. But hold on, there is one slight problem. The Solttera has a real-world pure electric range of 225 miles.
That’s OK, not the best but OK. I would like more range, but I can live with that. And the efficiency is as good as any other EV rival, the exception being Tesla which still is way out front in terms of efficiency and range.
The Solttera’s 3.2 kWh per mile is impressively efficient, the higher the number the better. However, if you turn on the heating or aircon the range immediately drops by 50 miles. Depending on the weather, in cold conditions, for example, expect a further drop of 10 miles.
This is very disappointing, clearly, Subaru and Toyota have not optimized the drivetrain hardware or software. A Tesla Model Y AWD for example uses a slightly higher capacity battery pack, 75kWh, yet it is good for over 300 miles of range and further improvements from Tesla are expected.
But here’s the issue, the Solttera is the best vehicle Subaru has ever made, but it isn’t the best EV. There are some positive takeaways, the electric powertrain is much more useable and capable than Subaru’s range of classic Boxer gasoline engines.
However, the Sollterra arrives to the market late. Subaru needs to do more homework to catch up, it is lacking knowledge as much as efficiency and therefore lagging behind rival EV manufacturers.
A software update can resolve the current range discrepancies, but it will take a significant overhaul of the software code and electric drivetrain. Clearly, the Solterra is a first step, but Subaru will need to make that giant leap if it wants to avoid remedial classes.