Subaru Solterra review
Subaru’s first EV is a well-rounded electric family SUV that’s surprisingly good to drive, but doesn’t match the practicality or range of the best in this class
- All-wheel drive as standard
- Good to drive
- Infotainment and cabin
- Rivals offer more boot space
- Average range and charging speeds
- Not very efficient in winter
|Car type||Range||Wallbox charge time||Rapid charge time|
|Electric||257-289 miles||11hrs 30mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)||28mins (10-80%, 150kW)|
Subaru has finally jumped on the EV bandwagon and launched its first-ever electric car: the Solterra. If you think this all-new electric family SUV looks a bit familiar, that's because it’s almost identical sister car is the Toyota bZ4X; the only visual differences being their badges, front grille panel and rear light arrangement.
But as the brand likes to point out, this is not a bait-and-switch, badge-engineering job. Subaru helped to develop the two cars’ underpinnings (also being used by the Lexus RZ 450e) and their specific off-road settings. The X-Mode system controls the motors and brakes to deliver optimum traction on difficult terrain such as deep mud, snow or even steep, slippery slopes, according to Subaru.
The Solterra also distinguishes itself from the bZ4X by featuring permanent all-wheel drive as standard – as is the Subaru way – though it is an opinion on the Toyota and there are similar dual-motor versions of all this car's highly accomplished rivals, including the Tesla Model Y, Skoda Enyaq iV, Nissan Ariya, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5, with plenty more waiting in the wings.
As well as all-wheel drive traction, the Solterra’s two electric motors produce a combined total of 215bhp and 337Nm of torque; enough for 0-62mph in a smidge under seven seconds. The 71.4kWh battery is the only size offered and good for 289 miles on a charge in base Limited-trim cars, while Touring-spec models like the one we drove only have a 257-mile range, likely as a result of their larger 20-inch wheels.
For context, entry-level versions of the Model Y, Mustang Mach-E and Enyaq iV offer between 250 and 280 miles of range, however, specific variants of all three can crack the 300-mile barrier with relative ease. The Solterra’s rapid charging capabilities don’t set it apart either, topping out at a relatively average 150kW. Filling up from 10-80% using a charging point capable of that speed will take around half an hour, while a 7.4kW home wallbox will need nearly 12 hours to fully replenish the battery.
The cabin is dominated by the huge 12.3-inch central touchscreen, and thankfully it’s great. The display itself is bright and clear, and the menus are well thought-out. It responds quickly to touches and loads quickly, too. All versions of the Solterra come with wireless Apple CarPlay, too, but you’ll need a cable to use Android Auto.
The seven-inch instrument panel on the other hand, while still clear and crisp, isn’t such a highlight. Like Peugeot’s similarly divisive i-Cockpit setup, the dials are mounted above the wheel, which doesn’t work for everyone, as shorter drivers might have the wheel blocking part of the screen – as we experienced first hand. Some useful EV info, such as remaining battery percentage, are also lacking, though a software update will address this in time, we’ve been told.
The Solterra bucks the trend of relying on touch-sensitive panels and sliders, instead sticking with buttons and physical controls for the most part, most noticeably on the steering wheel. The climate controls are a combination of physical and touch switches, and they’re reasonably easy to get along with – certainly better setup’s we’ve tried that rely wholly on a car’s touchscreen.
The layout of the button-laden and high centre console ensures key functions are within reach, but it also prevents the cabin from feeling as airy or spacious as a Skoda Enyaq or Hyundai Ioniq 5’s. We can't fault the quality though; the sturdy plastics and use of fabric materials over the dashboard help to make feel as premium as you might expect from a nearly-£50,000 EV.
Hop into the back of the Solterra, and you’re greeted with loads of kneeroom. Headroom is a little tight, but the rear seats can recline, which taller passengers might find handy. However the lack of leg support for them can’t be fixed as the high floor forces your thighs off the squab. At least passengers can keep their devices charged up with a pair of USB-C sockets.
The 441-litre boot is a decent size, but significantly smaller than a Skoda Enyaq iV or Tesla Model Y’s, and there’s no ‘frunk’ under the bonnet of the Subaru. There aren’t many features in the boot, either, and those that are present aren’t that well thought out. Take the folding bag hooks, for example; they’re positioned on the trim surrounding the boot opening, so you’ll struggle to hang any decent-sized bag of shopping on them without blocking the tailgate.
You might not expect a two-tonne-plus electric SUV to be the sort of car we’d praise for its performance, but hats off to Subaru for finding a great middle ground achieved between capable handling and a settled ride with the Solterra. In terms of ride comfort, the car remains composed over bumps and does a solid job of cushioning passengers from shocks. The cabin is well isolated from road noise as well, making the Solterra a great motorway cruiser.
Come face-to-face with some corners and you’ll find body roll is kept to a minimum, while the Solterra’s steering is light enough to make manoeuvring around town easy, but it is still well weighted and provides an impression of feedback from the front tyres.
Power delivery is smooth from the pair of electric motors, and we have no reason to doubt the claimed 6.9-second 0-62mph time. Slowing down is just as impressive because the Subaru’s brake feel is reassuring, and the transition between the regeneration of the electric motor and physical brakes is almost imperceptible. The level of brake regeneration can be adjusted on the fly via paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, while the strongest setting – almost capable one-pedal driving, but doesn’t bring the car to a complete stop – is accessed via a button on the dashboard.
Sadly, the Solterra seemed to be hit harder by the cold, winter weather than we’d usually see. It achieved a rather disappointing figure of 2.5 miles per kilowatt hour, while a Skoda Enyaq we tested at the same time returned 3.0mi/kWh. At that rate, the Subaru could only cover 178 miles before the battery runs flat, compared to 231 miles in the Skoda. Of course, we’d expect the Subaru to be more efficient in the warmer months, but how much better? We’d need to test it again in order to find out.
As we mentioned, Subaru has kept things simple and is offering just two trim levels and a handful of exterior colours for customers to choose from. Entry-level Limited spec starts from £49,995 and comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a power tailgate, adaptive cruise control, heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel, that 360-degree parking camera, a digital rear-view mirror and a heat pump to more efficiently warm the battery. The car is also compatible with the ‘Subaru Car App’ that lets you check the amount of remaining charge, remotely lock the car and even find the car when parked.
Upgrading to Touring trim adds faux-leather upholstery, 20-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a Harman/Kardon sound system, wireless smartphone charging and an electric passenger seat, but that reduction in range we mentioned earlier. Prices for this version of the Solterra start from £52,995 – five pounds more than a Tesla Model Y Long Range, which can travel 80 miles further on a charge, for comparison.
It might not be as quirky as Subarus of old, but the Japanese brand’s successes still come from a determination to do things differently to everyone else. In the case of the Solterra, that’s fitting all-wheel drive as standard and logical and easy to use controls, which are then combined with great on-board tech, performance and driving dynamics. However, it simply isn’t as practical or efficient as some of its key rivals, a lot of which have much lower starting prices, too.