2023 Subaru Solterra First Drive

Subaru’s first EV is refined and offers standard all-wheel drive but is down on range.

By Michael Bettencourt Wheels.ca

Mar 15, 2023 7 min. read

Article was updated 7 days ago

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Indian Wells, CA – It’s not always easy being the little brother, and in the corporate relationship between global powerhouse Toyota and relatively smaller Subaru which co-developed the all-new 2023 Subaru Solterra EV, it’s clear that both companies are relatively new at all-electric vehicle design and production.

The result for Subaru is that its first-ever global battery electric vehicle looks and drives similarly to its bZ4X twin from Toyota, as they both come out of the same Toyota plant, run on the same platform, and in all-wheel drive form, use the same battery. The Subaru Solterra offers standard full-time all-wheel drive in a refined family SUV that could be a worthy second vehicle for its largely suburban target demographic, but isn’t an overly ambitious effort in the all-electric compact SUV space.

Toyota also kept some advanced options for itself, such as steer-by-wire, radiant heat floor panels, and the rear kick sensor that can raise or lower the tailgate hands-free.

Subaru Solterra

Subaru Canada’s decision to offer all-wheel drive as standard is relatively rare in the electric compact SUV world, as is the decision to only offer one battery size, a relatively large lithium-ion unit that’s 72.8 kWh in size. Combined, this means that the Solterra’s $54,295 starting price is somewhat higher than rivals.

But considering the desirability of more range and full-time AWD, courtesy of identical 80 kW motors on each axle, Solterra prices are right in the ballpark of its non-luxury rivals once similarly equipped, drivetrain-wise. Adding the $4,100 Luxury package will add 360-degree cameras, 20-inch wheels, and two-tone paint options (three colours with black roofs), a power driver’s seat, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats are among other interior upgrades.

The top-line Technology package comes in at a total of $62,095 before freight, taxes and fees, and adds ventilated front seats, a panoramic fixed glass roof with sunshade, and a rear camera washer. Though the panoramic roof is nice, and a great way to generate extra solar heat inside the cabin in winter, the ventilated seats on our top-line tester didn’t seem to do much cooling in our full-day test drive from LA to Palm Springs, even with relatively mild temperatures in the high teens to low 20 C range (high 60s-low 70s F).

So the $58,395 Luxury trim seems the best value play here.

Subaru Solterra

The Solterra’s rated 360 km of range is near the bottom of this class, though still above pricier electric SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz EQB and Volvo XC40. Hopping into the driver’s seat after a full overnight charge, it’s 357 km range estimate could be found on its driver’s instrument cluster, which is meant to be peered at above the steering wheel, not through it. It’s one of the most unique aspects of driving the Solterra, using a similar layout to its Toyota sibling, and combined with the standard head-up display, is meant to minimize the amount of time your eyes are off the road.

But when I noticed the climate control set to Auto, and turned it off to see how much of a difference this would make in predicted range, it made a jump worthy of an Olympic pole vaulter, landing at 464 km(!). This extra 100+ km over its official rating was the highest difference I had ever seen by turning off auto climate in any EV, in both overall kilometres and in percentage of overall range.

Subaru Solterra

Promising extra range and delivering it are totally separate, though our route was not long enough or highway-centric enough to approach either of these figures. Despite its optimistic dash promises, drivers shouldn’t expect almost an extra third of overall range just by foregoing climate controls, even in similar temperatures, though the accuracy of the gauges and our tripmeter suggests that more than 360 km is certainly possible.

Our top-line Technology package-equipped Canadian-spec vehicles came complete with green EV-specific licence plates, which provide access to provincial HOV lanes when driving alone. And the Solterra is eligible for the federal $5,000 EV rebate, as well as all provincial EV incentives, with eight provinces or territories now offering purchase and/or charging station rebates.

From the driver’s seat, the Solterra is quiet and refined, but no powerhouse, even in Power mode, with 215 hp and 249 lb-ft of torque on offer. There’s an S-pedal button near the unique push-down shifter which is not for Sport, but single pedal, even though the level of regeneration is relatively low, and won’t bring the Solterra to a stop. Nor will the paddles behind the steering wheel, both of which are not usable on a full charge, until about 90%.

We were at about two-thirds charged when we engaged S-pedal. And soon after, on a steep downhill slope, we received an “S-Pedal currently unavailable” message, and had to use the brake pedal. Which is fine, but true one-pedal driving is popular amongst many long-time EV drivers, especially Tesla owners, suggesting that the Solterra may appeal more to first-time EV buyers who appreciate a feel similar to a gasoline vehicle.

Subaru Solterra

The faux leather seats are comfortable and offer lots of legroom front and back. But at this price, a manual passenger seat is not impressive, nor is the fact that it doesn’t come with a native navigation system. Subaru argues that many drivers would rather use the standard wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto regardless, so why increase the cost of the car with a redundant native navigation system.

However, you can pay an extra $19.99/month for the Solterra’s Drive Connect subscription, which includes cloud navigation, a voice assistant, and access to a 24/7 live agent, similar to OnStar.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV tried this when it first launched in 2017 before relenting and providing a native GPS system on upper trims. I suspect Subaru will eventually move to do the same, or at least offer GPS for an extended trial period, as it does for three years with its Remote Connect app that can control door locks and the Solterra’s climate controls from anywhere.

There’s a nice large cargo area behind the second-row seats, with a well under the floor that can hold the mobile charge cord (120-volt) or a small amount of groceries, to help them not slide around. The Solterra is not recommended for towing, but there’s a 100-pound hitch available as a dealer accessory, at one and a quarter inch in size, so strong enough for a good bike rack or cargo basket, but small enough not to tempt folks to try heavy towing.

At the end of our 219 km drive, our 357 km original range estimate should have been at roughly 140 km, though we pulled in with 168 km left. Part of this discrepancy is that my drive partner and I wanted to check its DC quick charging speed, which is rated at a maximum of 100 kW and will take roughly an hour to charge a dead battery to 80 per cent, which is slower than the competition. Subaru says this slower speed was designed to reduce battery degradation.

Subaru Solterra

When we plugged in to a 150 kW Electrify America DC charger with a 43% charge, the fastest speed we saw was 47 kW. Disappointing, especially in the warmer California climate.

It's one thing to read max charging numbers on a spec sheet, but in years of charging electric cars, it’s very rare to see the max numbers given to us by the automakers.

Lastly, there’s the question of actual dealer availability, which has been difficult for EVs in general over the past couple years. Subaru’s first plug-in vehicle available in Canada, the Crosstrek PHEV, was unfortunately only available in the province of Quebec, and is no longer offered. The 2023 Solterra officially went on sale in Canada in November 2022, after a planned summer launch was delayed by a recall related to its wheels potentially coming loose.

The Solterra is now sold across the country, but not necessarily everywhere, or even at every Subaru dealer. Subaru Canada officials say that roughly 60% of its 95 dealers will offer the Solterra this model year, as there is dealer training, equipment and charger investments needed first. It would be great if Subaru Canada would indicate clearly on its consumer site which dealers offered the Solterra, but unfortunately not, as far as I could find.

Subaru Solterra

Other dealers may have different deposit and allocation numbers, but it’s fair to surmise from this interaction and launch event discussions that the Solterra will not be a high-volume product for Subaru. It's unfortunate because Subaru had some early and innovative EV design efforts in its past.

The Solterra is a refined and comfortable electric vehicle that would be well suited for folks with a charger in their garage or as a second vehicle but overall it falls a bit short of the competition in this rapidly growing space.

2023 Subaru Solterra

BODY STYLE: Compact battery-electric SUV

DRIVE METHOD: Dual-motor, permanent all-wheel-drive, one-speed automatic transmission

POWERTRAIN: Twin 80 kW motors (net 215 hp, 249 lb-ft); 72.8 kWh battery

FUEL ECONOMY/RANGE: 18.6/22.4/20.3 kWh/100 km city/highway/combined; 360 km range

CARGO VOLUME: 820 litres (28.9 cu ft)

TOW RATING: Not recommended

PRICE: $54,295 base; $64,090 as tested (not including taxes and fees)

WEBSITE: http://www.subaru.ca/



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