2023 Subaru Solterra EV: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Subaru’s First Production EV
The number of electric vehicles offered in America seems to be growing by the week; the latest to join the fray is the all-new Subaru Solterra. Sporting a name derived from a combination of the Latin words for sun and earth, the 2023 Subaru Solterra is the first production EV from the Japan-based automaker. Staying true to the brand’s reputation, the Solterra is a proper Subaru featuring an advanced all-wheel-drive system, solid off-road capability and the latest advanced safety systems.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Working With Toyota
The Solterra is built a new e-Subaru Global Platform — engineered in partnership with Toyota — as dedicated battery-electric vehicle architecture. According to Subaru, the research and development for this new global platform was a 50/50 split between the two companies. (Toyota will offer the oddly named bz4x built on the same platform.) Toyota exclusively handles production of both vehicles, since Subaru does not currently have facilities to build this new EV.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Exterior Styling
The looks of the 2023 Subaru Solterra EV are a departure from other vehicles in the brand’s lineup, although keen observers will notice some recognizable styling cues. The front fascia mimics hexagonal grilles found on other Subarus; however, since the new Solterra is all electric and doesn’t need an actual grille opening for engine cooling, this fascia is solid. Slim LED headlights flank the grille, along with stylish LED running lights. A low hoodline and thin A-pillars are designed to provide better forward visibility as well as optimum aerodynamic performance.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Bold Look
The 2023 Subaru Solterra’s short overhangs (the amount of vehicle ahead of the front wheels and behind the rear wheels) combined with pronounced wheel arches and available 20-inch wheels give the new EV a strong silhouette. Sporting 8.3 inches of ground clearance, the Solterra also indicates its readiness to head off pavement.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Slippery Shape
To make the Solterra more efficient, engineers devoted considerable effort to ensure this new crossover is as aerodynamic as possible. With a slippery .28 coefficient of drag, the Solterra features openings below the headlights that act as air curtains, helping air flow smoothly along the wheels. The wheels are also designed to lessen drag, and the split liftgate spoiler keeps air moving over the steeply raked rear window.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Forester Size
The Solterra is about the same length as Subaru’s stalwart Forester crossover, but with a wheelbase closer in size to the larger Ascent. This increased distance between the axles pushes the wheels to the corners of the vehicle (contributing to those short overhangs mentioned earlier), which creates a more spacious cabin.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Model Lineup
The 2023 Subaru Solterra is available in three trim levels: Premium, Limited and Touring. All come with dual-motor all-wheel drive. Pricing has not been released. Subaru will announce pricing closer to the on-sale date later this spring.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Standard Safety Features
As with every Subaru, the Solterra gets the latest advanced safety features and driver-assist technologies. The new EV includes automatic emergency braking, automatic pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, a blind-spot monitor with lane-change assist, a rear-seat reminder and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking. The Solterra also has a 360-degree surround view camera — a first for Subaru — as well as standard LED headlights with high-beam headlight assist.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Subaru Solterra Premium
Even the entry-level Premium trim of the Solterra comes well equipped, so it definitely doesn’t feel entry level. Standard features include an 8-inch multimedia touchscreen display, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control, heated front seats with automatic mode, a windshield wiper deicer, multiple USB-C ports in front and rear seats, a USB-A port in the center console and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Subaru Solterra Limited
The Solterra Limited upgrades the Premium with a power driver’s seat, StarTex synthetic leather seat trim, a 12.3-inch multimedia display, cloud-based navigation with intelligent assistant, a Harmon Kardon premium audio system, heated rear seats, a panoramic view monitor, driver parking assist, wireless device charging and a power rear hatch. The Limited also comes with LED fog lights and 20-inch alloy wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Subaru Solterra Touring
As the top-level trim of the new Solterra lineup,  Touring additions above and beyond the Limited include ambient interior lighting, a digital rearview mirror, ventilated front seats, a panoramic moonroof, a retractable luggage cover and a gloss-black hood accent. Subaru also offers the Solterra Touring with a two-tone paint treatment — a first for the brand.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Dual Motor
The 2023 Subaru Solterra employs two electric motors — one powering each axle — to create a new Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system called StarDrive. Total output for the EV comes in at 218 horsepower with 249 lb-ft of torque. In normal driving mode, power gets distributed evenly to both axles. Depending on the situation, power can be directed forward or rearward for maximum traction. The EPA fuel economy figures show the Solterra Premium is rated at 114 MPGe city / 94 MPGe hwy / 104 MPGe combined. The Limited and Touring are slightly lower at 111 / 93 / 102, respectively.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Batteries
The Solterra draws energy from a lithium-ion battery pack that stores 72.8 kWh of juice. The batteries reside beneath the floor as part of the vehicle’s structure for improved rigidity and body strength. This placement also lowers the center of gravity — even more than the gas-powered Subarus with their Boxer engines — improving overall handling and agility.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Range and Charging
According to the U.S. EPA, the Solterra Premium can travel up to 228 miles on a single charge. The Limited and Touring variants come in at 222 miles of range. Driving style, weather and road conditions will adjust this number up or down; during our drive in the Premium the display read 234 miles of range on a full charge.  The 2023 Subaru Solterra can charge  at as much as 100 kW on a DC fast charger, which will bring the batteries to 80 percent in under an hour. This rate is a bit slower compared to other new EVs, but still a reasonable amount of time. A Level 2 charger will fully rejuvenate the Solterra in about nine hours — easily accomplished overnight on a home charger.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Inner Space
The 2023 Subaru Solterra gets an all-new infotainment system — with an available large 12.3-inch touchscreen display — that gives the interior a clean, high-tech look. Even the smaller display in the base-level Solterra Premium works well and is easy to read and use; however, the larger screen is much more attractive. The system has simple access to audio, navigation and settings thanks to a menu that stays on the left side of the display. Separate climate controls sit below the display for easy access; however, we would still prefer actual buttons instead of soft-touch controls.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Driver Display
In typical cockpit setups, drivers usually view the gauge cluster through the top portion of the steering wheel opening. Not so for Solterra. The new EV’s unusual arrangement consists of a long steering column with the digital driver display higher up above the steering wheel and closer to the windshield. Although the Solterra’s setup looks unusual, it works well for most — shorter drivers may have some difficulty getting the wheel in the correct position without blocking part of the display. With the driver display so close to the windshield (similar to a head-up display), very little eye movement is needed between scanning the display and watching the road.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Storage
Subaru designers and engineers took full advantage of the electric drivetrain, so the 2023 Solterra possesses decent storage space for front-seat occupants. A large space under the gear selector can easily handle a large bag or purse, with additional storage space in the center console. A covered cubby in the center houses the wireless charger (if so equipped) and makes a convenient space for a mobile device or other small items. In an unusual move, the 2023 Subaru Solterra has no glovebox. Even though the vehicle has plenty of storage, we would still prefer that space for stashing items such as an owner’s manual, vehicle registration, insurance paperwork and other items not needed often — but should be close at hand when required.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Front Seats
We spent most of our media drive in the base-level Solterra Premium, which is fitted with cloth seats. After several hours behind the wheel — and much of that time off pavement — the seats still delivered commendable support and comfort thanks to decent bolsters and significant cushioning.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Rear Seat
The electric drivetrain in the 2023 Subaru Solterra permits the vehicle to have a flat floor throughout, which creates a decent rear seat with space for the middle passenger as well. And although Solterra possesses adequate legroom and headroom, the seat bottoms are low to the floor, which can make the seating position uncomfortable for some folks.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Cargo Space
Solterra offers plenty of cargo space with a low liftover height and a wide opening for easy loading. Rear seats can be folded flat to create more space, and additional storage can be found beneath the cargo floor. We appreciate that the rear bumper is unpainted, so no painted surfaces will get scratched while loading cargo or when dogs climb aboard.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Roof Rack
If additional storage is needed, the 2023 Subaru Solterra can be equipped with a roof rack capable of hauling up to 176 pounds of gear. Adding to the Solterra’s adventurous nature, the rack can also handle up to 700 pounds of static weight (while not moving) — more than enough for a roof-mounted tent.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience No Frunk
Many electric vehicles on the market take advantage of the absence of an internal-combustion engine under the hood, and thus add extra storage in a front trunk, also known as a frunk. Engineers chose to omit this feature from the Solterra design, feeling it would require unwanted sacrifice to the overall design and safety of the vehicle.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience On the Road
Subaru invited us to sunny Scottsdale, Arizona, to be among the first auto media to experience the new Solterra. Almost immediately after getting behind the wheel, we were enjoying the instant torque delivery common with electric vehicles. Subaru says the Solterra will reach 60 mph in 6.5 seconds — although it feels quicker than that figure indicates. With even power distribution to each axle, this electric crossover is quick off the line. Even at full throttle from a stop the Solterra has no wheelslip — it simply launches for the horizon.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Hey Subaru
All Subaru Solterras come with acloud-based virtual assistant accessed by saying “Hey Subaru.” During our press drive the system easily understood two different voices in the vehicle, even knowing whether the driver or passenger was speaking. When the passenger told the system “I’m hot,” it automatically lowered the right-side temperature by four degrees. It was still too hot in the Scottsdale area, so we asked the Solterra to find an ice-cream shop on our route and it seamlessly added the new destination to our navigation directions.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience S-Pedal and Regen Braking
In the 2023 Subaru Solterra, paddle shifters behind the steering wheel let drivers select the amount of regenerative braking that occurs when lifting off the throttle. To maximize regen, this crossover EV has an S-Pedal mode; however, the mode does not permit full one-pedal driving. When drivers ease off the throttle in S-Pedal mode, the car slows while harvesting power generated by the brakes. Unlike typical one-pedal driving, the Solterra will not come to a complete stop without driver intervention via the brake pedal.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Nice Cruiser
Heading out of Scottsdale to do some freeway testing, the Solterra easily accelerated to highway speeds and was at ease cruising along at 70 mph. At those speeds occupants will hear some wind noise, but nothing too obtrusive. That said, rough pavement can resonate through to the Solterra cabin — granted, much more noticeable without an internal-combustion engine masking road noise. Thanks to quick response and tight steering, the Solterra is enjoyable to drive on highways as well as winding desert roads.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Off Pavement
One of a few crossover EVs currently on the market built for off-pavement travel, the 2023 Solterra easily lives up to expectations for Subaru-level off-road adventures. The all-wheel-drive system provides a confident ride even while driving at relatively high speeds on loose gravel and dirt. Plunging the Solterra deep into corners at a good clip creates no cause for concern. The all-wheel drive in concert with the stability control system keeps the vehicle completely stable with no understeer or oversteer. The Solterra’s dual-motor system seems to work even better than the all-wheel-drive setups in Subaru’s gas-powered offerings.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Great Grip
To further examine the effectiveness of the Solterra’s all-wheel drive system, we went from a standstill to full throttle on loose gravel. The result was quite impressive — with only a slight amount of wheelspin the Solterra launched in a perfectly straight line without hesitation — no fishtailing, no scary moments, and no need for any steering correction. The only indication that various systems were functioning at lightning speeds to keep Solterra on the straight and narrow was a traction control light on the dashboard quickly cycling on and off.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Dual-Function X-MODE
Subaru equips the Solterra with Dual-Function X-MODE, which sets up the vehicle for more severe off-road adventures. In addition to adjusting throttle tip-in, stability control and traction control systems, Solterra introduces a new Grip Control that features hill descent and ascent control. When Grip Control and X-MODE are engaged, the driver can select vehicle speed from a switch in the center console; the vehicle then maintains that speed uphill or down, automatically operating the throttle and brake.

© Subaru of America Grip Control in Action
Subaru set up an off-road course during our media drive to demonstrate that Solterra isn’t simply another electric crossover — it’s a Subaru and thus offers the best off-road prowess the company can muster. Setting the Grip Control to medium speed (about 5 mph), the Solterra crawled up rocky hills and down slippery slopes while maintaining complete control — no need to touch the throttle or brakes.

© Subaru of America Spinning Wheels
During one incident, two of the Solterra’s wheels began spinning when climbing a particularly steep hill. After a few seconds the system recognized the situation and applied brakes to the spinning wheels, transferring power to the wheels on the ground as the vehicle continued forward motion. The Solterra also proves that EVs have a clear advantage in these situations thanks to smooth, steady torque delivery with no need for an engine to increase revs or a transmission to downshift.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Right for You?
Subaru built a solid reputation on crossovers and SUVs that offer comfortable, safe transportation with the ability to venture off pavement, and the company has several years of record sales proving the demand for this adventurous prowess. In Solterra, Subaru has one of the few options for buyers who want an electric vehicle but don’t want to give up the ability to spend a weekend experiencing some off-pavement adventuring. With a roomy interior, high-tech features and great performance on-road or off, the Solterra is a great choice. Subaru anticipates that Solterra will be in limited supply — at least for the first year of production.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Rating: 9.0
Pros: Smooth power; impressive off-pavement ride; spacious interior.
Cons: Uncomfortable rear seat; no traditional glovebox; relatively slow charging.
Bottom Line: The new Solterra successfully blends EV performance with Subaru’s tradition of off-road adventure.

 

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