LOS ANGELES — Subaru is finally taking its first step into the world of electric cars with the launch of the Solterra. The amped crossover is positioned as the EV that will do everything a petrol Subaru does, including ferry its nature-loving occupants to the great outdoors. As such, it’s built with light off-roading in mind, something not many other EVs have addressed.
Subaru isn’t shy about the fact that the Solterra was developed jointly with Toyota, their second joining of forces since the BRZ and 86 sports coupes. In fact, the Solterra and Toyota bZ4X are nearly indistinguishable. Subaru representatives say that the two forged a natural partnership, with Subaru contributing its all-wheel-drive and chassis expertise, and Toyota supplying its hybrid and battery know-how.
Subaru being Subaru, however, the Solterra is only available with the dual-motor all-wheel-drive powertrain, while the Toyota is offering both front- and all-wheel-drive configurations (at least in Japan, where both have been revealed; we’ll know more about the U.S. bZ4X later this month). With its twin mills, the Solterra puts out a combined 215 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque.
Of course, the main question when it comes to EVs is one of range. Subaru is still awaiting final numbers from testing, but estimates over 220 miles in the EPA’s driving cycle. That puts it between the Hyundai Ioniq’s 208 and the Nissan Leaf Plus’ 237. The battery pack can be charged with Level 2 AC and DC fast charging, but as far as charging times go, Subaru would only say that it’s capable of “a significant charge in under an hour.”
Subaru is adamant that the Solterra is just as durable as the other AWD trail dogs in its lineup. Engineers capitalized on the EV’s lack of an engine to build in an extremely short front overhang, with an equally pithy one at the rear. They also gave the Solterra an 8.3-inch ground clearance, which is 0.4 less than the Subaru norm but still greater than most compact SUVs. It’s designed to accommodate kayaks, bikes, and other outdoor gear with the addition of optional roof racks as well.
Subaru still calls its enhanced traction system X-mode even though with no throttle or transmission to manage, it’s vastly different from its gasoline cars’ X-modes. It has both hill descent and and ascent assistance, and Subaru says that in some ways this AWD system is more controllable because with the electric motors all the torque is available down low.
Indeed, Subaru showed us some fairly impressive videos of the Solterra in low traction situations. Some of them included an offset contact test where only tires on kitty corner from one another touched the ground. The Solterra was able to claw its way over these obstacles from a stop with no problem while a Jaguar i-Pace struggled to gain traction like an overturned turtle. Other testing clips showed the Solterra climbing a set of steep wet concrete stairs with little issue and, naturally, drifting through gravel like an WRC racer.
Cabin-wise, the Solterra offers a decent environment. Materials don’t look bargain-basement, but they don’t look nearly as swanky as a Mazda MX-30’s, either. Seating is generous, with enough room for one 6-footer to sit behind another without banging their knees. An available panoramic roof lends to the airy feel.
One extremely strange feature of the interior is that the instrument display is pushed extremely far forward to the base of the windshield. For me and a few other journalists, that meant the top of the steering wheel cut off part of the screen no matter how we tilted or telescoped it. Others said they had no problems. We’ve seen that the Toyota bZ4X will be offered with a yoke in Japan, which would alleviate this issue even as it creates many more and bigger problems. Please Subaru, no yoke.
The center stack is basically a giant 12.3-inch touchscreen. Below it reside climate controls that are sadly not buttons but touch-sensitive zones on swath of gloss black plastic. Oh and that neat grid-like array behind the command knob? It’s a cover for a wireless phone charging dock. The windows are there so you can see your phone through it. Mystery solved!
Like other connected EVs, the Solterra can be tailored to your liking before you even open its door. Climate control, door locks, nav instructions and the remote start function can all be controlled via a phone app. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard as well.
The Solterra boasts a mountain of modern safety equipment as well. Since there’s no motor, EVs crash differently than gas cars and Subaru says the body was designed to accommodate that. Technological assistance comes in the form of a list that should be pretty familiar by now: automatic pre-collision braking and throttle management, lane change departure warnings and assist as well as blind spot alerts, automatic high beam dimming, rear braking assist, and rear cross-traffic alerts.
The Solterra also boasts a couple of new safety tricks. One, called Safety Exit Alert, notifies you if there are obstacles or pedestrians around before you throw open the door. The Solterra also offers a 360-degree surround-view camera.There’s also a comprehensive array of airbags, including fronts, side curtains, sides aimed at the pelvis and torso, and one to protect the driver’s knee.
While Toyota is going to sell essentially the exact same car, we have seen one facet that’s unique to the Subaru.The paint color in these photos is a hue called Harbor Mist Gray Pearl and is exclusive to Subaru. If it reminds you of some of the solid colors seen on the Crosstrek over the years, that’s no coincidence.
Subaru has not announced pricing yet, and that will probably come closer to when the Solterra goes on sale in 2022. If you’re looking to make the switch to an electric car designed to carry you to trailheads and campsites, it’ll be one to watch.