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2023 Subaru Solterra: A More Capable Off-Road Electric SUV, but How Far Off Can You Actually Go?

2023 Subaru Solterra: A More Capable Off-Road Electric SUV, but How Far Off Can You Actually Go?

Subaru works its AWD magic on its first EV

  • New all-electric SUV and the first EV from Subaru
  • A few more features than its jointly developed cousin, the Toyota bZ4X
  • Standard all-wheel drive and 8.3 inches of ground clearance
  • Claimed 228 miles of range on a full charge

What is the Solterra?

The 2023 Subaru Solterra is an all-new and all-electric SUV roughly the size of a Subaru Forester. Co-developed alongside the 2022 Toyota bZ4X, the teams from Subaru and Toyota were allowed to make small changes to tailor each vehicle to their prospective customers and better align with each company's identity. Toyota chose to make a front-wheel-drive bZ4X to keep the price lower and increase its potential range. Meanwhile, Subaru leaned into its outdoorsy image, made all-wheel drive (AWD) standard on the Solterra and added a few more premium features. The result is a more off-road-capable electric SUV, albeit at a slightly higher price.

While the Solterra's carlike profile doesn't exactly beg to be driven on the dirt, a raised suspension gives it a respectable 8.3 inches of ground clearance, and body cladding on the wheel arches protect from kicked-up rocks. However, the higher ground clearance and AWD come at the expense of range, and the Solterra's maximum 228 miles on a single charge trails many of its competitors. The Solterra will have plenty of competition when it hits the market, including the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Nissan Ariya and Volkswagen ID.4.

How does the Solterra drive?

The Solterra is powered by a pair of electric motors, which draw from a 72.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The motors produce the equivalent of 215 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque. That might not sound like much, but we drove the Solterra on both city streets and off-road, and found that it should have plenty of thrust for most people. The Solterra has an available Power drive mode — its Toyota cousin does not — which makes acceleration feel more responsive when you hit the right pedal.

The Solterra has a couple more tricks up its sleeve that the bZ4X does not; it has a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel that can be used to increase or decrease the aggressiveness of the vehicle's regenerative braking. This gives you the option to use a one-pedal driving style (a feature that isn't offered by the bZ4X), though you still need to step on the brake pedal to come to a complete stop. And while the Solterra and bZ4X AWD models have terrain management modes — which provide extra capability in slippery weather, icy conditions and on dirt and mud — the Solterra's slightly higher ground clearance and approach angle allow it to venture into places the bZ4X or its competitors cannot.

How comfortable is the Solterra?

The Solterra's suspension delivers an agreeable ride and capably dampens imperfections on the road. Subaru gave us the opportunity to drive on a variety of off-road surfaces, from gravel pathways to rocky climbs and descents. The Solterra never lost its composure nor did it feel like its passengers were getting battered around on the rough terrain.

One issue caused by the EV platform is a high floor — due to the bulky battery underfoot — which creates a tight opening for entering and exiting from all four doors. The cabin offers plenty of rear legroom, and taller passengers should have no issues stretching out, though rear headroom is a little tight compared with the front. If you plan on regularly transporting taller passengers, skip the panoramic moonroof on the top-of-the-line Touring model to gain about an inch more headroom in the back.

How's the Solterra's interior?

Like many electric vehicles, the Solterra makes an instant impression inside. It has interesting textures such as a denim-like cloth dashboard, soft plastic touch points, and a glossy piano black center console and touchscreen area. The combination lends the Solterra a distinctive eco-focused vibe compared with traditional compact SUVs. From the driver's seat, the steering wheel and forward digital display screen are housed in a futuristic-looking design that sits higher than usual for an improved line of sight and feels like the cockpit of a fighter jet.

In terms of entertainment, the base Solterra comes with an 8-inch center touchscreen. It borrows the latest version of Toyota's Audio Multimedia operating system from the bZ4X and offers cloud-based navigation (subscription required). Upper trim levels are treated to a 12.3-inch touchscreen with onboard navigation. Both screens feature wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Subaru's EyeSight suite of driver safety aids is standard on every Solterra and includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation and lane keeping assist. Also standard are blind-spot monitoring and a safe exit function, which sounds an alert if a passenger is about to open a door into approaching traffic. A 360-degree camera is included on Limited and Touring models.

How's the Solterra's storage?

Interestingly, the Solterra has no "frunk," or front trunk space where the engine would be in a gasoline-powered car. Instead, this area is taken up by the front electric motor and the inverter sitting atop it. That puts the Solterra at a disadvantage compared with the Mach-E, ID.4 and Tesla Model Y, all of which have frunks. Subaru says packaging a frunk would have necessitated a longer nose, which would compromise the Solterra's off-road capability. That said, extra storage space is part of the expected EV experience for many owners.

Even without a frunk, the Solterra offers plenty of space for a vehicle of its size. Maximum cargo space behind the rear seats is 27.7 cubic feet, just a touch shy of its Forester sibling at 28.9 cubic feet. However, the Solterra has a trick floor that can be dropped to a lower setting, increasing cargo space to 29.0 cubic feet and just edging out the Forester. The load floor is also relatively low, which makes heavy items easier to hoist inside. It may not make up for the lost frunk, though, or the lack of underfloor storage due to the battery pack and electric motors underneath. With the cargo floor lowered for maximum space, the Solterra matches the Mustang Mach-E but trails the ID.4's 30.3-cubic-foot cargo area. If the trunk isn't enough, roof rails come standard on the Limited and Touring trims.

How far can the Solterra go on a charge?

While the EPA has not yet officially rated the 2023 Solterra's range as of this writing, Subaru estimates that it can travel up to 228 miles for the entry Premium trim level and 222 miles for the Limited and Touring models. The shorter range on the upper trims is due to their larger 20-inch wheels versus 18-inch wheels on the Premium.

These figures put the Solterra at the lower end of range when compared to other small electric SUVs with AWD. For instance, the EPA says the 2022 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD can travel between 245 and 251 miles, depending on configuration. Similarly, the dual-motor Ford Mustang Mach-E can be configured with EPA-estimated range of up to 312 miles, while the Kia EV6 can travel up to 274 miles.

That said, we've often found that EVs exceed their EPA estimates in our own real-world range test. Stay tuned for official EPA ratings and to see what happens when we bring a Solterra in for performance and range testing.

Edmunds says

Subaru knows its customers' needs well, and it has sold out of all its initial Solterra orders through 2022. We'll withhold judgment on the Solterra until we're able to spend more time behind the wheel and give it a full evaluation.