2023 Subaru Solterra Review:Driving Impressions

Michael Harley, Independent Expert | Apr 25, 2022

Introduction

The 2023 Subaru Solterra is a 5-passenger, all-electric crossover, and the company's first combustion-free offering. It is a joint engineering and manufacturing venture with Toyota Motor Corp., which is selling a nearly identical electric vehicle (EV) model badged as the Toyota bZ4X. I tested the new Solterra on-road in Santa Barbara, California. In addition, I did off-road testing on Catalina Island, located 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.

2023 Subaru Solterra Price and Release Date

There are three different trim levels for the 2023 Subaru Solterra. Subaru prices the entry-level Solterra Premium at $44,995. The Solterra Limited starts at $48,495, while the range-topping Solterra Touring begins at $51,995 (Subaru adds a $1,225 destination fee to all Solterras). In addition, all Solterra EVs are eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit for buyers who qualify. Furthermore, Subaru offers credits for installing a home Level 2 charger or for use at public charging stations. The automaker also offers a free 10-day loaner (combustion-powered) Subaru for those planning a trip outside a conveniently available electric network.

Customer deliveries of the new Solterra will begin in mid-2022, but there has been impressive demand for Subaru's first all-electric model. The company says that all of the first year's allocation—fewer than 7,000 vehicles—were spoken for when it launched an early reservation program (the program was closed in February). On a related note, Subaru will offer additional allocations to dealers, so consumers should inquire with their local retailer about availability.

Independent Expert Opinion: Design, Comfort, and Utility

2023 Subaru Solterra Red Front Quarter View

Subaru differentiates the Solterra's exterior from Toyota's bZ4X with distinctive front and rear fascias and uniquely styled wheels. The nose displays Subaru's signature hexagonal grille with thin LED headlights, while the rear has a different light treatment on the trunk. Subaru, which has a customer base that tends to be more active and adventurous, also raises the suspension to provide more ground clearance and better off-road approach angles. The charging port is on the vehicle's front left fender, and the Solterra does not feature a front-mounted trunk or "frunk."

The passenger compartment is primarily conventional in its basic 2-row layout, but Subaru uses an instrument panel design that is very unusual. Instead of placing the primary instrument cluster directly behind the steering wheel (thus viewed through the steering wheel), the cluster is moved rearward and raised into a position similar to a projected head-up display. As a result, the instruments are above the steering wheel's top rim. It sounds odd, but in practice, it works. I found it easier to read, as all the pertinent data is directly within the driver's line of sight.

The rest of the dashboard, complete with an optional 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen at the top of the center console, is conventional. The floating center console provides storage space beneath it, and there is a small compartment (with an inductive charging pad on Limited and higher trims) on top. There are also generous door pockets, but the Solterra does not have a glove box.

The front seats in the 5-passenger Solterra are comfy and supportive (the passenger seat slides to offer substantial legroom). The optional 10-way power driver's seat, which is standard in Limited trims and above, could be the best seat I've ever experienced in a Subaru (the passenger seat is just as comfortable, but it is manually adjustable in all trims). The second row of seats provides generous head, shoulder, and legroom for adults. Unfortunately, the floor is higher than usual (likely due to the battery packs beneath it). That forces tall adults to have their thighs uncomfortably lifted off the seat cushion. Heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are standard across all trims, with heated rear seats added to the Limited trim and above. The Touring trim comes with front-seat ventilation.

As EVs have become commonplace, their interior upholsteries and materials are typically environmentally friendly. Standard Solterra models have cloth seats, while Subaru's StarTex (a synthetic non-leather upholstery) is standard on Limited and Touring trims. The dashboard is a combination of high-grade plastic and woven cloth. Gloss black plastic surrounds most of the buttons and switchgear. The colors and textures are visually attractive and pleasing to the touch.

Outward vision from the front seats is expansive. Kudos to the designers for the small windows at the windshield base, which improve outward visibility, but the thick A-pillar still blocks some of the views while cornering. Massive exterior mirrors provide an excellent view of the sides and help reduce blind spots. A surround-view camera provides a 360-degree outside perspective and is standard on Limited and Touring trims.

Subaru says the Solterra's rear bumper is unpainted, so owners don't scratch it when loading objects or allowing their pets to jump inside. The rear cargo area offers 29 cubic feet of space with the second row up. The seats split and fold (60/40) into a nearly flat two-position load floor. According to Subaru, the roof rails can hold 176 pounds while the vehicle is moving, or a whopping 700 pounds while parked. That's strong enough to support a two-person roof-mounted camping tent.

Independent Expert Opinion: Infotainment, Technology, and Safety

2023 Subaru Solterra Interior Dashboard

Standard Solterra models arrive with an 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen, but I never had an opportunity to sample it. So instead, I tested the optional 12.3-inch display that is standard on the Limited and Touring trims. The display sits high, making it easy to read. Its operation is intuitive thanks to five hotkeys (navigation, audio, phone, vehicle, and setup) that run vertically down the left side of the screen. Subaru's Intelligent Assistant for effortless voice commands (speak "Hey Subaru…" aloud and follow it with an instruction) is part of the infotainment software suite. Still, it requires acclimation to learn what functions it supports. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all Solterras.

The Subaru Solterra utilizes the driver's door panel for the window switches, the left stalk for turn signals and headlights, and the right stalk for windshield wiper controls. In addition, the left side of the steering wheel has a button for phone and audio controls, while the right side houses the easy-to-use single-button adaptive cruise control. Subaru logically placed all the buttons and switchgear, making them intuitive and easy to use.

Climate controls are beneath the infotainment screen, and auxiliary driving controls (e.g., drive mode, park assist, etc.) are to each side of the drive gear dial. The electronic parking brake switch is to the left of the gear dial, and the hazard button is easily accessible by both the driver and front passenger—precisely where it should be. The only omission is the lack of a traditional audio volume dial. Instead, Subaru uses two small buttons just beneath the infotainment screen to control audio power and volume levels. As a result, they are hard to see and use while driving down the road (there is an auxiliary volume control toggle on the steering wheel, but that's not accessible by the front passenger).

Subaru calls its standard suite of safety equipment EyeSight, a bundled package of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) that includes evasive steering assistanceintersection turn assistanceautomatic emergency braking, proactive driving assist for pedestrian and cyclist avoidance, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and more. All systems work transparently in the background, emitting warning beeps or chimes as an alert (or automatically hitting the brakes) to help reduce the likelihood of an accident.

The Solterra features standard blind-spot warning, automatic LED high-beam headlights, rear cross-traffic warning, safe-exit assist, and eight airbags. In addition, park assist and a digital key (which uses the Subaru Solterra mobile app) are standard on the Limited and Touring trims.

Independent Expert Opinion: Driving the 2023 Subaru Solterra

2023 Subaru Solterra Red Rear Quarter View

Starting the Solterra is no different from turning on your computer: depress the "Power" button on the center console, and the vehicle initializes to reveal a glowing "Ready" message on the primary instrument cluster. However, the gear dial at the top of the center console is less intuitive, as you must depress it before turning towards reverse or drive. The Solterra runs in Normal mode by default, but pushing the drive mode button will toggle between Eco, Normal, and Power (note, there is no Sport mode).

With two motors developing a combined 215 horsepower and 249 pound-feet of torque, acceleration is strong and immediate without any lag or delay commonly associated with a combustion powertrain. Subaru says the Solterra will accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds, quickly enough to zip confidently onto a highway or effortlessly through city traffic.

Subaru has chosen not to play any synthetic noise out of the speakers, making the cabin serene while at a standstill. As the vehicle starts to move, the rumble of the tires rolling over the road surface and the wind swirling past the exterior mirrors becomes the most prominent audio track (there are no synthesized EV sounds or combustion noises to mask them). The Solterra doesn't boast laminated side glass or have active noise cancellation to reduce sound levels inside. Yet, the passenger cabin is still comfortably isolated enough to hold conversations with other passengers at normal levels.

Toyota offers the bZ4X with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD), but Subaru only offers dual-motor AWD on the Solterra. Marketed as Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, the Solterra's powertrain uses sensors and computers to transfer the electric motor's torque to the front or rear axles to maximize grip and stability. The operation is fully automatic and seamless for the driver. The Solterra boasts Subaru's X-Mode terrain settings that provide extra grip in sand, snow, or mud.

The Solterra drives with a solid feel and comfortable suspension damping that is never harsh on paved roads and highways. Off-road, the ride is a bit bumpier as the independent suspension's travel isn't very long (wide-ranging suspension movement is a trademark of dedicated off-road vehicles), yet it never feels rough. I drove the SUV extensively off-road on gravel roads and loose dry trails—moderate off-road—and the Subaru was unfazed by every challenge.

Overall, the complacent ride is a compliment to the company's engineers, who had to balance comfortable on- and off-road driving dynamics without the luxury of electronically adjustable dampers. In addition, as noted with other electric vehicles, the weight of the battery pack tends to act like a mass damper, thereby improving the ride.

Mirroring other EVs, Subaru allows the driver to choose between several levels of regenerative braking that range from mild to strong. There are four progressive levels accessed via paddles on the steering wheel and an S-Pedal Drive button on the console for the most aggressive setting. However, one-pedal driving is impossible, even in the most aggressive stage. The automaker says its customers complain that it is too harsh ("it feels like whiplash") and unrefined for their tastes.

With a curb weight of about 4,400 pounds, the Solterra is anything but svelte. Thankfully, its heavy battery pack is located low on the chassis. The location helps dynamic handling as it keeps body roll to a minimum. Cornering grip is limited only by the traction of the all-season tires (235/60-18 on Premium trim and 235/50-20 on Limited and Touring trims). However, I suspect few will ever push their vehicle to that limit. The steering is nicely weighted, and the braking feels excellent. Subaru did an exemplary job tuning both.

Subaru fitted the Solterra with a 72.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, delivering about 225 miles of range. In terms of charging, the vehicle accepts DC fast charging (providing an 80-percent charge in less than an hour) or home Level 2 charging (approximately 9 hours, or overnight).

Independent Expert Opinion of the 2023 Subaru Solterra

Subaru's all-new Solterra is an impressive first offering towards its electrified future, although it breaks no new ground in electric vehicle innovation. However, having Toyota as an engineering and manufacturing partner has allowed Subaru to bypass years of expensive development and bring this comfortable, roomy, and competitive 5-passenger EV to market quickly.

Fitted with standard AWD and tuned with a taller ride height and innovative off-road electronics, the Solterra fits the brand's adventurous buyers. In addition to a solid 225 miles of range, Subaru Solterra buyers get the advantage of $7,500 in purchase tax credits—in sharp contrast to Toyota, which appears to have exhausted its federal credits.

Michael Harley is an award-winning automotive industry expert who has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. In addition, Michael has made appearances on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS, NBC, and Fox News. His work has appeared in Forbes, Kelley Blue Book, Autoblog, New York Daily News, European Car, 000, Motor Trend, Excellence, Robb Report, DuPont Registry, Panorama, JDPower.com, and more.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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