TeaThat Subaru Solterra won’t be in Australian dealerships until at least the middle of 2023, so standing next to the model in a North Sydney studio 12 months ago is a clear indication of its importance.
The Solterra is the Japanese company’s first dedicated electric vehicle – and is built from another joint venture project with compatriot Toyota.
Both the brands will be hoping that their respective EVs can make an even bigger impact than their previous JVs, which gave rise to the luxurious Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 sports cars.
Combining two Latin words for its name – sol for ‘sun’ and terra for ‘earth’ – Subaru’s nameplate rolls off the tongue more naturally than that of Toyota’s bZ4X twin, which is one for the Star Wars droid. Sounds like a better name.
Compare the images of the Solterra and bZ4X and it’s clear that they are far more similar than another pair of EV platform buddies, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6.
It also seems that the designers at Toyota had a big say in the styling of the SUV; Squirt and you can believe you are watching a RAV4.
Toyota has a sportier roofline than the mid-size SUV – something it has in common with the EV6.
Still, the Solterra should sit naturally in Subaru showrooms, especially next to the XV compact SUV – and the EV is arguably more handsome than the XV or Forester.
Separating the front end of the Solterra from the face of the bZ4X are a hexagonal grille and C-shaped LED headlights. The C-shaped tail-light is also the main point of difference at the rear, where the Toyota rear lights are styled in the opposite direction and connected to a central light bar.
Wheelarch cladding is very much a traditional Subaru aesthetic – and looks more natural on the Solterra than on the new WRX.
There are many cues to the off-roading design – the 210mm ride height is only 10mm less than the Forester’s ground clearance.
Wheel sizes overseas are 18 or 20 inches, with our Euro example sitting on the largest wheels. Whether Australian buyers have a choice depends on how specific tiers Subaru chooses to launch the Solterra.
Compared to rival EV SUVs, the 4.7m-tall Solterra Ioniq 5 and the anticipated VW ID.4 are the smallest smidge compared to the EV6 and 6cm shorter than Tesla’s Model Y.
Within the Subaru stable, this Forester is slightly taller than a mid-size SUV but shorter than the Outback wagon.
The wheelbase of the Solterra is 10cm longer than that of the Outback, however, following the EV SUV trend for wheels on each corner, which is more easily enabled by a flexible battery platform and simplified drivetrain components.
The interior of the Solterra is virtually identical to that of the bZ4X, which is perhaps more disappointing than similar exteriors because the cabin design is an important way for car makers to bring their own character and style to a vehicle.
Owners of a bZ4X will have the option of at least one ‘yoke’ steering wheel, with the Solterra attached to a traditional round design.
The paddleshift levers on the steering wheel adjust the level of regenerative braking when the throttle is raised.
There’s an odd-looking, recessed digital instrument cluster, while infotainment is provided through a panoramic, 12.3-inch display that’s offered with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There will also be a new panoramic view monitor that provides a visual guide to the vehicle’s immediate surroundings. A safe exit system makes it onto the Subaru as well – where sensors alert the driver and passengers if they are about to open car doors in oncoming traffic.
Subaru’s iSight driver assistance technology will also be included.
It is too early to know which security features will be standard or optional; The same goes for the Harman Kardon audio system installed in our high-spec European Solterra.
The front cabin is designed busy, especially when compared with the Model Y or the Ioniq 5. It feels tighter in the driver’s seat than the EV6 that shares Subaru’s outlook with a wider center console, though the Kia doesn’t completely intersect the dash.
A tactile fabric is used for the main dash, interesting textures are applied in some areas, gloss-black plastic covers most of the center console, and there’s no shortage of padded trim that includes door armrests and console cubbies. Includes leatherette on the lid.
The door pocket is molded to take two drink bottles and two cups can be stored in the center console, while other storage on our vehicle includes a wireless smartphone tray.
A 2850mm wheelbase is shorter than the axle span of most rivals – as much as three meters in the case of the Ioniq 5 – yet the six-footers can be accommodated without issue in all four main seat positions.
The rear seat doesn’t feel as airy as the Ioniq 5’s and the Solterra’s floor isn’t completely flat, with a slight hump in the middle.
The relatively high floor brings the greatest compromise to comfort, even for average-height adults with a knee-jerk posture. Toe space is also minimal.
This exotic Solterra was a high-spec model with heated rear seats. A center armrest with vents, two USB ports, and cupholders should be standard on all models.
Boot capacity figures for Australia are not yet available. Our best guess is that it’s smaller than the 480 liters of the EV6 and ahead of the likes of the Ioniq 5 (527L) and ID.4 (543L).
The rear seatbacks fold flat in the 60-40 split, though there are no release levers.
The underfloor section provides a convenient place to stash charging cables.
Unlike its flagship rivals, Subaru eschews a frank up front.
There’s no ‘boxer’ engine under the bonnet, though, of course…
performance and range
We still know some details about the specifications we’ll get for the Australian versions of the Soltera, which isn’t unexpected, as its launch is about a year away.
A certainty should be an AWD model, as Subaru has made it a signature feature on their vehicles in Australia.
And the company is already promoting all-wheel drive as a feature on the Solterra’s ‘register your interest’ page on the Subaru Australia website.
The Subaru Solterra AWD employs an 80kW electric motor on each axle for a total of 160kW.
It joins other Subaru SUVs in offering X-Mode traction management electronics including Dirt, Mud and Snow modes. Solterra adds an off-road cruise control system, Grip Control.
The X-mode gives the Solterra a significant difference to the bZ4X.
Subaru Australia faces a difficult decision over the front-wheel-drive Solterra, also available overseas. Does it keep AWD as an ongoing trademark for its SUVs or does it opt for an even cheaper entry point for buyers?
The AWD and FWD variants have the same 71.4kWh battery, and the latter is no less powerful as it has a 150kW electric motor up front.
The FWD Solterra also has a range of 530km which is not only 70km more than the AWD’s 460km, but will put it just ahead of the rear-drive EV6 (528km), rear-drive Ioniq 5 (452km) and the Tesla Model Y Long Range (505km) . ,
Subaru’s first dedicated EV is equipped with 6.6kW of AC charging capacity. DC fast charging is rated at 150kW, which puts it well behind the 350kW of Korea’s EV6 and Ioniq 5 twins.
Where those EVs can go from 10 to 80 percent charge in about 18 minutes, Subaru America’s specifications state that it takes 56 minutes for the Solterra’s battery to go through the same replenishment process.
Not even Subaru Australia knows how much it will charge for the Solterra. Undoubtedly, the company will continue to monitor the EV segment over the next 12 months.
What we do know is that the cheapest AWD model costs around US$65,000 in the United States. And the AWD versions of the Ioniq 5 and EV6 cost between $5,000, though they’re more powerful and come equipped with 800V charging capability.
Hence, the Solterra is likely to be more affordable even if it is not offered in front-drive form.
There is also an expectation that the fully electric Solterra will be more resolute than Subaru’s earlier forays into electrification, the Forester and XV hybrids.