What is it?
Look back 20 years and Subaru was very different to what it is today. Subaru’s dominating presence in rallying – helped no end by a certain Colin McRae – filtered through into quite a successful passenger car segment. Despite this, it pulled out of world rallying in the late 2000s and retired its rally-linked ‘WRX’ brand in Europe several years ago.
These days, the famous gold and blue of Subaru’s rally-inspired cars has gone, with the bulk of its range now an SUV of some kind, and despite the popularity of these models, its sales have remained marginal. But it’s now looking to move with the times and is introducing its first electric car – the mid-size Solterra SUV. But in a crowded class, can this EV compete?
The closest Subaru has got to dabbling in electrified cars is its (very) mild-hybrid e-Boxer setup available on the XV and Forester, so a fully-electric Subaru is quite a big deal. For this, it joined forces with Toyota to make the Solterra, though the fellow Japanese firm took the lead and its bZ4X version arrived on sale first too.
This Subaru’s comes from the Latin words ‘sol’ and ‘terra’ meaning sun and earth, with the Solterra using a specific EV platform that enables greater flexibility in the car’s design.
What’s under the bonnet?
While you get Toyota’s sibling car with front-or four-wheel-drive, given Subaru’s reputation for only making all-wheel-drive models, it’s only the latter available on the Solterra.
It pairs a 71kWh battery being paired to a twin-motor electric powertrain, producing 215bhp and 336Nm of torque. This allows for a 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds, which is more than quick enough, but not as fast as some of its rivals.
Though Subaru claims a range of up to 289 miles, the top-spec Touring model being tested here limits that to 257 miles and you should expect closer to 200 miles in real-world driving. With 150kW DC rapid charging, though, the Solterra’s battery can be raid charged to 80 per cent in just 30 minutes.
What’s it like to drive?
Though plenty of electric SUVs are all-wheel-drive, few are genuinely capable away from the tarmac. But in true Subaru style, the Solterra is, with its ‘X-mode’ function including more rugged settings and a decent amount of ground clearance. We were impressed by how effective it was on slippery off-road tracks and this gives it something to set it apart from rivals.
Back on the tarmac, the Solterra continues to impress. There’s plenty of grip from its all-wheel-drive setup, but the steering does have a slightly vague feel to it. More pleasingly, the ride quality is excellent, even on the large 20-inch alloy wheels, and it’s very quiet on the move even by electric car standards.
The Subaru Solterra also comes with a driver monitoring system, using a camera that makes sure the driver is looking at the road. But in normal driving, it’s infuriating, beeping and bonging repeatedly if you dare to turn your head at a junction to check it’s clear. It’s not a Subaru-exclusive feature – and it can be turned off with several button presses – but its execution in the Solterra is irritating.
How does it look?
At first, the Solterra is quite an odd-looking thing. The big chunky wheel arches, extending into the front bumper most certainly help to give the car a ‘rugged’ presence, but there’s perhaps a bit too much plastic going on to our eyes.
That said, the design grows on you quickly, with the sharp LED headlights and closed grille helping to make the Solttera look good. Our test car’s ‘Harbour Mist’ grey paint looked excellent in contrast with the black roof as well.
What’s it like inside?
The interior is the part that lets the Solterra down, with the cabin quality not feeling anywhere good enough to justify its price. Some materials and switchgear would feel out of place on a car costing half of the price, especially the steering wheel controls. The large widescreen touchscreen also looks great and is fairly easy to use, but is fairly basic in its functions next to rivals, though we do appreciate that there are still physical controls for the climate settings.
In terms of space, the Solterra is bigger than you might expect, being around 20cm longer than a Nissan Qashqai and sitting suitably high up too. The boot seems larger than the 441-litre size that Subaru quotes, and there’s plenty of room in the back for adults, though the panoramic sunroof could prove a challenge for taller occupants.
What’s the spec like?
The Solterra is available in two trim levels – Limited and Touring. All versions get plenty of equipment, though, with the Limited coming with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated seats, an electric boot and a wide 12.3-inch touchscreen. The Touring model then brings bigger 20-inch alloy wheels, a glass roof, synthetic leather upholstery and a Harman Kardon sound system.
Subaru has felt like a fading manufacturer in recent years and one that could disappear entirely from the UK market. But the Solterra feels like that shot of adrenaline it needed, kickstarting its entry into the electric market with a car that retains Subaru’s classic traits of feeling built to last and being impressively rugged.
However, though equipment levels and on-road manners are impressive on the Solterra, the mediocre interior and unimpressive range fail to justify the price next to more credible rivals like the Nissan Ariya.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Subaru Solterra
Model as tested: Subaru Solterra Touring
Powertrain: Dual electric motors with 71kWh battery
Torque: 336 Nm
0-60mph: 6.7 seconds
Top speed: 100mph
Range: 257 miles
Max charging rate: 150kW