Subaru knows its people, who are among the most loyal to any automotive brand. They love their Outbacks, Foresters, Ascents and WRXs. They are also among the most environmentally conscious, dog-friendly, off-roading auto owners around. They take their kids to school and hike on the weekends. What they haven’t had until now is an electric vehicle of their own. That changes with the 2023 Solterra that I just sampled in California.
A little background: The Solterra was co-developed with Toyota, which offers the similar bZ4X and Lexus RZ 450e. Manufacturing is by Toyota in Japan, rolling out of the plant better known for the Lexus LC supercoupe and legendary Toyota Supra sports car. It’s the product of a thoroughly functional blended family.
Styling is more Toyota than Subaru with roof and pillars reminiscent of the RAV4, but Subaru clearly influenced final details. The front fascia outline echoes Subaru’s trademark grille, and the black wheelwell cladding and C-shaped lighting elements are pure Subaru. The roof rack supports 700 lbs. of tent and campers should they want to go off-grid. Range-enhancing aerodynamics are enhanced by flow-through air blades in front, underbody tray and split hatch spoiler.
There’s a lot of Toyota inside, too. The intuitive widescreen infotainment system could have come from a Tundra, but the flatscreen gauge cluster is placed high and deep for a heads-up effect. Seats come in cloth or Subaru’s StarTex vegan leather that’s easy to wash after a day in the brush. Storage abounds with the flybridge console, door cubbies, and roomy luggage compartment that’s accessed through a power hatch.
Our test car was loaded like a Lexus with standard heated seats, Harman Kardon audio, panoramic sunroof, wireless and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. A full suite of crash avoidance systems, marketed as part of Subaru’s EyeSight suite, include automatic emergency braking front/rear, lane keep assist, and safe exit assist to keep passengers from stepping into traffic. One assumes the body structure is pretty stout as well, though we have yet to see final crash results.
Getting to the numbers that matter to EV enthusiasts, the Solterra can travel 222 miles per charge and replenish to 80% in an hour. The electric powertrain delivers 215 horsepower and 249 pound-feet. of torque — enough to whoosh from 0-60 mph in a spirited 6.5 seconds. It’s not Tesla fast, but quick enough for a compact crossover. One-pedal driving engages regeneration early and often to maximize range and to ease city driving. It’s also handy when flipping through curvy backroads, inducing the right amount of deceleration when you would normally downshift.
Our Solterra drive route left from a block from the beach in Santa Barbara — a perfect venue for testing urban and freeway driving. It’s nearly silent, with only faint motor whine, whether slipping through traffic or surfing on-ramps. All that torque carried us through coastal mountains as if propelled by a swift sea breeze. The suspension is tuned for comfort over athletics, but it’s completely competent unless you’re into auto-crossing.
One expects an EV to excel in Southern California beach traffic, but might not imagine it scurrying up the side of mountains.
A flight to Catalina, where we drove miles on unpaved roads and straight-up rough trails, proves it can. Class-leading 8.3 inches of ground clearance is no match for the Forester Wilderness that served as our escort, but Dual Function X-Mode with Grip Control used all of the electric torque to deftly power up the trails and creep down the other side. Apply power whenever and wherever you want with zero drama. It’s simply enchanting.
Subaru clearly understands its customers and conjured an EV that will surely join many loyal owners’ garages ... and attract new acolytes as well. A base price of $44,995 plus destination makes it one of the most expensive Subarus, but a $7,500 tax credit brings down the price considerably. The hardest part of owning a Solterra may be getting one as they’re sure to be in short supply.
Casey Williams is an Indianapolis-based automotive journalist and a long-time contributor to the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at AutoCaseyaol.com and on YouTube AutoCasey.