When the Subaru Solterra made its design debut, back at the 2021 LA Auto Show, we speculated that the Japanese company had got the design pitch perfect. In the flesh, the new Solterra certainly impresses. As noted before, the car shares a substantial amount of engineering and aesthetics with the Toyota bZ4X EV (a similar sort of arrangement that saw Toyota’s GT86 face off against the near identical Subaru BRZ).
The result of putting up two fundamentally similar cars against each other is that branding has to play an even more important role than usual. We’ve noted before that Subaru has some essential qualities that it needs to bring with it into the electric age. It’s therefore a bold strategy to make a debut in the sector with a model that’s shared with Toyota. Globally, Subaru sells just shy of 400,000 cars a year; Toyota sells around nine million. The bigger company has also been in the battery game since the beginning, dominating hybrid sales with its Prius model for years before the technology was taken up by others.
Subaru Solterra EV
So has Subaru hitched itself to the right partner? The Solterra/bZ4X is a well-proportioned mid-sized vehicle, large by European standards, somewhere in the middle by US ones. A mix of SUV and crossover design cues includes a high ride, chunky plastic wheel arches, a rakish rear screen and some nicely detailed light clusters. Aside from mild differences on the latter, as well as a more pronounced grille on the Subaru, the two companies are essentially marketing the same car.
If Subaru’s rugged, gorpcore image appeals more than Toyota’s slightly staid corporate squareness, it’ll cost you, for the Solterra is by far the dearer of the pair (and the Toyota is hardly the cheapest electric car to start with). This uptick is offset by a better equipment spec, even if the only available options tend to be more and more sensors to keep track of how you’re parking, driving, and even paying attention. For example, the Solterra will track your eye movements and chirp if it thinks you’ve been looking dreamily out of the window instead of focusing on the road ahead.
Elsewhere, fit and finish is solid and durable, and feels more premium than Subaru’s other models. The internal layout, which it also shares with the Toyota, includes a small driver’s screen designed to be seen over the top of the low-set steering wheel, and a larger central screen for controlling mapping, infotainment, etc. Despite the clean graphics there’s a slight dearth of intuition to the HMI, although thankfully there are physical buttons for climate control. Voice control is also available, although like most automotive systems it falls short of what you get from the cheapest big tech digital assistant.
If all these foibles seem petty, that’s because our high hopes for the Solterra weren’t quite met. Little details don’t gel – the charging integration into the mapping isn’t very intuitive, and when plugged in with the ignition off, you have no visual indication of how long there is to wait until full, nor does the gauge that eventually comes up when you open a door show the amount of range the current charge state will give you.
Range itself is problematic. Fully charged, this EV is rated at an optimistic 289 miles. Despite having a heat pump on board, the aircon systems take a substantial toll on battery life, as does delving even lightly into the performance. To be fair, this is true of every EV. But as we might have mentioned once or twice, driving a large electric SUV is akin to walking on eggshells; every excessive or sudden move is quickly penalised.
The Solterra’s cross-country and off-road performance can’t be faulted, nor can its space and style but ultimately it’s too big and heavy to be truly free of the persistent ache of range anxiety. Even the experience of an excellent EV can be coloured by a couple of bad charges. As a first step, it’s a good one, but Subaru can definitely do better.
Subaru Solterra, from £49,995, Subaru.co.uk (opens in new tab)
Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.
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