2024 Subaru Solterra Review

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Overview

 

SUBARU has launched the Solterra in Australia and while a little late to the electric party, the new model honours the brand’s DNA with a package that is more aimed at everyday adventure than outright thrills.

 

Built on the same co-developed platform as Toyota’s bZ4X mid-size SUV, Subaru has stuck to its roots, with all-wheel drive and genuine all-road capability, which makes the jump to electric power a familiar affair for outdoorsy types who already own a ‘Subie’.

 

Project general manager of Solterra at Subaru Corporation, Masahiko Inoue, who since joining the company in 1990 has worked on various new models like the Impreza, BRZ, and now Solterra, knows a thing or two about what makes a Subaru, well, a Subaru.

 

Mr Inoue attended the Australian launch of the Solterra, explaining that in his work developing the Solterra he would spend Monday and Tuesday with Subaru, and Wednesday and Thursday some 400km away with Toyota.

 

The e-Subaru Global Platform was engineered to offer the same symmetrical all-wheel drive prowess the brand is known for, but Mr Inoue explains it actually surpasses the capabilities of mechanical systems found in ICE models.

 

“Independent motors in the front and rear allow for more controlled distribution to each wheel compared to engine (ICE) power,” Mr Inoue said.

 

“In EVs the tyres are directly connected to the motors, which is a power source, so information can be exchanged directly and, because it is electric, there is almost no delay.”

 

According to Mr Inoue, the platform also lowers the centre of gravity by 90mm, while offering near perfect weight distribution – even better than that of Subaru’s boxer-powered models.

 

“The centre of gravity is lower and closer to the yaw centre, which improves manoeuvrability,” he said.

 

“The new vehicle will provide a low centre of gravity and high rigidity which enables drivers to experience a driving sensation not found in ICE vehicles.”

 

A dual-motor e-axle powertrain offers combined power of 160kW and 337Nm of torque – just 13Nm off the performance-focused WRX – with a range of 485km.

 

The 71.4kWh water-cooled battery supports both AC and DC charging, capable of being charged from zero per cent to 80 per cent in 30 minutes. The battery, we are told, also improves body rigidity, mounted to suspension points like a ‘stressed member’ engine might be.

 

It is also a high-riding vehicle, with 212mm of ground clearance – so far the highest riding electric SUV alongside its Toyota twin – putting it close to Subaru’s capable Crosstrek and Forester models that offer 220mm of clearance.

 

Subaru made use of the clearance and all-wheel drive by incorporating its off-road focused X-Mode system with a new grip control feature that modulates acceleration and braking on low-grip surfaces.

 

True to form, Subaru designers opted for quirky styling inside and out, which certainly grew on us across the two-day media launch in Queensland’s Gold Coast Hinterlands, looking and feeling like a natural progression from its existing range.

 

Visually the Solterra of course resembles its Toyota sibling, but Subaru has put its own twist on the model with a silhouette that to us resembles the Crosstrek; made up of a unique hexagonal front fascia, C-shaped headlights, large wheel arches, ducktail spoiler and trapezoidal rear tailgate and bumper.

 

The interior offers a mix of premium materials and finishes, with a small-diameter square steering wheel, high-mounted 7.0-inch digital dash, and 12.3 inch central infotainment system with all the usual phone connectivity.

 

Higher-spec AWD Touring models score larger 20-inch wheels, auto-dipping mirrors, panoramic glass roof, leather trim and a better sound system. By contrast, the base AWD models get 18-inch alloys, self-levelling LED headlights and combination tail-lights, heated seats and steering wheel, and cloth interior. There isn’t a great deal of difference beyond the niceties included and, importantly, the powertrain and battery remains the same across variants.

 

Subaru has loaded the Solterra up with safety tech, including pre-collision system, emergency steering assist, emergency driving stop, lane departure warning, dynamic radar cruise control, lane tracing assist, low-speed acceleration suppression, road sign assist and speed limiter.

 

The two models also receive Subaru’s Driver Monitoring System2 and Vision Assist, with high-beam assist, blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, safe exit assist and a 360-degree panoramic view.

 

While attending the launch, news came through of the Solterra’s 5-Star ANCAP safety rating, with the various safety systems helped along by dual front, dual front side, dual curtain and front seat centre airbags.

 

Pricing comes in at $69,990 for the base Solterra AWD and $76,990 for the Solterra AWD Touring, following recent price cuts by Subaru which put it ahead of its equivalent all-wheel-drive twin under-the-skin for value.

 

The Solterra is also priced below all-wheel drive competitor options like the Tesla Model Y and Hyundai Ioniq 5, making it the lowest priced all-wheel drive electric SUV available in Australia so far.

 

Subaru offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while the high voltage battery is covered by an eight-year/160,000km warranty. Servicing will come around every 15,000km or 12 months, with 60 months/75,000km capped price servicing offered – free of charge.

 

That’s all well and good, but how does it drive?

 

On the road

 

Departing Gold Coast Airport, in a Subaru Crosstrek mind you, I was left wondering how the Solterra compares.

 

I do like Crosstreks and what they stand for, but find the engine a little underwhelming and as the sea of Solterras around me shot up to speed with typical EV rapidity, I had to lean on the hatch to keep pace.

 

Subaru’s reason for rotating journalists through their existing range was clear – to remind us of their driving DNA and let us realise (of our own accord) the Solterra is remarkably similar in how it drives.

 

First stop, and the most exciting of the two-day program, was Scenic Rim Adventure Park south-west of Beaudesert.

 

I jumped into a Solterra and began navigating the snaking access roads, through creek crossings and up undulating climbs.

 

Recent rain meant even access roads resembled 4×4 tracks and this was met with pleasant surprise as I readied the Solterra for what would likely be a test of its soft-roading limits.

 

Flicking the X-Drive to Snow/Dirt mode was about all that needed to be done, which softened throttle response and tweaked the amount of slip the vehicle would allow.

 

Australian rally legend Cody Crocker scouted ahead, offering pin-point guidance through trickier sections, unsurprisingly direct in his instruction. “Left, left, alright straight on, come through,” he could be heard saying over the radio, opting for brevity.

 

The Crosstrek ahead spent much of the trail three-wheeling, while the Solterra remained surprisingly composed. I’m sure a wheel was airborne at points, but the electronic all-wheel drive system outperformed the mechanical setup for outright grip.

 

Seemingly instant adjustments to the torque output of each motor, as the system carefully monitored grip levels at each wheel, meant any traction loss was quickly corrected.

 

It highlighted that mechanical four-wheel drive systems can’t make the rapid and precise adjustments of an electric setup, and the instant torque made explosive efforts out of ruts easier than ever.

 

The downside of the instant torque off the bottom is that even using the X-Drive in dirt/snow mode to reduce throttle sensitivity and tighten up the traction control, a large degree of finesse was required to prevent the vehicle surging forward.

 

The solution was using the grip control feature, part of the X-Mode system, which is like cruise control but for 3km/h-20km/h efforts. It feels more like hill descent, holding a speed and crawling along.

 

At the end of the day, 99.9 per cent of owners will never do what we did. In fact, unless it’s a YouTuber or somebody doing it for a laugh, we doubt any owners will tackle a 4×4 track like this in a shiny new Solterra.

 

The point of this exercise was to prove that if you end up off the beaten track – the Solterra will go the distance.

 

Once on the blacktop, spoiled with stunning Scenic Rim mountain roads, the Solterra drove –  just like a Subaru. Instant torque and impressive pull out of corners aside, once up and moving it steers and rides like its stablemates.

 

Playing around with eco, normal and sport driving modes offers touchier or more subdued throttle response, depending on what you like, but the middle-of-the-line ‘normal’ mode was our favourite.

 

The left and right paddle shifters turn regenerative braking up or down, which is an intuitive experience that can be done on the fly without distraction. Somewhere in the middle of the four-stage system felt best we thought.

 

The Solterra isn’t a rocket off the line, like more powerful EVs it will compete with, instead offering performance that feels about right for both the intended buyer and for the money being spent.

 

The interior, made up of premium finishes, modern ergonomics and a mix of materials we couldn’t fault, still took a little getting used to. The relatively small 7.0-inch digital dash, set back from the steering wheel, felt disjointed at first.

 

In many ways, placement of the digital dash makes more sense than conventional displays mounted low and right behind the steering wheel. After some seat time it started making sense as the need to glance down was virtually eliminated, with its placement smack bang in our line of sight.

 

It seems then, that Subaru may have landed in the same spot with its first EV as it did with venerable past models like the Brumby, Outback and Forester.

 

The Solterra is the adventurer’s day-to-day EV, like wearing hiking boots to do your grocery shopping so people know you get off the beaten track at the weekend and know a thing or two about the great outdoors.

 

It isn’t the most luxurious EV and it isn’t blisteringly fast. But honestly, it’s a pretty spot on first crack at an electric model that fits the brand’s existing ethos. For the money, it’s a well-balanced and highly capable SUV.

 

The Solterra will handle daily duties comfortably, tackle any adventure you can throw at it, and it offers compelling value at sub-$70,000. It’s nearly as quick as a WRX, too, which means you’ll get daily duties done that little bit quicker.

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