We drive the new electric Subaru Soleterra both on and off road ahead of its Australia arrival in 2023.
Co-developed, not badge-engineered. That’s how the relationship of the new Subaru Solterra is described to that of its sibling car, the Toyota bZ4X. Both vehicles are due to launch in Australia from mid-2023, although we’ve already driven them overseas to see how they stack up.
The bZ4X is the kind of pragmatic car you’d expect from its maker, and likewise the Solterra from Subaru. It’s a spacious, 4.7m-long electric family crossover of the kind of shape and size many car makers are converging on at the same time for their latest mass-market EV offerings, the likes of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, and Tesla Model Y among them.
Like the bZ4X is for Toyota, the Solterra is the first series-production battery-electric car its maker has made. That co-development has obviously led to many of the specifications of the duo to be identical, yet the two do diverge in some key ways.
Whereas Toyota offers a single-motor two-wheel-drive version alongside a dual-motor all-wheel-drive model, for Subaru it’s all-wheel drive only, and unlike in the Toyota, the Subaru’s AWD system is a permanent one thanks to some software changes.
There are also styling differences front and rear, and chassis tweaks, the Solterra given a firmer suspension tune and more weighted steering system, plus an extra ‘Power’ driving mode and some paddle shifters to control the level of regenerative braking.
Although the workings of the all-wheel drive systems are different, the key hardware of the car isn’t: there are electric motors front and rear for a combined 160kW and 338Nm of torque. Power is drawn from a 71.4kWh battery that can be recharged at speeds of up to 150kW. The AWD system being permanent marginally hits efficiency, which is rated 6.3km per kWh, while the range comes in at 465km.
Our first drive in the Solterra starts initially on an off-road course, which perhaps shows you the positioning Subaru is going for with Solterra: it’s very much rooted in the rest of the range in being the kind of safe, secure and adventurous car that can handle the worst of the conditions most of us are ever really likely to encounter in the real world.
And good fun and impressive it is on this course, too. The wading depth of 500mm allows it to conquer some water hazards, and an X-mode additional driving mode selector tailors the traction control and hill descent systems to tackle the likes of deep snow and mud. There’s also a low-speed off-road cruise control system called Grip Control that can do all the hard work in the mucky stuff for you.
On the road, the differences between the bZ4X and Solterra do a very good job of concealing themselves. I drove the two cars back to back, and any differences in the powertrain were indistinguishable. Those dynamic tweaks to stiffen the car are detectable, but it’s marginal and certainly not transformative.
That’s no slight on the Solterra, quite the opposite: the BZ4X is a very accomplished car. It sits in that middle ground of doing what it needs to do in an unobtrusive and inoffensive way. There’s as much power as you need, delivered in a way that’s all very predictable, while riding quietly and comfortably and steering and handling predictably, if not in an involving way.
Many of its other more rational qualities carry over, too, including a hugely spacious cabin that’s particularly mighty on rear leg room, and a 452-litre boot that, while not class leading in size, is a very useful and usable shape with Tardis-like qualities.
Shock verdict alert, then: the bZ4X ratingcan also be found on the Solterra. Would you go for one over the other? Mostly, this will come down to brand loyalty, or proximity to your local dealer, but we are also yet to see the local Australian pricing for either model which could also sway choice.
For Subaru lovers, the loyal bunch that they are, they’ll find a car that is an impressive first foray into electrification and shows how so many of the qualities from the Subarus of the old world can survive and thrive in the new. Qualities that are plentiful enough to win over many new fans, too.