The 2023 Subaru Solterra changes the skin of Toyota off-road

Going off-road in a Subaru crossover is nothing new. Climbing up to the sun in the high desert of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest in Subaru’s first electric crossover is something else entirely.

Connecting sun and earth, the 2023 Subaru Solterra is late to the electric party and making more inroads for the brand than for the EV market. Built in partnership with Toyota and linked mechanically and aesthetically to the Toyota BZ4X, which is also the world’s first mass-produced electric vehicle by Toyota, the Solterra lives in the shadow of its twin.

But the Solterra sheds Toyota’s skin by doing what Subaru is known for: taking its off-road prowess to the trails. Getting to access roads beyond Scottsdale required more daily driving, and Subaru’s two-motor system proved adequate, if not innocuous. Each 80 kW motor powers one axle, and the 249 lb-ft of torque has a variable split, shifting torque 40/60 between the front and rear axles under hard acceleration and 70/30 when braking to avoid under -turn.

From a standstill, it can accelerate to 60 mph in around 6.5 seconds and it’s lighter than some rivals, hitting 4,505 lbs in the top Touring trim (the base Premium weighs 4,365). When it comes to acceleration, there’s not much difference in the normal, Eco or Sport driving mode settings which can be engaged with the touch of a button on the console.

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

It’s not just remarkably quiet for a Subaru, whose flat-4s can run strong with a CVT, it’s quiet for an electric car, with absolutely no engine noise. It’s also well isolated from the road, with only a little freeway noise coming from the all-season tires wrapped around the tester’s 20-inch wheels (18s are standard). It also rides quietly and calmly, with MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone setup in the rear, but it can be salubrious in hilly terrain. I wasn’t pushing hard on the cobbled 90 degree intersections outside of Scottsdale, but Solterra owners won’t mistake that for an autocross car unless or until the STI performance department has a chance. The steering doesn’t provide much feedback, but the small-diameter wheel points and goes where it’s directed.

Like the riding modes, the five regenerative braking settings don’t differ too much. Paddle shifters adjust four of the settings, and the fifth button is an S-Pedal or drive-pedal button in the console. Unlike other EVs, it didn’t wobble when I eased off the throttle and grabbed the brakes to stop. At around 3 mph I had to constantly apply the brakes. When stopped, it defaulted to a crawling mode, likely to simulate a gas-powered car in keeping with the conservative approach of Toyota’s – I mean, Subaru’s first electric car. An auto-hold button held it still at stops without the brake.

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

This leg of the trip took me 48 miles at a rate of 2.8 miles/kwh, which depending on how I was driving, lined up with the 3.1 miles/kwh conversion of the EPA. Most of it was with the S pedal on, but the throttle saw plenty of action. The range meter started with a reading of 295 miles, which dropped to 230 as soon as I set the air conditioning to 70 degrees. The EPA says it has a range of 220 miles (228 in the base model) and 102 MPGe combined (104 in the base model). The confusing thing about the Solterra is that there is no display for battery percentages. Subaru said it was so as not to confuse EV noobs, but I’m not a noob and was a bit confused. Anyway, I did 48 miles and it cost me 59 miles based on estimated range.

Some other quirks of the Solterra, which has Toyota DNA throughout the cockpit, are that there’s no glove box and the instrument cluster sits at the end of a plastic tray. extending from the front of the dashboard until it almost touches the windshield. It feels as remote as a head-up display, and the tiny power meter next to Toyota’s even smaller vertical menu bar for vehicle information is an odd use of real estate. The top of the steering wheel may block part of the display, but the seat and steering wheel adjustments solve it.

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Other notable features inside include a crossbar separating the panoramic sunroof. For safety, says Subaru. Another is a wide center console that is uncharacteristic of an electric vehicle. It eats up legroom up front, but it’s tiered, so the lower shelf takes the place of the glove box. Covered in acres of stained glossy black plastic, it houses at least the drive mode and off-road settings so you don’t need to search around for the available 12.3-inch touchscreen, which is the latest much improved iteration from Toyota. It’s good enough to forget the past, and the voice commands are even better, but it doesn’t automatically fill the nearest chargers, even with the EVgo network in partnership with Subaru.

Finally, an Eco button for climate control automatically adjusts seat heating and cooling and uses less energy than standard HVAC. Using the occupant sensing system, it directs heating and cooling vents only to occupied seats.

It all felt very Toyota, until the sidewalk ended and the access road descended into the desert valley. Even with all the traction control settings active, the rear end kicked and went a little sideways on the dusty gravel. It corrected itself quickly, proving its Subaru system, and disabling the first level of stability control restored power to the driver. Higher-speed off-roading was the highlight of my time in the Solterra, and it proved just as capable in more challenging terrain.

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

With the X mode set to the Snow/Dirt setting, it climbed uneven climbs strewn with loose rock and all the dusty desert dirt. A third X-Mode setting called Grip Control behaves like off-road cruise control so drivers can focus on obstacles, not the pedals, both uphill and downhill. Three settings between 3 and 5 mph can be controlled via a toggle in the console, and the driver can override the setting with the throttle, then the system will reactivate once below the threshold. It works well, but needs to be activated from a stop with the speed setting on. When one wheel slid or hinged on the ground, the other wheels pulsated and hooked until it straightened out. It would help newcomers get a taste of deeper off-road terrain and give them confidence in its abilities.

Subaru Solterra 2023

Subaru Solterra 2023

The desert didn’t allow me to test the wading depth of the 19.7-inch Solterra, but the Solterra felt as capable off-road as any other Subaru SUV, and more than capable of rival electric crossovers. . Subaru’s 8.3-inch ground clearance is 1.6 inches higher than the electric crossover’s next best contender, the Volkswagen ID.4, and it offers better approach and departure angles than its rivals.

This capability calls in the Subaru way, and the initial production run of 6,500 units has already been booked by the Subie faithful. Even if it looks and feels like a Toyota and doesn’t move the EV space, that should be enough. For now.

amoloans