A promising new start for Subaru, interesting and sensible cabin, offers some driving engagement
Looks don’t immediately grab you, driving position not for all, no 2WD variant means it’s quite pricey
What is it?
Solterra: sun earth. In Latin. It's the first Subaru electric car. Think you've seen it elsewhere? Well it's a joint project with Toyota. Just as the two firms co-operated on the 86/BRZ sports car near-twins, they did the same with the Solterra and bZ4X. Which means it's like a medium sized crossover.
Subaru sells 4WD versions only, competing with twin-motor editions of the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Kia EV6, Skoda Enyaq, Nissan Ariya and VW ID.4. Except their twin motor versions are more powerful than this. More on that in a bit.
The Solterra, like the bZ4X, has striking creased sheetmetal, and even more striking wheel arches: black plastic eyebrow-sideburn affairs. Inside, it's also more interesting than Subarus to date, but then they've hardly been known for avant-garde cabins.
Why is it four-wheel drive only?
Both companies always knew that for the joint venture not to be laughable, the resulting car had to be congruent with both brand's histories. The Subaru faithful would raise pitchforks if they thought they were being denied four-wheel drive, immense durability, decent driving enjoyment and safety.
So the two firms set about leveraging their various talents to get there. Subaru is great at torque management and chassis tuning. Toyota's millions of hybrids have given it massive chops in battery durability, electronics efficiency and motor design. It also has a strong record on reliability and fitting lots of active safety tech.
The platform is basically Toyota's, and it'll spawn a range of Toyota and Lexus EVs over the coming years. Subaru is working on its own EV platform but it won't be launching cars until at least 2025, so the Toyota tie-up got its name onto the EV guest list a few years early.
What are the main numbers?
The claimed range is 291 miles WLTP on 18-inch wheels (or entry level Limited spec), and 257 on 20s (upper Touring spec).
There are 107bhp motors at each end, enough for a brisk acceleration with easy tractive security. Interestingly, although the front and rear motors give matching power and torque, and are both the permanent-magnet type, they're not the same physically. The engineers went to the trouble of making the front one narrow and fat to get the best turning circle they could. Meanwhile the back one is wider but thinner to keep the boot floor low.
Battery size is 71.4kWh, while max charging speed is 150kW DC, meaning a 20-80 per cent charge will take around half an hour.
Does it matter which I buy, Subaru or Toyota?
There's not much difference between Solterra and bZ4X, no. At least not if you want 4WD, which is all Subaru sells. Toyota does a single motor FWD version too.
In the looks department, the Subaru has a slightly different hexagon surround for what we'd once have called the grille. It also has round foglamps. The two have different tailgates too, but you wonder why, given they'd gone to the trouble of tooling two different pressings, they didn't differentiate those back ends more.
Although the max performance of both cars is the same, the Subaru has a Sport mode to give its accelerator some edgier keen-ness at the beginning of its travel. Below that you've got Normal and Eco.
The Toyota just has Normal and Eco, yet mash the bZ4X's pedal to the carpet in normal and it's just as powerful as the Subaru is in sport (which goes to show how pointless powertrain modes often are – and it's the same on petrol cars). The Subaru also has regeneration paddles, the Toyota not.
The Subaru has very slightly heavier steering and stiffer rebound damping where the Toyota is more plush. Well that's what the chief engineers told us, but we couldn't actually feel any difference. And this was after driving them back-to-back down a quick, undulating road that did put the body control to its mettle.
Anyway, what you're reading here is that Subaru was keen to make a crossover that's practical but still has an enjoyable edge. In other words, one that speaks to its heritage. Click on the Driving tab to see if it succeeded.
How much does it cost?
Prices start at £52,495 in entry level Touring spec, and £55,495 in upper Touring spec. Head over to the Buying tab for the full lowdown.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
If you're a traditional Subaru buyer, electricity might suit you well. The 4WD and low centre of gravity give it an almost eerie similarity with the way a flat-four Subaru goes down the road. It's also remarkable in mud – we tried it. It looks mildly kooky but so have most Subarus over the years. And as for the battery range, well your petrol Subaru never went far on a tankful did it?
The performance figures are only moderate-to good. So don't come here expecting a return to the days of your Impreza WRX and Forester STI. But there is a spiritedness to the drive that most electric rivals lack.
Practicality is very much up to class standards, and the cabin more interesting than some. The electric numbers – range, charge time – are OK, but that's when facing some rivals that have been around two or three years and might get mid-life range bumps before long.
This isn't, all-in, an outstanding car. We suspect you'll alight on the Solterra because you enjoy the looks, you want the off-road ability, you trust the brand's reliability and you've a good relationship with the local dealer. And that's fine with us.