Subaru Solterra Limited review: We take a test drive in Subaru's first electric car
Something for winter? The Solterra is Subaru’s first electric car. This comfy SUV is a joint project with Toyota’s bZ4X. Subaru’s input included the all-wheel-drive system. The marque is renowned for its 4x4 technology.
There is permanent drive to all wheels, with an electric motor for each pair. This gives instant grip when needed. A sample drive on a wet grassy slope — a foe of SUVs - proceeded without faltering. There are also traction settings for snow and dirt and for deeper snow and mud. Ice? Keep away.
The main visual visual differences in the twins are the badges, the face, and the rear lights. The underpinnings are the same, but Toyota offers a single motor, front-wheel-drive bZ4X which reduces the price and improves the electric range.
The £55,495 Touring version of the Solterra with 20 inch wheels is quoted at 257 miles range on a full charge, while the £52,495 Limited on 18 inch wheels is rated at 289 miles. For the record, the front-drive bZ4X has a 317-mile capacity. It also costs much less, £46,110.
Winter driving takes a toll on the range of electric vehicles, with battery drain from cold weather, heaters, wipers and screen defrosting.
The bZ4X has been criticised for its reduced range in cold weather. This is said to have been sorted wth new software and the same fix had been given to our 22-plate Solterra. We were sent the fully outfitted Solterra Touring.
The autumn weather was usually warm and the Solterra had a good chance to shine. We charged the battery to 100 per cent and set off. The predicted range was 237 miles, a 20 mile shortfall on its 257 mile factory rating.
As with all electric cars you can get a substantial battery charge in half an hour on a superfast charger, rather less on a slower unit. I was hoping to avoid any of that (and the possible queues or inactive chargers) and planned a varied route to match the range, with a buffer margin to get home.
The Solterra is a striking shape — courtesy of its Japanese partners who have produced a handsome, roomy five-door, five-seater hatchback cum SUV. The cabin has the usual places for cups and trappings but no “glovesbox” in the dashboard. Instead there is a fabric convex curve, with a flat top for light storage.
There is a large area under the central pier, fully occupied by the hefty block of a user’s manual. The 3 lb folder held a 304-page book on how to use the multi-media system and a 628-page book on the rest of the Solterra. Something for insomniacs.
On top of the pier is the rotary drive selector, simply reverse, neutral and forward, and a button for park. Shift paddles on the steering column allow you to manage the deceleration braking to add charge to the battery. There is lots of hardshell glossy black plastic. The seats are leather. There is a full-length glass roof panel which does not open. Kit includes usb ports and a phone charging pad with a see-through cover.
The dashboard is dominated by the large information and navigation screen. Road speed and battery capacity and consumption are shown in a pod, set high behind and above a small steering wheel. You adjust the wheel and seat height accordingly to see everything. It is not perfect but is an improvement on Peugeot’s more compromised i-cockpit.
Passengers in the back have heated seats, a drop-down central armrest with two cup spaces and a phone slot. Facing them are map pockets, two c-usb ports and air vents.
The luggage area is on a high floor over compartments for the charging cables. Some rivals offer more load capacity and it lacks tie-down rings to stop things sliding. Remote levers to fold the back seats are also absent. The only frills are bag hooks which are too near the powered tailgate. A re-think is needed.
In other respects the model is well equipped, with a heated steering wheel, rear cross traffic alert, a 360 degree camera, Harmon Kardon audio, driver monitoring and passive and active crash collision protection. Subaru’s camera and radar system detects all road users in front but a wiper on the tailgate window would help vision in rain or snow.
The drive is lovely, softly cushioned over bumps, yet firm enough to twist and turn without getting roly poly. There is instant acceleration for brisk overtaking and getting away from junctions. The brakes are strong and can bring the Solterra to a smooth halt. Unlike electric rivals, it will not stop completely unless you use the footbrake. The general feeling is still effortless and comfortable.
The navigation guidance was fine, understanding the voiced requests and flagging up concerns such as: “please proceed paying attention to the bicycle lane”.
And so the days passed. Two of them included the energy consumption test, assessing the accuracy of that 237-mile range mentioned earlier. The drive was in daylight, with no demand on lights and 30 miles using the rain wipers intermittently. The route was half and half, motorway and urban sprawl. Speeds were at the local limit on open roads.
The distance travelled was 164 miles. The dashboard showed 57 miles (25%) left in the battery, which suggests a potential total of 221 miles, or 16 miles shy of the 237 mile prediction. So, not bad but short of the 257 miles in the brochure.
Buyers for the Subaru will already be familiar with the brand and its strengths and reliability and off-road superiority. Toyota will sell more because of its breadth of dealers and marketing reach. This was the picture with their last joint project, the exciting Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ - built by Subaru using its flat-four boxer engine.
Subaru Solterra Limited: £55,495; Battery 71.4 kWh; Power 215bhp; Torque 248 lb/ft; Transmission, single speed electric all-wheel-drive; Top speed 100 mph; 0-62mph 6.9 seconds; Economy,: eight miles per kWh on test; CO 2 emissions, zero; Length 185 inches; Braked towing limit 750kg; www.subaru.co.uk