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2023 Subaru Solterra Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Subaru Solterra front quarter view

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Though Toyota continues to voice skepticism about EVs, they recently launched their first serious effort, the bZ4X. (Yes, everyone else is also scratching their heads and struggling to remember this "name.") Switch the badges and add a model name that resembles a real word, and you have the vehicle I briefly drove (in the rain, hence the gloomy photo lighting), the Subaru Solterra.

Toyota owns 20 percent of Subaru, and the two previously developed a pair of sports cars together. While the Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ are assembled in a Subaru plant, and Subaru likely performed the bulk of the engineering, the bZ4X and Solterra were almost entirely designed and engineered by Toyota and are assembled in a Toyota plant. Subaru is chiefly credited for the EV's all-wheel-drive technology. Since there's no AWD system in the conventional sense, this technology is most likely the programming for the traction and stability control systems. Upshot: the Solterra is essentially a Toyota.

Unlike other manufacturers that provided vehicles at the media assocation event, Subaru provided theirs in its lowest trim level. So the tested Solterra's wheels were 18s intead of 20s and the interior was cloth instead of synthetic leather (a.k.a. vinyl, leatherette, or one of many brand-specific trade names). But it was still pretty clear after just a few minutes behind the wheel how the Solterra (and thus the bZ4X) compares to my favorite for all-around use among the latest EVs, the Hyundai Ioniq 5.

Solterra Reviews: Subaru Solterra front quarter view

Carrying the unpainting cladding all the way to the headlight...an interesting design choice? more Solterra photos

Solterra Reviews: Subaru Solterra interior

The Solterra's steering column is oddly level with the top of its ultra-deep instrument panel.

Tested: 2023 Subaru Solterra

4dr SUV 215-horsepower Electric 1-speed automatic AWD

Compared: 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5

4dr SUV 320-horsepower Electric 1-speed automatic AWD

Why the 2023 Subaru Solterra?

  Compared to the Ioniq 5
Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Better Better Worse

The chief reason to buy the Subaru Solterra or Toyota bZ4X (henceforth Toyobaru) is conjecture based on past history. We don't yet have a clear idea how long any of these very-expensive-to-replace EV battery packs (except perhaps Tesla's) is likely to last. But Toyota has a well-earned reputation for making the most durable vehicles, and likely subjected the new EV to testing at least as thorough as its usual. Toyota also has two decades of experience with hybrids, though these mostly used batteries with a different composition (NiMH vs. lithium-ion) and a different duty cycle (frequent relatively small charges and discharges vs. going from nearly full to nearly empty over many miles).

Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

Especially when you load it up the Subaru Solterra lists for less than the Hyundai Ioniq5. And--for reasons that are not clear--the Toyota bz4X lists for less than the Subaru.

Okay, one reason is clear: the Toyota is offered in both single- and dual-motor forms, while the Subaru is offered only with the latter, because Subaru all-wheel-drive. Toyota does charge less for the second motor, only about $2,100 vs. $3,900 on the Hyundai (and $3,800 on the VW ID.4). We'll get to a likely reason for this in a bit.

But even in dual-motor form the bZ4X starts lower, $43,929 (including $425 for a paint color other than black and $169 for floormats) vs. $46,200 for the Solterra. Either is quite a bit lower than the least-expensive dual-motor Ioniq 5, which checks in at $50,695. The starting price for a dual-motor VW ID.4 is just a smidge above that for the Toyota. But maybe you want the larger of two battery pack options, in which case add $5,000 to the VW's price.

The Toyobaru is offered with only one size of battery pack, and it falls in between the small and large packs of the Hyundai and VW. We'll be talking more about this as well.

Now back to where I started this section, "especially when you load it up." Check all of the boxes, and the list prices are...

Toyota: $51,414
Subaru: $53,220
VW: $56,540
Hyundai: $58,990

The VW is the only one of the four eligible for the new $7,500 EV tax credit, which requires that the EV be manufactured in North America. While previous ID.4s were imported from Europe, the 2023 is made in Tennessee. The others might be eligible if leased--this is currently unclear.

Yes, in 2023 Hyundai charges the highest prices. Korean auto workers no longer earn just a couple dollars an hour. In fact, they now often earn more than American auto workers. Demand for the Ioniq 5 has been higher than supply, so many dealers likely want more than MSRP.

The four do differ a bit in feature content. You can't get memory for the driver seat, power adjustments for the passenger seat, or massage for either in the Toyobaru. You can't get ventilated front seats in the VW until the 2024. Only Toyota offers a lower-body radiant heating system (they aren't sharing this innovation with Subaru). The top trim level of the Hyundai includes a real head-up display (HUD) and second-row sun shades. Neither feature is available on the others.

Solterra Reviews: Subaru Solterra rear quarter view

The tail lamp cannot decide in which direction it wants to go.

Solterra Reviews: Subaru Solterra instrument panel full width

Much of the dash is covered in fabric, a sharp contrast with the piano black center stack.

Off-road capability
Off-road capability: Better Better Worse

The Toyobaru might have one feature advantage: an AWD system more thoroughly programmed for off-road use and with selectable snow/dirt and deep snow/mud modes. Hyundai offers a snow mode, while the VW has no terrain-specific modes.

How much difference does this make? My testing occurred on paved (if wet) roads, so I don't know. But if you're into mudding your EV, and the new Hummer EV seems like overkill, the Solterra or bZ4X could the best fit for you.

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Why Not the 2023 Subaru Solterra?

  Compared to the Ioniq 5
Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Much worse Better Worse

From the moment I sat down in the Solterra I knew I wasn't going to be a fan. Subaru and Toyota claim they had roominess as a top priority, but the Solterra felt much more cramped to me than the Ioniq 5. Blame the Toyobaru's much taller and more massive center console. I might like such a console in a sporty car, but this car isn't sporty.

My main issue with the driving position, though, is that seemingly acres of instrument panel fill the driver's forward view. To check the instruments, gaze over (not through) the steering wheel and towards the distant base of the windshield. Toyota and Subaru feel this is a cheap way to provide much of the benefit of a head-up display (HUD). In theory, this makes a lot of sense: you don't have to shift your eyes as far off the road to view the instruments and the steering wheel can be (and is) smaller. In practice, it looked and felt really weird. Maybe with more time in the car I'd get used to it, and even like it? Maybe. Maybe not.

That the steering column (which is quite massive) is level with the top of the instrument panel suggests that this panel is positioned quite low and that the view forward is therefore very open. I usually like this in a car, and maybe I'd like it in the Toyobaru EV once I got used to the location of the instruments and the depth of the dash. But for the length of my drive I found the strangeness of this layout offputting.

It took me a minute or two to figure out how to shift the Solterra into D. Once again the drive selector has been reinvented. In this case the secret is to pull up on the knob, then turn it. Childproof?

Interior styling
Interior styling: Much worse Better Worse

There's often a fine line between interesting and weird. Subaru and Toyota both have a long record of aiming for the former and landing on the latter. With them combining their efforts, could there have been a different outcome?

My main aesthetic issue with the interior again involves the instrument cluster, in this case with the hard plastic landscape left bare by the cluster's forward relocation. A huge steering column juts straight out of the instrument panel, level with its top. In case your eye might miss all the plastic, Toyobaru frames it with tall plastic walls.

Then again, you might like the effect. Someone at Toyota must have.

On the other hand, I kind of like how much of the instrument panel is covered with a heavily textured fabric. It can't be too hard to clean, right?

Solterra Reviews: Subaru Solterra front angle view

Purpose of the unpainted panel at the base of the windshield?

Solterra Reviews: Subaru Solterra rear seat

I felt buried in the back seat of one of the cars I drove that day. Might have been this one.

Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much worse Better Worse

To be honest, I suspected I wasn't going to be a fan before I ever sat in the Solterra. The exterior designers appear to have been aiming for a futuristic rugged vibe. Somehow this translated to a large amount of black cladding, some of it bizarrely shaped or located. The largely black plastic front fenders make me think, "hit something, but didn't have enough money to paint (or even fully fix) the fender)."

If the black cladding were dialed back a fairly attractive crossover with sporty proportions might emerge. Except for the cladding on the rear half of the hood (what purpose does cladding serve there?) the Toyobaru's top half looks quite sleek. I especially like how the upper fender comes to a point above the headlamp.

Even with the cladding I prefer the Toyobarus' appearance to bland, forgettable exterior of the VW ID.4.

Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Worse Better Worse

In the EPA's tests, the AWD base trim Toyobaru scored the energy equivalent of 114 mpg in the city and 94 mpg on the highway. The upper trim levels with their 20-inch wheels are only about two mpg lower. This is a bit better than the Ioniq 5's 110/87 (2022; 2023 could be better) and the ID.4's 104/93, both with 20-inch wheels.

But EV owners tend to care more about range and charging time, and the Toyobaru doesn't compare nearly as well in these areas. Partly because its sole battery pack is sized between the Hyundai's and VW's small and large packs, the Toyota can't go as far as they can on a charge. Comparing vehicles with AWD and 20-inch wheels, the EPA estimates the Toyobaru can go 222 miles, while the Hyundai and VW can both go about 255.

When it does come time to charge, the Hyundai can get back to 80% in as little as 18 minutes, while the VW takes nearly 40 minutes. And the Toyobaru? Nearly an hour.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Much worse Better Worse

Earlier I noted that Toyobaru charges little more than half what the others do for a second motor (and with it AWD). This could be because the Toyobaru's second motor boosts the total amount of horsepower by only 14, from 201 to 215. The dual-motor Hyundai and VW are far more powerful, with 320 and 295 horsepower, respectively.

This comes through in their acceleration times. The Toyobaru launches with satisfying vigor, but takes about 6.5 seconds to get to 60 mph. While this counts as pretty quick for a gas-powered car, EVs tend to be quicker, even much quicker. The VW gets to 60 about second sooner, the Hyundai nearly two seconds sooner.

This said, for nearly every driver nearly all of the time the bZ4 is plenty quick enough.

Other features of the 2023 Subaru Solterra

  Compared to the Ioniq 5
Handling: Worse Better Worse

Like the VW ID.4's, the Solterra's handling struck me as competent but unengaging. The small steering wheel offers an opportunity for a sporty character, but Toyobaru's chassis engineers opted to go another way.

Quietness: About the same Better Worse

Like other EVs its size, the Solterra has very little powertrain or wind noise. Road noise was also minimal on the roads I drove. But I noticed faint drumming sounds emanating from the body structure over some minor bumps.

Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: About the same Better Worse

Based on the official specs, the Toyobaru EV can hold a bit more cargo than the Ioniq 5, likely because it, and consequently its cargo area, are a few inches taller. Still only about five-sixths as much as a Toyota RAV4.

Under the hood there's no space at all for cargo. A suspected reason for this: many auto makers don't want to have to assume responsibility for the affects an unknown type and weight of cargo might have on performance in a collision. The Ioniq has a small lidded storage compartment under its hood, perhaps figuring that not much can fit in it anyway.


The Subaru Solterra and Toyota bZ4X aren't bad vehicles. Even a few years ago they would have been impressive. But EVs have been advancing rapidly, and auto makers that aren't swinging for the fences will lose to those who are. Subaru and Toyota seem to have aimed for the low end of acceptable. At least that's where their vehicle has landed. In comparison, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 looks much better both inside and out, drives better, is much quicker, goes farther on a charge, charges much faster, and is simply a far more satisfying vehicle.

This said, Toyotas have often ranked far from the top is styling and driving dynamics. They well more cars than anyone else worldwide because they tend to last the longest and, for this reason, depreciate more slowly. The same could prove the case with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra. We'll know in about a decade...

Solterra Reviews: Subaru Solterra side view

Not a bad shape. How would it look with less black cladding?

Solterra Reviews: Subaru Solterra cargo area

Typical cargo space for an EV this size. But no frunk up front.

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2023 Subaru Solterra pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2023 Subaru Solterra. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.
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