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2023 Subaru Solterra first drive review: Love, in electric form

The 2023 Subaru Solterra is the company’s first dedicated electric vehicle. And at first glance, you’ll notice a ton of similarities to the Toyota bZ4X. But while the cars share a lot in common, they are positioned very differently. Which is why, while we liked the Toyota bZ4X well enough, we much prefer the Subaru Solterra.

The 2023 Subaru Solterra only comes with all-wheel drive, which is a Subaru tradition (except for the BRZ). Power is sent to each axle via two electric motors, which combine for a total horsepower output of 215 and 249 lb-ft of torque.

Like most electric cars, those numbers don’t articulate the actual speed of the car. Because there’s no transmission and torque is instantaneous, the Solterra accelerates much quicker than a comparably-equipped Crosstrek or even Forester.

The Subaru has a heat pump for efficiency in cold months, and there’s an extra setting on the X Mode software for more extreme off road conditions.

To help with going off the beaten path, the Solterra has 8.3 inches of ground clearance, making it one of the best in the class.

When it comes to driving, the experience on road is nearly identical to the Toyota bZ4X — which we encourage you to read our first drive impressions — and it’s reasonably quiet. There’s some wind noise around the mirrors at higher speeds, but nothing compared to the drone of a 4-cylinder engine and a CVT in a similar scenario.

Where the Solterra real shines is off-road. Now we’re not talking Rubicon Trail levels of off-road — that’s what a Wrangler 4xe is for — but the Solterra will get you to a campsite, biking trail, ski slope, or really anywhere you need to get to in order to have some outdoor adventures.

To prove that point, Subaru shuttled us to Santa Catalina Island to drive on the trails and roads around the island. There’s typically a 25 year wait to even get a permit to own a car on the island, and it’s off-limits to tourists for driving a car, so this was a real treat.

Dirt two-track trails are easy peasey lemon squeezy for the Solterra. When rocks are added to the equation, the X Mode software combined with traction control make short order of some genuinely treacherous rock climbs.

Subarus are supposed to be able to handle all sorts of weather, and also be able to deliver owners — and their dogs — to wherever they need to go.

That’s where the Solterra shines. It’s very good at the off road bits while still being competent on road. It fits a hole in the Subaru lineup regarding electrification, delivers on a customer demand, and is easy to fall in love with.

It’s not perfect, but a great first go at an EV from Subaru. It’s also a rare case of a platform-shared, badge engineered car making a ton of sense for one of the brands doing it.

Is it the best electric car? No. Is it a really good Subaru? Yes.

Written by Chad Kirchner
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