Subaru is entering the rapidly expanding electric-vehicle market with the 2023 Solterra SUV, which made its public debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.
The all-electric Solterra will arrive in Canada in the middle of 2022, boasting dual-motor all-wheel drive, 215 horsepower, and an estimated driving range of at least 354 kilometres, based on the U.S. EPA test. Fast 150-kW DC charging means it will take less than an hour to refill the battery up to 80 per cent.
“The customer has been asking for electric vehicles, alternative-fuel vehicles, for many years and now we finally have the appropriate product,” said Tom Doll, president and CEO at Subaru of America.
It’s taken the company until now to develop an electric vehicle, he explained, because of the high costs and the way the market has grown. EVs are just starting to make up a sizable chunk of overall sales, he said. “This year, they’re estimating somewhere between 500,000 to 600,000 pure electric vehicles are going to be sold in the United States.”
Subaru is offsetting the high cost of developing an EV by partnering with Toyota, a much larger company. (In a good year, Subaru sells around one million vehicles worldwide, while Toyota’s total is roughly 10 times that.) This new electric SUV was engineered as a 50/50 joint project between the two companies, but it will be manufactured by Toyota in Japan.
Toyota will sell a nearly identical electric SUV called the bZ4X, which will also be available in mid-2022. The key difference is that the Subaru will be sold only with all-wheel drive, while the Toyota bZ4X will be offered in both all-wheel and front-wheel drive configurations. That’s potentially significant because the front-wheel-drive Toyota will have slightly more range and should likely carry a lower price, although neither manufacturer has divulged how much these electric SUVs will cost.
“It’s going to be one of our big challenges to make sure customers understand [the Solterra] is a true Subaru and not a re-badged Toyota,” said Brad Evans, car line manager at Subaru Canada. “We’ll position it more as an off-roading lifestyle [vehicle],” he added. To that end, Subaru’s stand at the L.A. Auto Show was like a makeshift forest, complete with the sound of birds chirping and wind rustling through virtual trees.
As befits Subaru’s outdoorsy brand image, the Solterra has significantly more ground clearance than some other EVs, namely the Tesla Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach-E, so it should be more capable of venturing off road.
Rather than use the company’s traditional all-wheel drive system – which Subaru has fitted to more than 20 million vehicles since 1972 – the new electric AWD system relies on two separate 80 kW motors, one providing power to the front wheels, and another for the rear, as has become the norm.
In terms of overall size, the Solterra has roughly the same footprint as Subaru’s Forester SUV, but it gets significantly more rear-seat legroom due to the EV’s much longer wheelbase. From the driver’s seat, the cabin feels spacious and looks much more avant-garde than anything else from the company. A large new central touch screen dominates that dashboard, and there’s a long list of advanced driver-assistance systems that come as standard. The interior of the Toyota is largely the same, apart from some unique upholstery options.
When the Subaru Solterra and its Toyota twin arrive in showrooms next year, they will face stiff competition from a wave of new mainstream EVs all hitting the market around the same time, including the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV 6, Volkswagen ID.4, Nissan Ariya, Chevrolet Bolt EUV and Honda Prologue.
In Canada, sales of electric vehicles are set to take off next year, according to forecasts by market research firm DesRosiers Automotive Consultants (DAC). This year, compact electric SUV sales will total a meagre 2,300 units nationwide, but in 2022 – due in part to the flood of new models available – sales should skyrocket to 28,600 units, DAC estimates.
“Subaru has been criticized for being late to the EV game, but what this shows is that we didn’t rush into a segment that’s dwindling,” said Subaru’s Brad Evans. “We were waiting for the right time.”
While some other car companies have detailed plans to fill showrooms with various electric cars and SUVs over the coming years, Subaru has not publicly committed to any such plan. For now, the Solterra is Subaru’s one and only EV. The Japanese firm has, however, announced that by 2035 its vehicles will all be either hybrids or fully electric.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker in L.A. Content was not subject to approval.