When the Subaru Solterra EV was first introduced a little over a year ago, the Subaru faithful leapt into online message boards to question whether or not this car — which, crucially, did not offer Subaru-defining options like a flat-4 “boxer” engine and standard all-wheel-drive — was, indeed, “a real Subaru.” One year on, however, the question of whether or not the Solterra is a real Subaru seems almost cute when compared to another burning question: is the Solterra real, at all?
Consider that, despite big promises at the car’s official launch, fewer than 100 Solterras had reached customers by December of 2023. And — yes, a lot of that was due to delays caused by recalls, but those recalls had very little to do with the car’s new EV architecture and a lot more to do with “normal car stuff,” like keeping the wheels from falling off, but that’s still a far, far cry from the 6,000 units Subaru had planned to sell at the beginning of the year.
As if it wasn’t already tough to figure out what was going on with the electric Subaru, the IRS doesn’t have any answers, either. On the agency’s website, the Subaru section reads, “This manufacturer has entered into a written agreement with us to become a “qualified manufacturer” but hasn’t yet submitted a list of specific makes and models that are eligible. Please check back here for updated information.” See for yourself, below.
Any or all of that should be enough to get people wondering about the fate of the Solterra in the US — but maybe there’s enough Subaru love for the brand in the US to give the Solterra a second chance. After all, if the ads are to be believed, that’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru, right?
I’ll leave that to you guys. In the meantime, check out this great article from December, 2021, by Jennifer Sensiba asking whether or not the electric Subie was “Subie enough” to make the cut, then let us know what you think of the public’s likelihood of waiting for Subie to get it right in the comments.
Is The Subaru Solterra EV Crossover Really “A Subaru”?
A number of Subaru enthusiasts have gone online and claimed the new Subaru Solterra isn’t “Subie enough” to be called a “true” Subaru. I’ve always liked Subarus. I don’t own one, largely because I got into EVs and my family grew too big for the ones I really liked. As a kid, I watched some rally races on cable. While I know now that those cars had very little in common with the Impreza WRX sitting on dealer lots, I did notice that their factory offerings were pretty well planted in turns. While the people who weren’t into cars until EVs came around might not know this, this was no accident.
Subaru’s Formula For Handling & Plantedness
Suburu does have a very specific formula for making sure its cars feel this way.
First, they’ve used “boxer” engines and stuck with that technology even after most other manufacturers (basically everybody but Porsche) abandoned them. Boxer engines are a type of flat engine, where instead of facing the engine’s cylinders upwards or at an angle, cylinders face out to the sides, allowing for a very low profile and compact engine. This lowers the center of gravity, while also minimizing noise, vibrations, and harshness (EV fans are probably seeing where I’m going here).
The other thing Subaru did was use what they call Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive:
While the video went into a deeper dive on Subaru’s different AWD systems, they all have one big thing in common: longitudinal engines. The other big thing they have in common is that they never operate in front-drive mode — the rear wheels are always getting power. This symmetrical system is not only better for handling, but (with the VCD system’s targeted braking) is better for dealing with harsh conditions like off-roading or driving in snow compared to most other manufacturers’ systems.
Perhaps more importantly, the longitudinal all-wheel-drive system is mechanically simpler and the parts can all be kept lower to the ground. This means the center of gravity is kept lower, like an EV.
Subaru and Toyota’s Past History (The BRZ)
Before I get to the specifics of the Solterra, I do need to further explore Subaru’s past partnership with Toyota. Subaru has been here with Toyota before. Subaru’s BRZ is not only built in the same factory as the Toyota 86, but didn’t come with all-wheel-drive. Given this “betrayal,” it’s not uncommon to see Subaru fans tell people that “it’s not really a Subaru” on internet forums and social media.
But at the same time, we do have to look at facts in context. Yes, the BRZ is built in the same factory as the Toyota 86, but it’s a Subaru factory. It also uses the Boxer engine, giving it the low center of gravity you’d expect from a Subaru. Finally, it’s rear-drive and not front-drive, and Subaru’s AWD systems tend to give a lot more rear power than other AWD systems. Plus, the BRZ wasn’t built for getting groceries in snowy climates like most other Subarus. It’s built to be a fun car for the track and mountain roads. It’s a tool Subaru built for a very different job.
In other words, during this past partnership with Toyota, Subaru didn’t stick to its usual formula point-by-point, but it did stick to what’s important when it comes to handling. For this reason, I’d argue that the BRZ is still basically a Subaru.
I know you didn’t come here to argue about which ICE cars are true to which ICE car’s brand history. CleanTechnica’s readers want to read about EVs, right? But to really understand the main question of this article, we did have to cover some history. Now, we’re back to present and can get back to batteries, rotors, and stators.
The Subaru Solterra isn’t only a joint project with Toyota like the 86/BRZ, but it has also completely abandoned much of what people think makes a Subaru a Subaru. There’s no boxer engine. There’s no symmetrical all-wheel-drive system powered by a longitudinal motor. Subaru’s Stans must be having a fit, and could be stacking logs to burn Subaru corporate at the stake for this heresy.
Let’s hear what Subaru has to say in its defense (because, really, nobody likes getting burnt at the stake, even figuratively):
Defending the Subaru Solterra
Subaru’s European head says that for a Subaru to truly be a Subaru, it must be safe, fun, and tough. They go through all of the technical reasons the Solterra is safe, fun, and tough, but they didn’t really answer the question Subaru’s automotive-savvy fans really asked. They did mention that it has all-wheel-drive, but didn’t explain how the Subaru Solterra behaves like past Subarus.
Some readers have probably already put two-and-two together, but I do need to spell this out for the people who aren’t big automotive tech nerds on both the EV and ICE sides. Basically, there are two main things a boxer engine driving a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system does: it gives you a low center of gravity and it gives you full-time power to the rear wheels in a balanced fashion.
A “skateboard” EV, with its low-slung batteries, checks the “low center of gravity” box. Instead of having the bulk of the weight under the hood (the engine), the bulk of the vehicle’s weight is in a battery pack below the passengers. Electric motors, power electronics, wiring, etc. isn’t weightless, of course, but it’s all far lighter than an ICE engine.
Another big advantage to the boxer engine is the relatively low noise, vibration, and harshness. They’re balanced, so they are naturally less of an issue. But EVs are even better. With only two moving parts that have no reciprocating forces, an electric motor gives all of the advantages an boxer engines gives.
When it comes to all-wheel-drive, the Solterra has that covered, too, but only if Subaru really got it right. Any EV manufacturer can provide full-time all-wheel-drive, but Subaru does need to program it to act like a Subaru. The longer video above goes through all this, and it would take a whole other article to go over it, but suffice it to say here the big thing is making sure the rear wheels get lots of love.
This leads us to one situation in which the Subaru Solterra will definitely NOT be a “true” Subaru. If you’re a total dweeb and purchase the front-wheel-drive version they’re offering, you’re basically buying a Toyota EV. There’s nothing really wrong with that, as Toyota does tend to make dependable vehicles (they’re just very behind the EV curve), but a front-drive car just isn’t going to drive much like a Subaru. So, if you love your Subaru and want the EV version, be sure to buy one with power to all four wheels!
Featured image provided by Subaru.
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