Publisher's note: Normally, the cars you read about here at MikeHagertyCars.com are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days. Seven is typical. Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days. Our "30 Minutes With" series features cars we spent half an hour driving during last month's Western Automotive Journalists Media Day in Half Moon Bay, California.
Needless to say, these are quick drives and brief impressions that we hope to be able to flesh out with a full review of the vehicle at some point in the near future.
Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at our host hotel, the Aristocrat, down Highway 1 to Highway 84, onto Stage Road (named for the former stagecoach stop still---but barely---standing on the corner), past the historic (since 1889), socially-aware and only-in-Northern-California funky San Gregorio General Store, through some marvelous twists and turns that lead back to Highway 1 and ultimately back to the hotel.
At the hotel, support teams from Page One Automotive and DriveShop sanitize the vehicles as they return while journalists choose their next vehicle from a total of 20 cars, trucks and SUVs provided by their manufacturers. This goes on for eight hours on day one, minus a 90-minute lunch break, and for three hours on day two.
Among those 20 vehicles are two very similar ones---the 2023 Toyota Bz4X and 2023 Subaru Solterra. A joint venture between the two companies (which have collaborated for years on the two-seat Toyota GR86 and the Subaru BRZ), the Bz4X and Solterra are both companies' first mass-market pure EVs (the limited runs of RAV4 EVs years ago not really counting).
There are differences between the two. Only the Subaru will have two motors and four-wheel-drive standard. The Toyota will offer it as an extra-cost option. Subaru will offer three trim levels, Toyota only two. Apart from styling and pricing, that's it.
Choose the front-drive Toyota and you're getting 201 horsepower. In the four-wheel-drive Subaru, it's 215 (Toyota's AWD version is rated at 214). Both have more than eight inches of ground clearance, suggesting the possibility of some light off-roading.
Zero to 60 runs are just a shade under six seconds for the Toyota, six and a half for the heavier AWD Subaru. By EV standards, those are not stunning numbers, but it's a safe bet that buyers of these two cars will be coming from gasoline-powered Toyota and Subaru crossovers, and by that yardstick, these pack some punch. Where the Bz4X and Solterra come up short is range and charging time. The FWD Toyota has an estimated 252 miles of range per charge, which drops to 222 for the AWD. The Solterra is between 222 and 228 depending on trim level. The ground clearance that works in favor of light off-roading works against these vehicles by increasing drag.
Charging times are limited by what the vehicles can take. Four-wheel drive models of both peak at 100kw charging, front-wheel drive Toyotas can cope with 150kw. Both are well-below the 235kw peaks of the Hyundai IONIQ 5 and the Kia EV6, which are able to recharge from 10% to 80% in 20 minutes or less. In the Toyota and the Subaru, that'll take roughly an hour---three times as long.
The Toyota was a top-of-the-line Limited model equipped with light-colored upholstery and a panoramic sunroof, making the Subaru look dark by comparison---but the two cockpits are nearly identical.
The lower-spec Solterra also had a smaller infotainment screen than the Bz4X.
By far the quirkiest part of these two not-entirely-unquirky cars is the design of the instrument cluster---putting the driver information in a pod that sits well above the rest of the dash. Adjust your seat and your steering wheel properly and it's visible. Don't and...it's really not. Subaru had shown off images of the Solterra last year with a yoke instead of a steering wheel, which would have solved that problem (but likely created others---especially among the traditional customer base).
Depending on trim levels and options, prices start in the low-mid 40s and range into the low-mid 50s. That's before EV incentives that can reduce the price by $7,500.
Those prices put these two up against the IONIQ 5 and EV6, which is tough competition. They suffer in direct comparison. But both Toyota and Subaru have customer bases that simply won't consider another brand (or if they did, they'd consider each other's). As the world moves to EVs, those loyalists may well buy the Bz4X and Solterra in significant numbers.