How Well Does Subaru’s X-Mode Work in the Snow?

Subaru vehicles are among the most popular cars in America mainly due to their capability and affordable pricing. Since most of the vehicles in Subaru’s lineup come standard with all-wheel-drive, many occasional off-road enthusiasts and snow-state dwellers gravitate toward the brand. But to make the all-wheel-drive system even better, the automaker incorporated a feature called “X-mode.” But what is it and how well does it work in the snow and dirt?

What is X-mode?

Simply put, Subaru’s X-mode increases the vehicle’s off-road capability by controlling the car’s engine output, transmission, and AWD torque split to get you out of the stickiest situations with the push of a button (or twist of a knob). This feature is currently available on the Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent. However, the Forester and Outback are equipped with dual-function X-mode, which allows the driver to select between two different settings: snow/mud and deep snow/mud.

While Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system is enough for 99 percent of the terrain that you drive on, the X-mode feature kicks things up a notch when the going gets rough. It does this by keeping the transmission in a lower gear, damping the throttle to prevent wheel spin, and then sending power to the wheels with the most traction as opposed to the wheels with less traction. The system is ideal for low-speed, off-road driving as it’s only available when driving under 18 mph.

Additionally, the X-mode system also has a feature called “hill descent,” which is like cruise control for when you’re driving down a steep, rocky hill. You only need to concentrate on steering the car as the system will manage the accelerator and braking for you for up to 12 mph.

A 2020 Subaru Forester drives through the snow.
2020 Subaru Forester | Subaru

How does X-mode perform in the snow and dirt?

As you can probably guess, the X-mode shines on slippery and uneven surfaces covered by snow and dirt. Fortunately, the folks at Driving Sports TV put the system to the test by using their 2021 Subaru Outback Onyx XT on a moderately challenging snowy hill test. They first tested the Outback with all-season tires and surprisingly were able to get up most of the way with the standard all-wheel-drive system alone.

But when it started getting stuck, they put it into “snow/mud” mode and it was able to send power to the wheels that had the most traction. Additionally, putting it into “deep snow/mud” mode aided in getting it up the hill with relative ease. The test mostly proved that Subaru’s system is able to “figure out” the toughest situations quickly by sending power to the wheels with traction while using the brakes to cut power to the wheels that don’t.

You can watch the full test in the following video:


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Is X-mode necessary all the time?

The beauty of Subaru’s X-mode is that it’s there when you need it the most. While most Subaru owners might never actually use it, it’s good to have for when you go on the occasional trip to the mountains and need to get off the beaten path to your favorite fishing or skiing spot. However, it’s not necessary to use it all the time, especially since that’s what the car’s standard all-wheel-drive system is for.