Skip to main content

Subaru had something of a rocky start in the U.S. market. However, by the mid-1970s, the Japanese automaker had found its niche with an all-wheel drive wagon that was the darling of drivers who lived in snowy climes and adventure seekers who might like to explore the occasional fire road. The name Subaru is so synonymous with all-wheel drive that some buyers might be under the impression the brand’s entire lineup has this feature.

However, that’s not correct. One model in the Subaru catalog doesn’t offer AWD at all.

What is Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive?

Symmetrical all-wheel drive (AWD) is a full-time four-wheel drive system developed by Subaru. However, many cars have AWD drive nowadays, so what’s so special about how Subaru does it? It’s the symmetrical part, which means that the half shafts — the short axles that connect each wheel to the front or rear differential — are equal in length on both the driver and passenger sides of the car.

Having the entire drivetrain run down the exact center of the vehicle results in better weight distribution and a low center of gravity, ultimately leading to better handling characteristics. What makes this arrangement possible is Subaru’s flat four-cylinder engine, sometimes called a “boxer” or “pancake” engine, which has horizontally opposed cylinders that yield a very low profile.

What Subaru model doesn’t have AWD?

So why doesn’t the BRZ also have Subaru’s trademark all-wheel drive? One major reason is that it was co-developed with Toyota and the now-defunct Scion. That partnership necessitated some compromises in design, one of which was the rear-wheel drive platform. When released, the BRZ was just one of three similar vehicles, including the Toyota 86 and Scion FR-S.

Truth be told, accepting an RWD fate for the BRZ probably wasn’t that difficult for Subaru. Sports cars like the BRZ — whose main competitor is seen as the Mazda Miata — are traditionally RWD anyway. Still, some Subaru superfans can’t give up on the prospect of an all-wheel drive BRZ, though they should.

In an interview with CarBuzz, Subaru’s Planning Manager of America, Tod Hill, nixed the idea, saying, “No way can you make BRZ AWD. Right now, it has almost supercar center of gravity height, and an AWD system would ruin that. We’re happy with it.”

Besides forgoing AWD, the BRZ is also sans turbocharger, which is another nitpick of Subaru enthusiasts. However, what the BRZ lacks in horsepower, it makes up for with low curb weight. In fact, the BRZ’s 228-hp flat-four propels it from 0 to 60 mph in a tidy 5.4 seconds when equipped with a manual transmission, according to Car and Driver.

If you want power and Symmetrical AWD, go with the Subaru WRX

Fortunately for Subaru fans who want to go fast and have all-wheel drive, there’s the WRX, which Subaru calls a “4-door sports car.” While the WRX might have two doors too many for some gearheads, there’s no denying that it blows away the BRZ in terms of practicality. Unlike the BRZ, the WRX can actually fit human adults in its back seat.

While the WRX hasn’t completely abandoned its rally car pedigree, it’s more refined than its unruly predecessors, for better or worse. Still, a 271-hp turbocharged engine scoots the manual transmission WRX from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. That’s only 1/10 second off the BRZ’s performance in a package better suited to families or, arguably, anyone.