Subaru X-MODE® Explained: What Is It?

When the going gets rough, Subaru X-MODE® gets going. We can bet right away for past, present, or future Subaru owners that all-terrain all-weather capabilities and do-it-all practicality have drawn you in. Those virtues are the backbone of every Subaru model, new and old (except for the sporty BRZ®), and one that has steadily been improved over the years. Case in point: X-MODE® comes with many models in our new Subaru inventory. The cherry on top of an already capable all-wheel-drive layout, X-MODE® brings advanced technology to the table for Lineartronic® CVT transmission-equipped models. Without further ado, let's dive into the world of Subaru X-MODE®.

Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive Explained

First, we need to look at what makes a Subaru so capable in any terrain. Simply put, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive splits power between the front and rear wheels. Unlike most 4WD or AWD systems, though, what you get in a Subaru works full-time. Subaru AWD systems do dynamically distribute power, though, which comes in the form of a Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system. When this VDC system detects wheel spin or a disparity between wheel speed, it'll step in and correct so that you can regain traction and go in the direction you want to.

That's not all that complicated, really. To get into how parts like a Limited-Slip Differential (LSD) make this all work would be though. But to understand it, you simply need to know that your Subaru is constantly on the lookout to help keep you driving along in full control. That then brings us to the question: "What do X-MODE® Subaru models of recent years come equipped with?"

Subaru X-Mode® Explained, In-Depth

So, AWD and VDC are the core of how a Subaru gets a grip through tough situations. When things get tougher though, push the X-MODE® switch in your center console. You can do this at speeds below 25 mph, though the X-MODE® system won't operate if speeds of 18 mph are exceeded. You'll then see an indicator light come on to let you know it's been engaged. On your Multi-Function Display, you'll see a readout for steering angle, driving wheel status, ABS activation, and VDC operation status displayed as well.

Before we get into more details, here are the three principles which Subaru X-MODE® operates under:

  • Increase the potential of the electronically-controlled LSD which forms the heart of the VDC system.
  • Apply SI-Drive technology to the engine, transmission, and other components to maintain optimum control on low-grip surfaces.
  • To give Subaru drivers peace of mind through advanced driving assistance.

Now, let's have a look at the systems controlled by Subaru X-MODE® for maximum grip:

Engine Throttle Response

If you've ever mashed the throttle in a vehicle that's been stuck in the snow, you'll know that wheelspin is the only real result. On this principle, Subaru X-MODE® limits how quickly the throttle opens up. Even if you floor it, X-MODE® steps in to deliver the appropriate throttle for the conditions at hand. Torque will gradually be delivered at first and then come in strong once the wheels get moving. Although, even with X-MODE®, you'll need proper winter tires to get an ideal grip in snow — our Subaru tire center can assist you with finding a set.


Like shifting a traditional 4X4 into 4-Low, X-MODE® keeps the Lineartronic® CVT transmission on a lower gearing to maximize the power being delivered. This power delivery is ideal for hills and rough terrain

AWD system

The AWD system in your Subaru isn't always splitting power evenly, both for efficiency and better on-road handling. When you activate X-MODE® Subaru vehicles increase the front and rear coupling force and split power more evenly to maximize traction that the AWD system can achieve.

VDC system

Back to the electronically-controlled LSD mentioned earlier, the one found in your Subaru VDC system is specially tuned for the demands X-MODE® will put on it. This involves quicker LSD response and earlier application of brakes in a wheelspin situation.

Hill Descent Control

While not a mechanical system, Hill Descent Control (HDC) is a useful part of Subaru X-MODE®. Only able to activate below 12 mph, HDC manages the throttle and brakes while descending a steep hill so that all you have to worry about is steering the vehicle.

More Details Worth Noting

While this is the core of Subaru X-MODE®, there are some more details you should know. Firstly, certain Crosstrek, Outback, and Forester models have what's known as dual-function X-MODE®. Essentially, dual-function X-MODE® has a preset selection of driving conditions to optimize the system. These are snow/dirt and deep snow/mud. So when you really need a grip on a muddy trail, your Subaru Outback X-MODE® system will adapt accordingly. Lastly, any use of X-MODE® will raise fuel consumption, so use it only when conditions get demanding.

Ready to experience the enhanced capabilities of Subaru X-MODE® Forester, Crosstrek, Outback, and Ascent models come equipped with? Contact us and set up a test drive today. We can help you rent a Subaru for a longer-term experience as well.

The Benefits of Subaru X-MODE®

So that's how Subaru X-MODE® works. As a system designed to maintain traction in the most challenging situations, you'll discover many benefits as you use it. There are countless unique situations that X-MODE® will lend a hand in, and we've put together a few real-world scenarios where you'll feel the benefits of X-MODE® at their fullest.

Please keep in mind that X-MODE® will not activate above 18 mph.

Winter Confidence

When the forecast calls for snow, Subaru X-MODE® will be at your service. While other vehicles may not be able to accelerate from a stop on unplowed or slushy roads, all you need to do is activate X-MODE®. Once X-MODE® is active, press the gas pedal, and you'll be moving in no time. While careful driving is always necessary for inclement weather, X-MODE® makes getting low-speed traction in the snow a worry-free task.

As well, when facing the icy conditions that winter brings, Subaru X-MODE® takes every little bit of traction to its fullest to help maintain vehicle control.

The Ability to Push Through Mud and Snow

Please note, Subaru X-MODE® systems will not conquer every situation. With dual-function X-MODE®, worrying about getting stuck in deep sections of snow or mud can be a thing of the past. You may optimize the deep snow/mud settings for those specific scenarios. While wheelspin is not ideal on snow, ice, or shallow sections of mud, controlled amounts of wheelspin can certainly help you get through roads or trails covered in deep snow or mud more effectively.

Dual-function X-MODE® allows for this controlled wheelspin in such situations and powers through so that you don't get stuck.

Easy Driving on Steep Hill

Whether a back road or off-road trail, descending a steep hill can be nerve-wracking, especially in weather conditions like rain. With Subaru X-MODE®, Hill Descent Control takes over and handles the tricky parts of heading downhill for you. It will be limited to use below 12 mph, but all you'll need to do is steer the vehicle.

The Power to Explore New Trails

Subaru X-MODE® opens up a new world of possibilities. Many trails stop drivers in their tracks with steep, uneven surfaces and low-grip conditions such as muddy paths. Driver judgment takes precedence, but with X-MODE®, conquering that hill and powering through muddy sections of the trail you scouted out is easier than ever.

Subaru X-Mode® vs. 4WD: How Are They Different?

As you conquer off-road trails, you'll likely see big 4x4 SUVs and trucks trying their best to get through the same sections that Subaru X-Mode® got you through. You'll find many videos online of smaller, seemingly less capable Subaru vehicles outperforming those big four-wheel drive (4WD) machines on tough obstacles. So, how are these two off-road capable systems different?

The first aspect is how a 4WD system works. Typically, it's designed around a two-wheel drive (2WD) drivetrain with additional driveshafts added afterward, as 4WD trucks and SUVs often have a 2WD option. A transfer case is often required to shift into 4WD, along with select gearing like 4LO to get a better grip. This added complexity can be harder to maintain in the long run and sometimes even slip up in unlevel conditions.

The Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system is built from the ground up to power every wheel and power them with intelligent adaptability. There's no need to shift into 4WD mode, and there is no need for complicated back and forth driveshaft layouts; Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is designed with a robust straight-line layout that can send power to all wheels effectively. Because of this, Subaru X-Mode® snow, mud, and dirt capabilities can get you through the worst conditions without breaking a sweat.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I use Subaru X-MODE®?

As X-MODE® will increase fuel consumption, use only when conditions demand it. These conditions, though, include low traction surfaces and steep hills. For example, in mud X-MODE® will optimize traction to individual wheels so that they don't just spin needlessly. As well, Hill Descent Control will help you just focus on steering while going down a steep hill. There are many more unique situations you may encounter that X-MODE® will save the day in.

Is Subaru X-MODE® for snow?

Yes. X-MODE® works with several vehicle systems to optimize traction in many situations. Snow is just one of these but happens to be one where it's very effective. Combine that with AWD, and a Subaru offers some snow capabilities that are hard to beat. Of course, you'll need winter tires to make full use of the capabilities. But you'll find that X-MODE® will get you going on snowy roads where many other vehicles are stuck spinning their wheels until help arrives.

How fast can you drive in Subaru X-MODE®?

As it's meant for low grip scenarios, X-MODE® is not designed for high speeds. Specifically, you won't be able to activate X-MODE® above 25 mph. Even when activated, X-MODE® will not operate functionally if speeds of over 18 mph are exceeded.

What is the X-Mode® on a Subaru vehicle?

Subaru X-Mode® is an intelligent, advanced traction control system that works with many aspects of your Subaru vehicle to provide enhanced all-terrain capabilities. It's used on Subaru vehicles equipped with a Lineartronic® CVT transmission, and you'll typically find the X-Mode® controls in your vehicle's center console.

When you activate Subaru X-Mode®, the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system, the engine, the transmission, and the differential in your vehicle will be optimized to provide powerful traction in the toughest conditions. Certain aspects of this include a retuned throttle response, a faster braking response if the wheels spin, a lower simulated gearing ratio, an optimized front/rear power split, and features like Hill Descent Control.

It can help you get through obstacles like mud, and the available dual-function X-MODE® has selectable terrain modes for even more powerful capabilities.

Can you engage X-Mode® while driving?

Yes, Subaru X-Mode® can be engaged while driving, but only at certain speeds. You'll need to be driving at speeds below 25 mph to engage X-Mode®, but once it's engaged, the Subaru X-Mode® top speed will be 18 mph - Subaru X-Mode® will disengage if you drive faster than this speed. The tough capabilities of X-Mode® will typically only be required on obstacles and terrain sections where exceeding this speed is dangerous in the first place.

If you're driving above 18 mph on terrain conditions like dirt roads, the Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system alone will typically provide the traction you need to drive with confidence.

Continue Your Subaru Research Near Baltimore, MD:

Just Drive Subaru Rental Subaru SI-Drive Subaru Solterra Release Date Subaru WRX Release Date
Subaru Forester Wilderness Release Date Subaru Ascent Release Date Subaru Wilderness Models Subaru Legacy Release Date
Subaru Outback Wilderness Release Date Subaru Electric Vehicles Subaru BRZ Release Date Subaru Forester Towing Capacity
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