What Is Subaru's X-Mode?

This automaker's all-wheel-drive tech is built for safer travels in a variety of driving conditions.

Subaru Dual-Function X-Mode controlsSubaru

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Much of any Subaru vehicle's bad-weather driving ability during off-road trips comes from equipping many of its vehicles with its X-Mode system. This enhanced all-wheel-drive (AWD) technology allows Subaru drivers to handle steeper hills and provide more traction in slippery road situations — available at the tap of a single button or knob.

How Subaru's X-Mode Is Different From Other AWD Systems

While AWD has long been a weather feature in most Subaru products since the mid-1980s, the newer X-Mode system offers an easy way to engage more of the Subaru's built-in AWD functions for more control while coping with mud or snow or more challenging off-road driving.

Unlike AWD systems on rival vehicles, Subaru's standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is full-time and splits power between the front and rear wheels. It combines various technologies, including throttle and automatic transmission responses that help control wheel spin. Dynamic adjustments are made to the engine torque outputs to each wheel, shifting power where it's needed most. X-Mode also moderates braking responses and both electronic traction and stability-control systems. The X-Mode functionality is limited to 18 mph or lower speeds.

On specific Subaru models, there is also a Dual-function X-Mode system. More for tricky off-roading than highway driving, this adds pre-set Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud settings, which can increase wheel spin to help keep the vehicle moving in slippery conditions. When climbing hills with low traction, Dual-Function X-Mode uses lower gear ratios to offer more power to the wheels with more grip on wet or icy slippery surfaces.

How Subaru's X-Mode Hill Descent Control Works

One of X-Mode's features is Hill Descent Control (HDC). It handles the vehicle's braking so drivers can focus on the road and any obstacles ahead. HDC helps your vehicle automatically maintain a set speed while heading down steep, slippery, or uneven inclines with your foot off the brake.

While it may seem unusual to first-time users, the advantage of HDC is that drivers do not need to apply the brakes, preventing a lock-up or skid. If you press the brake pedal, HDC turns off and returns manual control to the driver.

How and When To Activate Subaru's X-Mode

On certain Subaru models, X-Mode controls include a button in the center console with a separate button for hill-descent control. Dual-function X-Mode is accessed by a knob on some Subarus or by pushing a button on the central touchscreen in newer models. When activated, drivers will see a Dual-Function X-Mode dash light. Readouts for steering angle, driving wheel status, anti-lock brake system activation, and dynamic stability control are also shown.

Subaru Models That Feature X-Mode

Except for the rear-wheel-drive BRZ sports coupe, Subaru's X-Mode AWD is standard equipment on new models with an automatic transmission — from the smaller Crosstrek and Forester to the larger Outback and Ascent, as well as the new battery-electric Solterra.

Dual-Function X-Mode is available on some Crosstrek, Forester, and Outback trims.

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Andy Stonehouse
Andy Stonehouse literally fell into the world of auto writing while working as a ski-town journalist, and has not looked back since. A childhood spent dealing with the eccentricities of a 1976 MG Midget has made any subsequent auto experience a more safe and reliable drive. He has been blessed with nearby mountain trails and snowy roads in Colorado to do TV-adventure-styled test drives on a weekly basis.