Car Advice

What is Subaru’s X-Mode and how does it work?

It reads like it might be a gimmick but X-Mode is anything but…Here we explain what X-Mode is and how it works.

Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive already makes its vehicles the most capable in their segments across rough or slippery ground. And X-Mode makes them better.

Previously only available on Forester, X-Mode is now also available on XV and Outback but the latest-generation Forester (the top-spec variant anyway) gets a slightly tweaked version. Sort of. We’ll explain more shortly.

Don’t misunderstand, Subaru’s fitted with X-Mode aren’t trying to be rock crawlers just make life a little easier for those adventurous owners who live life beyond the bitumen.

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What is X-Mode?

Activating X-Mode recalibrates things like gearing and engine mapping to soften the throttle which makes it easier to drive on slippery roads, meaning you’re less likely to over-rev and keep breaking traction. Although, you can slam the throttle into the carpet and it will give you full power, like if you need to build momentum to climb up a slippery slope.

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X-Mode also speeds up the locking between front and rear axles by about 25% to improve grip in bumpy terrain, and the traction control acts faster to prevent wheelspin. It also works in both forwards and reverse.

What about the transmission? Well, X-Mode tells the CVT to hold onto ‘gears’ a little longer than normal to give you more low-down grunt at lower speeds.

What’s new on X-Mode?

As mentioned, the top-spec Forester variant gets an additional setting for its X-Mode and that is Deep Snow and Mud. Don’t let this confuse you, though, this X-Mode system is identical to the one in every other Forester variant but what it does do is disable engine traction control automatically so that the engine doesn’t kill power when the wheels begin to spin. In any other Forester, you’d need to do this yourself. I recently watched a very popular US video on this ‘new’ capability of X-Mode and not once did the presenter explain or seem to understand that the new capability is just a shortcut. It’s what prompted this article.

The old X-Mode controller for Forester.
X-Mode explained
The new dual-mode X-Mode controller on the 2018 Forester 2.5i-S.

So, the new component still leaves brake traction control active, meaning should a wheel come off the ground it’ll stop spinning with drive diverting to the wheel still on the ground. Rather when in the Deep Snow/Mud mode more wheel spin is allowed to help maintain momentum. It’s a cool feature and it should be standard across the range.

What else does X-Mode do?

It activates hill descent control but, unlike some vehicles which require you to control speeds via the cruise control stalk, X-Mode is controlled via the throttle and brake pedals. So, if you inch over a crest at 5km/h and then step off the throttle that’s the speed the car will maintain. If you want to go a bit quicker you simply squeeze the throttle.

The other thing about X-Mode is it dulls the throttle sensitivity so that the car doesn’t lurch in delicate situations, like when adjusting speed on a descent or when taking off on a slippery track.

Hill descent control is active up to 20km/h but it remains on-guard until you reach 40km/h. And the fact it works in reverse too allows you to control your reverse descent should you decide not to continue driving up the hill.


Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.