What is Subaru X-MODE®?

X-MODE is an exciting feature that works with the Subaru All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system to provide drivers with increased performance when needed most. This driver-activated enhancement is designed to be used when road conditions become particularly treacherous or challenging, such as in slippery or icy weather, on steep hills, in muddy terrain, or even when taking the car off-road.

Two different versions of Subaru X-MODE are available: X-MODE, which comes standard on all Base Ascent, Crosstrek, and Outback models, as well as on Premium Forester models; and X-MODE Dual Mode System which is an option on select trims of the Ascent, Crosstrek, Forester, Outback, and standard on all Solterra models.

Read on to learn more about Subaru X-MODE and its advantages.

How Does Subaru X-MODE Work?

To understand how X-MODE works, you must first understand the Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. An essential tool for safety and maneuverability, AWD uses sensors to monitor each wheel’s traction at all times. When the sensors detect loss of traction in a particular wheel—typically due to road or weather conditions—engine power is redistributed to the wheels maintaining the most traction using an internal Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system so that the driver remains in control of the vehicle while the slipping wheel safely regains its grip. The AWD system is always working seamlessly as part of any standard Subaru operation.

As powerful as AWD is on its own, you might need additional power in certain scenarios to better navigate challenging road conditions. Consider the challenges of descending a steep, icy hill, where sliding is a risk, navigating snowy highways that remain unplowed, or finding yourself stuck on a muddy, unpaved road. This is where X-MODE comes in. When activated, X-MODE uses the same sensors that are part of the AWD system but makes additional intelligent adjustments to other components of the vehicle’s operation, allowing for even better traction, control, and stability.

How to Activate X-MODE Subaru

Turning on X-MODE in a Subaru vehicle is typically a straightforward process, although it may vary slightly depending on the specific model and year. Please consult your vehicle's owner's manual or contact your local Subaru dealer for specific instructions related to your particular model, as there may be variations or additional features associated with X-MODE.

  • To turn on X-MODE, find and press the switch marked X-MODE on the center console of your Subaru or press the X-MODE icon on your infotainment screen.
  • If your car has X-MODE Dual Mode System, you can choose between the Snow/Dirt or Deep Snow/Mud function or select your chosen setting using the touchscreen.
  • Once activated, you should see an indicator light on the dashboard, signaling that X-MODE is on. Your screen will display the statuses of all components affected by X-MODE: each wheel and the power being directed to it, the anti-lock braking system (ABS), the driving wheel, the steering angle, and, when applicable, the VDC system.
  • To turn off X-MODE, depending on your model vehicle, either simply press the button again or the touchscreen on your infotainment center. The indicator light will shut off, signaling that the feature is deactivated.

X-MODE is meant to be used at low speeds. You can turn on Subaru X-MODE at 25 mph or slower, but the system will not function above 18 mph. By contrast, our Hill Descent Control feature is only operational at speeds up to 12 mph.

X-MODE Features

When in use, X-MODE engages the following key systems within your Subaru, making crucial adjustments to keep you safe and provide exceptional grip and control.

Engine Throttle Response

Often our instinct is to apply more power to the accelerator when we are stuck in ice, snow, or mud. Unfortunately, this can deliver too much torque at once, resulting in the throttle opening up too quickly and creating rapid wheelspin with no traction. With X-MODE activated, the engine will deliver torque gradually—even if you floor it!—until the sensors detect that the wheels have achieved sufficient grip, and only then allow the wheels to receive stronger torque and acceleration.


On steep hills or challenging terrain like sand, X-MODE forces the transmission to remain in a lower gear in order to maximize power delivery. This is the same principle used in 4WD manual transmission vehicles when off-roading, but X-MODE executes it responsively at the push of a button, without having to shift down manually.

AWD System

Subaru vehicles improve on the already outstanding AWD system by increasing the front/rear coupling force, splitting power more evenly between the front and rear sets of tires. This maximizes traction at crucial moments.

VDC System

With X-MODE in use, the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system provides enhanced Limited-Slip Differential (LSD) control. This means that braking is applied much faster and only to the wheels that need it most because they are slipping or spinning without traction.

Hill Descent Control

Hill Descent Control (HDC) is a useful feature of X-MODE. When driving down a steep hill with X-MODE engaged, HDC manages throttling and braking automatically, keeping your Subaru steady while you focus solely on steering. Note that HDC only functions below 12 mph.


X-MODE In Different Vehicle Models

Not only is X-MODE a useful driving performance feature for city drivers and off-road adventurers alike, it also comes standard on many popular Subaru models. X-MODE is standard in many Base models, while the X-MODE Dual Mode System, which allows you to toggle between both Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud modes, is available with certain Premium trims.

Learn more about X-MODE and X-MODE Dual Mode System availability on Subaru models and trims:

Advantages and Benefits of X-MODE

Subaru X-MODE is a cutting-edge feature designed to enhance control and stability in challenging driving conditions. By optimizing engine output, transmission, and the all-wheel-drive system, X-MODE provides improved traction on surfaces like mud, snow, and steep inclines. This technology reflects the brand’s dedication to adventure, safety, and reliability, providing drivers with enhanced confidence on the road.

Enhanced Off-Road Performance

Subaru X-MODE significantly enhances off-road performance by intelligently adjusting the engine, transmission, and all-wheel-drive system to conquer uneven surfaces and low-grip conditions. X-MODE manages wheel spin, directing torque to the wheels to optimize traction on challenging terrain. Whether it's a rocky trail or a muddy path, X-MODE instills confidence in drivers by providing the stability and control needed for off-road adventures—a perfect feature for those seeking the thrill of exploration beyond the paved road.

Improved Traction and Stability in Tough Conditions

X-MODE in Subaru vehicles is specifically engineered to push through tough conditions like snow and mud. By adjusting the throttle response and controlling the transmission, it ensures that power is distributed effectively to the wheels, reducing slip and enhancing grip.

When navigating steep descents, X-MODE can give drivers greater control over their vehicle's speed and braking, allowing for a smoother descent without over-relying on the brake pedal. These capabilities contribute to the brand’s commitment to safety, offering drivers additional confidence and control in challenging driving scenarios.

In snowy conditions, X-MODE works to maintain stability, allowing the vehicle to navigate slippery roads with greater confidence. In muddy or soft terrain, it prevents wheel spin by sending power to the wheels with the most traction, enabling the vehicle to move forward without getting stuck. This smart system enhances the adaptability and capability of Subaru vehicles in tough weather or off-road conditions, reinforcing the brand’s reputation for adventure and reliability.