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Subaru Vs Audi Who Makes The Best AWD Cars? Why Your Subaru Wins

You own a Subaru Forester, Outback, or Crosstrek and it comes standard with all-wheel-drive, but is it really the best? How does it compare with another top all-wheel-drive brand, Audi’s Quattro?

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With everyone going stir crazy because we’ve been locked up for so long, it’s time to think about getting outside. Your Subaru has Symmetrical all-wheel-drive and it comes standard on every model the brand makes. Is it the best system for those with active lifestyles? Let’s compare your Subaru Forester, Outback, or Crosstrek with the other all-wheel-drive leader Audi Quattro and see who the winner is when it comes to getting far away from civilization. We’ll start with a little history of both brands.

Subaru didn’t create something out of nothing, they reimagined what was already there. Until 1970, four-wheel drive was limited to serious off-road vehicles like Jeep, but Subaru thought, “why can’t we offer an ordinary passenger car and fit it with an all-wheel-drive system?” That’s what they did with the Subaru Leone that made its debut in June 1971. It was followed by the Subaru Leone 4WD Station Wagon in September 1972. They took a small vehicle and created the sport utility vehicle market.

2020 Subaru Forester1972 Subaru Leone 4WD Station Wagon

The car's popularity snowballed to the point where it became the world's top-selling 4WD passenger car and is the origin of the Subaru Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system that’s on your Forester, Outback, and Crosstrek.

Today, Subaru offers four different all-wheel-drive systems in its current stable of vehicles. Subaru doesn't have a “one type fits all” approach with its multi-purpose vehicles. The Forester, Outback, Crosstrek and other models all come standard with Symmetrical all-wheel drive, but each vehicle gets a “tailored” version to fit a particular powertrain or model. These four all-wheel-drive versions are what sets Subaru all-wheel-drive system apart from most other automakers that offer all-wheel-drive on its SUVs. You can read a detailed explanation of all four here.

2020 Subaru ForesterWhat sets Subaru apart from Audi?

There are three differences between Subaru and Audi. Subaru Symmetrical all-wheel-drive is standard equipment on every Subaru model. All models from Audi are available with Quattro but you pay extra to get it.

Audi began adapting all-wheel-drive to their cars in 1980 with the first production Quattro all-wheel-drive system. They took the idea from parent company Volkswagen who built the Iltis off-roader in the 1970s. Today, Audi offers five Quattro technologies, all based on the idea of sending needed power to each wheel. You can read about each system here.

The second difference between Subaru and Audi is a feature on your Subaru Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent called X-Mode. No other automaker, including Audi, offers anything like it.

2020 Subaru ForesterSubaru Crosstrek comes standard with X-Mode

X-Mode controls the engine, transmission, all-wheel-drive torque split and braking system when road conditions are challenging and there is a need to capitalize on the grip. It uses your vehicle’s CVT transmission to direct power to the wheels that need the most traction. This is useful in every day driving where there is snow, ice, mud, or wet conditions on the road, but it has tremendous value for extreme off-road capability.

Subaru adds dual-function X-Mode

Forester and Outback get even more off-road capability with a new available dual-mode X-Mode, available on Forester Sport, Limited, and Touring, and the Onyx Edition XT. The new dual-function X-Mode has settings for snow, dirt, and mud and adds additional capability when you get into deep snow and mud and steep inclines when you are farther away from civilization.

Extra ground clearance

Subaru Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent all come with 8.7 inches of ground clearance. No other automaker offers this kind of ride height, including Audi. You don’t need expensive suspension upgrades, and along with Hill Descent Control, your Subaru can ascend and descend rocky trails with ease.

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT

Your Subaru vehicle is uniquely designed to be much more than a safe urban all-weather commuter when we do get back to normal. You don't pay extra for Subaru’s Symmetrical wheel-drive system, and your Forester, Outback, and Crosstrek come standard with X-Mode and extra ground clearance. Spring is a good time to get outside and put your vehicle to the test.

You Might Also Like: You Would Use Your New Subaru X-Mode All The Time If You Knew This

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a variety of roles. All of his reports are archived on our Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Subaru Report. Check back tomorrow for more Subaru news and updates at Torque News!

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Photo credit: Subaru, Audi

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Kev (not verified)    April 13, 2020 - 5:21PM

Would like to point out one flaw I found. There are only a handful of models that can be equipped with either 2WD and Quattro. A3, A4, Q3, and R8. The R8 is the only model with a more expensive price for Quattro than for it's RWD variant.

Kev (not verified)    April 13, 2020 - 5:22PM

Would like to point out one flaw I found. There are only a handful of models that can be equipped with either 2WD and Quattro. A3, A4, Q3, and R8. The R8 is the only model with a more expensive price for Quattro than for it's RWD variant.

mike j (not verified)    April 13, 2020 - 8:19PM

1983 Audi Quattro Coupe....235,000 miles total expenses $635 (not including tires and brakes and a $400 timing belt service)

1990 Audi Coupe...198,000 miles total expenses $167 (not including tires and brakes and a $535 timing belt service)

1995 Audi S6....215,000 miles total expenses $480 (not including tires and brakes and a $585 timing belt service)

2001 Subaru Outback...72,000 miles and it needed head gaskets and steering rack

2001 Subaru legacy GT wagon....135,000 miles and it needed a clutch, throwout bearing, front right wheel bearing and synchros....I sold it!

2008 Subaru Outback wagon...200,000 miles and it needed it's 3 wheel bearing, clutch and flywheel, had 5 wheel bearings go bad, replaced front CV boots 3 times, repaired airbag sensor circuit board, MAF, and miscellaneous other sensors. You can tell me how much that would cost...I did most of the work myself.

I'll let you decide which car's cost of ownership was less....oh yeah, I never got about 27MPG in a 4 cylinder Subaru!

Jack (not verified)    April 14, 2020 - 9:42AM

In reply to by mike j (not verified)

SPOT on Mike! I can't speak for Audi, but subaru, you're RIGHT. Had an 09' Outback and replaced all those items you mentioned plus the driveshaft going to rear diff. Non replaceable ujoints. Why would you put a rubber\silicone cv boot an inch&half above catalyst converters is beyond me! I went through this with my Tribeca too. If you join this Subbie Cult, I advise lease only then trade.

RED (not verified)    May 21, 2021 - 8:54AM

In reply to by mike j (not verified)

Very true on all points. Now Audi's reliability is horrible...laughable. Subaru is now rated above Honda taking the #2 spot in reliability. Toyota still the top one. I have a 2007 Impreza Outback Sport and after changing the head gasket (did timing belt and water pump just because it was opened up) and that is it. Not a cheap fix but Subaru stopped using the joke of a head gasket some years ago. I just hit 200k miles and my car sat unused for a few years before I picked it up. So Audi beats Subaru in older cars (pre 2010), then Audi drops off really bad for some years so Subaru to current day. So you are correct in your comments, but you didn't finish up the time frame to current day.

Geo (not verified)    April 14, 2020 - 2:14AM

It’s incredible that every single TorqueNews article I read has some glaring inaccuracies.

Every Subaru comes standard with Symmetric AWD? Really? The BRZ doesn’t. It never did.

Ash (not verified)    April 14, 2020 - 4:52AM

Okay i am going to get pedantic, but there needs to be a correction here; not all subaru models are all wheel drive. The Brz alas is the exception to your statement. And Yes i own a subaru, amd have been in love with them since the 1980s

Carl (not verified)    April 14, 2020 - 7:56AM

I'm a Sube fan but the BR-Z is not available in AWD and Jeep has models with a stock ground clearance over 8.7 inches as does Toyota. Finally, saying that X-Mode uses the CVT to deliver power to the wheels that need it is like suggesting that its smart windshield sprayers identify dirt particles and efficiently remove them. Both contribute but they are not there smart components. Traction is derived from electronics surveying and comparing wheel spin, applying ABS and throttle control, via couplings and differentials.

7S POWER (not verified)    April 15, 2020 - 12:40AM

There was WRC Group B 600 bhp Audi Sport quattro S1E2 monster rally car but such a thing doesn't exist in Subaru history.

So, Audi wins

Johnny Cakes (not verified)    April 15, 2020 - 7:01AM

This website seems strongly affiliated with Subaru.
While that's fine, what isn't fine is the glaring denial of the multitude of Subaru problems.

I would not touch a Subaru, there's far too many quality control problems.
Do you really want a high probability of having your windshields cracking?

Geo (not verified)    October 20, 2020 - 10:04AM

In reply to by Todd (not verified)

YOU are the one who needs to do research, not us. They are NOT under the FHI umbrella.

First off, Fuji Heavy Industries was re-named Subaru in 2019.

Second, Fuji Heavy Industries (now Subaru) was the parent company of Subaru.

Third, Toyota owns 20% of the shares of Subaru (formerly Fuji Heavy Industries). There is no umbrella.

Peter Gamble. (not verified)    October 7, 2020 - 2:17AM

Actually, I think Ferguson was the first to fit permanent four wheel drive to a Grand Prix car and then the system was used by Jensen and a few Mk3 Ford Zephyrs were fitted with the Ferguson system and used by the Police in the UK. All this in the 1960s.

Todd (not verified)    October 19, 2020 - 7:12PM

Let's address the elephant in the room, Subaru and Toyota are associated under the same umbrella of Fuji Heavy Industries, do a bit of research before commenting. So, the windshield problems along with the RWD BRZ you guys keep mentioning is because it was a partner project that Toyota had the rights to, to create the BRZ, FRS and FT-86 (Toyota owns the larger share of FUJI HEAVY INDUSTRIES where Toyotas and Subarus are built).

Geo (not verified)    October 20, 2020 - 10:00AM

In reply to by Todd (not verified)

While it’s true that Toyota does own about 20% of the Subaru (it’s not Fuji anymore) stock, that does not explain the windshield or any other issue. The designers, engineers and builders are still Subaru. The BRZ is a re-badged Toyota 86 and everyone here knows that. We know that’s why it doesn’t have AWD. The writer does not.

Chris (not verified)    February 4, 2022 - 6:46AM

In reply to by Todd (not verified)

Actually you're wrong. Fuji heavy industries used to be the parent company for Subaru but a couple years ago Subaru renamed Fuji heavy industries into just Subaru. Which Toyota owns 20% of lol

Scott Michael Webber (not verified)    November 13, 2020 - 8:33AM

Is it me or does nearly every Torque News article read as if it was an article sponsored by Subaru?

bob (not verified)    November 26, 2020 - 10:28PM

"no other auto maker has anything like x mode" is just fucking wrong, thats the type of traction control all automakers offer with awd cars. braking systems to simulate LSD's are in every modern awd car. and it doesnt "use the cvt to direct torque"

James Martin (not verified)    January 30, 2021 - 11:26AM

None of that Subaru ad explains why Subaru awd is better than Quattro. Quattro is purely mechanical, so has zero "reaction" time. Viscous couplings are garbage.

Geo (not verified)    May 21, 2021 - 11:49AM

In reply to by James Martin (not verified)

Viscous couplings ARE mechanical. Also, Audi has FIVE different AWD systems, including one that disconnects the rear axle completely (Quattro Ultra). The Torsen differential could only send up to 66% to either front or rear. The Haldex is purely electronic.

More importantly, NONE of it is empirically better than any of the Subaru’s systems. In fact, Audi has nothing to match the system if the WRX STi.

Dan Bales (not verified)    February 11, 2021 - 11:53AM

CVT is the worst option for offroading. looking through Subaru's current lineup The Forester and Ascent don't even offer a manual or automatic.