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You Would Use Your New Subaru X-Mode All The Time If You Knew This

The Subaru X-Mode feature in the new 2020 Outback, Forester, Crosstrek, and Ascent is not just for extreme off-road adventures. See how to get the best use from it every day by using this Subaru X-Mode guide from Torque News.


Like the steering wheel paddle shifters in your new 2020 Subaru Outback, Forester, Crosstrek or Ascent, most owners don’t use the vehicle’s X-Mode feature much if at all. The problem is, you have seen the button on the console, but you aren’t really sure what it’s for. It’s one of the best safety features for winter driving, and you will use it more after reading this.

Not everyone who owns a Subaru vehicle uses the car to go off-road or uses it for extreme off-pavement adventures. With the X-Mode system activated, the vehicle is better able to capitalize on the traction available and provides sure-footed-ness over and above what is afforded by Subaru's symmetrical full-time all-wheel-drive. Here is a brief explanation of how the X-Mode system works and how to get the most from it in everyday use.

2020 Subaru Outback, Forester, Crosstrek, and Ascent comes with X-ModeSubaru X-Mode can get you to winter sports activities safely

Keep safety in mind when thinking of Subaru X-Mode, especially when doing winter sports activities. The system 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 the CVT transmission to better 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.

X-Mode also increases hill driving capability. The Hill Descent Control maintains a constant speed when traveling down steep declines. This can be useful when you are on a steep icy road or coming to a stop sign. The system reads the road conditions for you and automatically applies the needed traction to each wheel independently. This allows the driver to focus exclusively on steering, keep their foot off the brake and concentrate on negotiating curves in the road.

X-Mode enhances the Subaru all-wheel-drive system to get the most gripX-Mode can be used to negotiate steep curves in the road

Another useful way to use X-Mode is when you are backing out of a steep driveway that is icy or covered with snow. Because of the all-wheel-drive torque split, the uphill wheel will slip without X-Mode being engaged. As soon as you engage the system, it will direct power to the wheels that need the most traction, and you can easily back the Subaru Outback, Forester, Crosstrek, or Ascent out of the slippery spot.

Most Subaru owners won't take their vehicle off-road or use it for extreme off-pavement adventures. X-Mode will help you in every day driving to capitalize on the traction available and provide sure-footed-ness over and above what is afforded by Subaru's symmetrical full-time all-wheel-drive.

How do I engage X-Mode on the new 2020 Outback?

If you are looking to use the Subaru X-Mode on the new 2020 Outback consider this. On your 2020 Subaru Outback touchscreen, touch the X-Mode screen from the scrollable top menu, then press the X-Mode on or off button. When X-Mode is activated an indicator will appear on the meter information display.

You Might Also Like: The Best AWD SUVs Are Still The New Subaru Outback, Forester, Crosstrek, And Ascent

Denis Flierl has invested nearly 30 years in the automotive industry in a variety of roles. All of his reports are archived on our Subaru page. Follow Denis on FacebookTwitterInstagramSubaru Report. Check back tomorrow for more Subaru news and updates!

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Photo credit: Subaru USA, Subaru Canada, Subaru Russia


Weirdly (not verified)    January 7, 2020 - 5:58PM

What about the X-mode in non-2020 models? Does it operate the same? For example I have a 2016 Outback with X-mode.


JohnDotCom (not verified)    January 7, 2020 - 8:26PM

In reply to by Weirdly (not verified)

I asked a similar question, since I too have a 2016 with X-Mode that I have never used... but then again, I usually think ahead before getting into a situation, where I would have to back uphill and to the left, out of a driveway?

Jeff (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 2:53PM

In reply to by Kurt (not verified)

My 2020 Forester sport doesn't have the same "X-mode" button the others have. It's a dual X-mode. Instead of just a button, it's a knob for snow & mud and Deep snow and mud. I'm not sure whats different then regular x-mode but if I had to guess the deep snow and mud probably just turns off traction control??

Brian Yoder (not verified)    January 12, 2020 - 7:38PM

In reply to by Jeff (not verified)

The 2019 and 2020 Foresters have dual X-Mode.

The only Outback to have dual X-Mode is the 2020 Outback Onyx XT. All other a Outbacks with X-Mode have the original single mode X-Mode.

Satya Newday (not verified)    November 22, 2020 - 1:01PM

In reply to by Jeff (not verified)

X-mode enhances traction control and remaps transmission out put. Traction control uses clutching to both front and rear differentials and applies braking to spinning wheels, which will bleed out power if not done so. I've read x-mode applies more power to rear wheels than otherwise done AND the difference between the snow and deep snow is deep gets lower gearing through the transmission than plane snow.

I've had to read a number of articles and watch numerous videos because no, one article has explained it exactly so far!

Mat (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 8:48PM

In reply to by Weirdly (not verified)

I also have a 2016 with x-mode that use pretty frequently in the upper Midwest during the winter. I'm not sure about the new models but on my 2016, X-mode can only be activated at or below 15mph and will automatically turn off when you reach 20mph, if I remember correctly. Hope this helps!

DuWayne Altman (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 11:08PM

In reply to by Weirdly (not verified)

Yes, my 2015 outback has xmode and I initially just used in on really bad gravel roads in mountains of NC. Now I use it for ascending/descending steep roads. it almost eliminates brake usage downhill. Mine seems to go out of xmode around 25 mph. Details in the owner's manual.

David Platt (not verified)    January 10, 2020 - 12:14PM

In reply to by Weirdly (not verified)

The only fundamental difference would be the brake assisted steering. It’s the only thing new since 2016 or so. I find this feature useful when it’s slippery with improved handling as a result.

Linda (not verified)    May 2, 2023 - 2:27PM

In reply to by Weirdly (not verified)

I had the old X mode that was on the Consol with a little switch that you flipped and it was far superior in operation to the new computer controlled X mode on my 2022 outback. I had a horrible winter this winter the thing had no traction. I had Bliss that tires on it, and I would just block up the wheels and slide an out of control, unlike in my older Subaru, where it was a Mechanical Avenue, X mode, and it was just kind of each tire would kind of take a step down the hill, just saying new isn’t always better in fact, I’m taking it into the dealer on Friday and have them go over it and see what the Hecks wrong with it I have never slid so much in all of my life as I did last winter on the new X mode.

JohnDotCom (not verified)    January 7, 2020 - 7:53PM

I've read the title of your piece and all of your article that was printed. How many of your readers have 2020 vehicles? Where are the rest of the reasons to use it all the time, except backing uphill out of a driveway, or going down a steep hill?

Jesse (not verified)    January 7, 2020 - 10:13PM

It does help but it does not stay engaged over 15 mph so not really helpful in most snow/ ice driving situations.

Backroad Bob (not verified)    January 7, 2020 - 10:23PM

X mode is very useful, but this story fails to point out the low speed restriction on its use, which is clearly described in the owners manual. Take a look at the manual before using it to avoid damage to your vehicle.

Geo (not verified)    February 19, 2021 - 11:55PM

In reply to by Backroad Bob (not verified)

I regularly drive a 2018 forester xt up north in the snow, x-mode will automatically disengage when you get up to speed, no damage risk. When you’re in the deep stuff it’s better to just leave in regular mode and disengage the traction control to allow more wheelspin

IdleObserver (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 2:25AM

It's at least similar I'd think, but it immediately shuts off at 20mph or above. Not sure if that applies to the 2020 as well or not.

IdleObserver (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 2:26AM

Not sure if it's exactly the same, I do know that at least on non-2020 ones it shuts itself off above 20mph.

Kurt (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 2:53AM

Your article left out one important thing, Xmode will not work at speeds over 19 mph
It's for the slow going stuff, not highway speeds.

Eric R (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 1:50PM

Unfortunately the new Subarus software has to dial torque delivery way way down to protect its fragile cvt. Subarus are street use only these days. If you get in a high wheel situation (like climbing a rutted hill) the car will just sit there as you give throttle and act like it's in neutral delivering no torque. Sad.

Elaine (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 2:03PM

On the 2019 Forester Sport do I need to be in neutral to make the change to X mode?
Or may I be in drive and going slow?

V (not verified)    January 8, 2020 - 2:08PM

Am I being nitpicky, or does this read as if X-Mode can magically apply traction? :) Traction is an attribute of the tires, X-Mode just controls the power delivery to the tires. There's a YouTube video I saw awhile back that put an outback on rollers to show how the different wheels spin (or not) when traction is effectively lost.