Mention the Subaru brand and what usually comes to mind is blasting along dirt tracks, kicking up huge dust clouds and taking high-speed turns sideways or racing around a paved track at blistering speed with little fear of going out of control.
But these are not just what the brand is all about. Subaru is also known for its Symmetrical All Wheel Drive (SAWD) technology, suitable for light-to-moderate off-road use. But little is known about the system’s new X Mode, programmed to maximize traction and stability in the most treacherous driving conditions like mud tracks and tire-in-the-air off-roading.
So what’s a brand got to do to communicate a driving medium that they are least known for? Go on an off-road drive in the hills and mountains of Tanay, Rizal.
Motor Image Philippines, local distributor of Subaru, recently took Fast Times there to showcase the off-road capabilities of its X Mode-equipped Forester crossover. The system works by harmonizing the SAWD system with the Forester’s Traction Control, Hill Descent Control, Stability Control (without interfering with forward progress), Continuously Variable Transmission and Anti-Lock Braking system, helping the driver focus on the most important part of off-road driving – picking the right driving line.
These aids are important because, unlike in on-road driving, the variables that a driver needs to manage in off-road driving are far more complicated. These include driving along cambered side hills, traversing deep water crossings, climbing very slippery slopes, minding the vehicle’s ground clearance and finding the right momentum to tackle an obstacle, among others. These can overwhelm and endanger inexperienced drivers, but X Mode manages these variables so well that driving the Forester off road is about as easy as using a point-and-shoot camera.
Subaru were definitely set to prove this since the convoy of Foresters on the X Mode drive was composed of members of the motoring press, new Forester customers and potential customers, most of whom have little or no knowledge of off-road driving. It really takes supreme confidence for a brand that isn’t known for difficult off-road driving to unleash them in the treacherous mountain trails and river tracks of Tanay, which most veteran off roaders venture into driving highly modified vehicles equipped with huge tires for added ground clearance and traction. It really is the last place you’d bring a crossover SUV that one would most likely see in a shopping mall.
After our convoy took on 14 kilometers of light-to-near-difficult off-road tracks, we made it to the destination – a riverside campsite set up with tents for dining on grilled, one-inch-thick, prime, Australian rib-eye steak, mashed potatoes and fresh salads with various dressings – to overcome the hunger pangs caused by the tremendous adrenaline rush of driving to the destination. Some tents were also set up to accommodate lounging by the river and enjoying the cool mountain air and equally cool drinks.
After indulging on lunch, the participants watched Subaru demonstrate the Forester’s 550 millimeter water-wading capability in the campsite’s river, which has a very loose gravel-like and slippery bottom that the Forester traversed with aplomb. But a word of warning to the owners of turbocharged Forester XTs: be sure to let the turbo, which is located below the plate number, cool down by idling for a minute before charging into the water. This is to avoid shock due to sudden temperature change.
It should be said that a foray into the outbacks and hills will make one stop and enjoy the sights, sounds and cool air. So, Motor Image Philippines equipped two Foresters with Rhino Rack Sun Seeker II awnings on the roof-rack mounts for sun and rain protection to complete the camping experience.
All the fun had come to an end, though. But on the trip back through the same route we came in, Mother Nature unleashed her fury when what started as a drizzle upon leaving camp became a very strong downpour, making for a more slippery and challenging drive out.
In the end, no vehicle in the convoy was scratched or damaged in the drive, which speaks a lot about the capabilities of Subaru’s X Mode. The experience is not to make one think that this is the end of off-road vehicles. It’s still about knowing your driving needs and if you want light-to-moderate off-road capability without sacrificing on-road prowess and car-like comfort, then the Subaru Forester may be the most ideal vehicle for you.
And with X Mode, you can take on rough roads without having to endure the discomfort and unrefinement of those chest-beating, ground-stomping 4x4s that the Forester would leave behind on paved roads.