Subaru Symmetrical AWD System Explained And Benefits

Subaru Symmetrical AWD system explained

If you've driven a Subaru vehicle before, Subaru Symmetrical AWD likely was a major factor in what made it a great experience. That's no coincidence, as this system has been going strong for over four decades now. Offering some of the strongest all-weather, all-terrain capabilities out there, you may have been curious about the backstory behind the system and how it works. You've come to the right place if that's the case. You'll find the history, function, and advantages of Subaru Symmetrical all-wheel drive explained below.

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Subaru Symmetrical AWD System History

So where did it begin? To find out, let's take a trip back in time to 1946. An efficient and affordable motor scooter was released in Japan, known as the "Fuji Rabbit," this was the beginning of the Subaru brand. Moving on to car production in the early 1950s, quirky machines like the Subaru 1500 set the pace, and the quirkier-still Subaru 360 introduced us to them in America. Then, the adorable Subaru 1000 introduced the SUBARU BOXER® engine to the world on its 1965 debut.

Something was missing, as none of these were the Subaru AWD vehicles we now think of. But, back to the Subaru 1000. Its successor debuted in Japan in 1971, known as the Subaru Leone. Making waves with standard front-wheel drive (it was a rarity back then), the best of the Leone was yet to come. Finally, for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics, a 4-wheel-drive system was designed and installed in a Leone. As the first Subaru 4-wheel-drive model, this Leone variant was brought to America as the Subaru GL 4x4 Wagon in 1975. From there, it was set in stone — a Subaru vehicle stands for go-anywhere capabilities.

Tough as nails and practical as can be, the GL formed the Subaru lineup's early basis. A small truck called the "BRAT" followed in 1978, using the GL 4x4 platform to great effect and huge popularity. Further AWD models followed. Further proof-of-capabilities, like the US Ski Team adopting the GL as their official car in 1980, only increased awareness of what a Subaru vehicle could do. Fast forward to the 1990s — the Legacy® and Impreza® are fresh on the market, and Subaru Symmetrical AWD is offered on nearly every model.

While it was optional back then, the now-standard full-time AWD system distinguished the lineup perfectly. Even on the 1994 debut of the Subaru Outback®, having full-time AWD in a comfortable everyday car was nearly unheard of — when the GL 4x4 Wagon did it in 1975, it was indeed a marvel.

Subaru Symmetrical AWD Explained

Forty-six years after the first AWD Subaru vehicle debuted, the proposition remains as powerful as ever. Whether it's for winter car preparation or off-road expeditions, it remains a beloved and iconic system. Let's dive into why that is.

In a nutshell, AWD means power is sent to all the wheels of a vehicle. Sure, but what about the "Symmetrical" part? Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't mean power is constantly split 50/50 front/rear (though some system variants do). Instead, "symmetrical" refers to the drivetrain layout. All the system components, including the engine, are set up in a straight line, giving a symmetrical design. We'll get into how that differentiates it from the crowd in a bit.


There are a few variants of Subaru Symmetrical AWD, but the end goal will always be the same: Intelligently and seamlessly distribute power to all wheels to counteract any loss of traction. A front and rear differential transmit power from one input shaft to two axles; this allows for a difference in speed between two wheels. A center differential accomplishes a similar result but instead controls the power split between the front and rear differentials.

A front, rear, and center differential can be found on nearly every Symmetrical AWD Subaru model. Working together in harmony, these differentials control power delivery, aided by technology like Subaru X-MODE® to optimize it fully.

That's how it works at a glance, but understanding the difference compared to a regular AWD or 4WD system will reveal the full story.

Subaru Symmetrical AWD vs. Other 4WD Systems

As mentioned, "symmetrical" refers to the layout of the system and differential placement. That differs greatly from other systems, allowing for a simpler, more rugged layout that won't let you down.

You see, other AWD and 4WD systems don't work in such a straightforward manner. It begins with the fact that Subaru Symmetrical AWD is a standard feature across the lineup (excluding the BRZ®). On most other 4WD/AWD vehicles, FWD or RWD layouts are designed first, with four-wheel power as an option. In essence, systems designed like this add many complicated parts to work around the already-in-place drivetrain. What this means is two-fold.

Firstly, power distribution is on an as-needed basis. If the front wheels are getting grip, no power will be distributed to the rear — or vice versa. The second factor is the added complexity; it means many more parts can go wrong when pushing the system to its limit. With Subaru Symmetrical AWD, a more rugged layout and full-time AWD power are achieved.

The Advantages of Subaru Symmetrical AWD

So what does that difference offer you? First, full-time AWD power means full-time confidence — it won't rely on the system kicking in. Even when other systems kick in, the inherent strength can be lesser, thanks to their complicated layout. As well, those systems only kick in to correct a lack of grip. With Subaru Symmetrical AWD, the full-time nature gives a balanced and stable ride on any road, combating both over and understeer when taking turns.

But what's even better is the long-term experience. Compared to Subaru Symmetrical AWD, a complicated array of parts can mean higher maintenance bills on those other systems over time. Better still, with a straightforward layout, there's more room for advanced tech systems like Vehicle Dynamics Control. That means as time passes, Subaru Symmetrical AWD can and has evolved several times with increasingly capable virtues.

Discover the Capabilities at Quantrell Auto Group

So that's the system at a glance. Of course, simply explaining it just shows half the story. A test drive of new vehicles for sale in our Subaru inventory will let you experience how it all plays out on the road. Give us a call today; your adventure-ready Subaru vehicle is waiting.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How does Subaru Symmetrical AWD work?

Subaru Symmetrical AWD works by sending power to the front and rear wheels. Intelligently monitoring that power split, the system adjusts the power delivery per wheel to give optimum traction and balanced handling in any situation.

What is Subaru Symmetrical AWD?

Subaru Symmetrical AWD is a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Unique among many other AWD systems, "symmetrical" refers to the layout. Symmetrical differential placement and a straightforward drivetrain make it as rugged and capable as possible.

When did Subaru create Symmetrical AWD?

The Subaru Symmetrical AWD system came about in 1972. Equipped on a version of the Leone (also called the GL), it debuted for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics to show the vehicle's true potential. Brought over to America in 1975, the rugged GL 4x4 introduced us to the system, and that first impression remains just as strong today.

Are all Subaru vehicles AWD?

Yes, with one exception. While it was an option on its debut, full-time AWD is now a standard feature across the Subaru vehicle lineup. That's a part of what makes vehicles like the Outback so capable, no matter the trim you select. Though, the main exception is a natural one; the BRZ sports car is only available with a rear-wheel-drive (RWD) layout.

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