Did you know that Subaru has sold more 4x4s globally than any other motor manufacturer, and the average Subaru will have travelled 8 times around the world in its lifetime?
I bet you didn’t, unless of course you went on a Subaru press day, during which these interesting facts, and more, were given to us with confidence by their PR team. Here's another little nugget: after 10 years 99.3% of all the Subarus sold are still on the road. Don't take my word for it, drive around Wales for a day and you'll even come across the odd 1.6ltr pick-up from the 80s!
As the title suggests, I was invited down to Grange Farm, Peterborough to join Subaru on a off-roading press day so they could show us how their current range of vehicles perform off the beaten track. For our driving pleasure we had their Forester, Outback and XV to play with, and if I felt inclined, their new Levorg was available for on-road fun only.
Arguably it was the perfect day to test a 4x4 as the weather was awful; mostly miserable and wet. Taking the keys to the Forester, I made my way through a rather deep pond that had a short, but steep, exit on which I had to make a sharp 90 degree left hand turn; the Forester didn’t hesitate. This led me, and the other assorted auto journos, onto various fields where our off-road instructors guided us over, and through, numerous challenging obstacles.
The off-road route was set up exceptionally well. There were plenty of water holes to wade through, grassy embankments to climb, as well as man-made obstacles to conquer. As the day progressed the ground conditions became worse, but that didn't seem to matter, as each Subaru coped admirably with the worsening conditions; it was just the drivers that made a mess of things! After around 30 years of messing around with 4x4s, I was staggered at where a standard Subaru on standard tyres would go.
“We can’t drive over that...... oh, I guess we can."
“Ah, but we can’t drive through that...... oh, I guess we can.”
“Well, we definitely can’t drive up...… I suppose we can.”
So what, dear reader, makes a Subaru so competent off-road? These days of course, we have quite a lot of electronic witchcraft that goes on in all modern cars, but with Subaru, they also have their famed Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system which is coupled to their Boxer engine.
“A Symmetrical… system, Boxer engine… what on earth are you talking about?”
Well, (takes a deep breath) keeping it simple, it starts at front with the Boxer engine, named because of the way its pistons punch-counterpunch sideways, instead of up and down like normal engines. This has many benefits, one being that it sits low in the engine bay, creating a low centre of gravity.
Consequently, as you can see in the picture, this means that all the drivetrain from the gearbox to the rear axle is completely symmetrical - all straight.
Again, this has many advantages, but, for off-road use in particular, this means that the weight of the engine and gearbox are spread across the front axle, resulting in perfect weight distribution across the chassis as well as a straight route for traction to travel to all four wheels.
I hope that makes sense.
Getting back to the muddy action, there was one section of the farm where I thought the instructors had completely lost it. We had to drive across a drenched grassy field with a menacing side slope, ease our way down a rutted incline and climb up a properly chewed up muddy hill that I would have struggled to climb up in walking boots, never mind a car's on-road tyres. There were moments when traction and momentum was lost and the instinct to press the accelerator for a bit more power nearly stepped in, but (assume Yoda's voice) "Trust in the vehicle I must. Trust the electronic wizardry I did." Keeping it steady, each car I drove reached the top without drama. Too easy!
I got to drive all three vehicles off-road, and honestly there's no point in comparing They all have the same system and so went the near enough the same places, though the Outback was a little too long for some tight spaces.
After a full day of driving Subarus around in the mud, I left Peterborough for the interminable drive back to Bolton, giving me time to ponder about what I'd learnt. I certainly left with a new admiration and respect for Subaru. Not counting the BRZ, which I'll get to in another article, Subaru have a range of AWD cars that can perform incredibly well on-road and superbly off it, and are packed with clever safety features, like their Lineartronic gearbox and new Eyesight technology.
Last year, Subaru sold 920,000 4x4s, which isn’t too shabby considering Land Rover only achieved 487,000. They've priced themselves well, costing between £17,500 - £32,000 managing to slot themselves in an affordable position under Land Rover. So, if you want an affordable and dependable 4x4, but not a tall, traditional looking SUV, get yourself down to your local Subaru garage. Go on, what are you waiting for?