Subaru Crosstrek In Snow & Winter Driving? (Explained)

The Crosstrek is one of Subaru’s best selling models, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s a subcompact crossover that’s very affordable, has plenty of space, gives decent gas mileage, and comes with a great AWD system that can easily handle off road adventures. 

Is it also a great all-rounder in the winter and heavy snow days? We’ll find out in this article...

Here is the short answer to whether the Subaru Crosstrek is good for snow and winter driving:

The Subaru Crosstrek is one of the best small vehicles for driving in snow due to its class-leading 8.7″ ground clearance and superior AWD system. It also comes equipped with ABS, X-Mode, Eyesight Driver Assist and Stability Control all of which contribute towards a stellar winter driving experience.

Is the Subaru Crosstrek Good in the Snow?

Despite being a smaller vehicle, the Subaru Crosstrek punches way above its weight when it comes to driving in the snow. 

It stands above the rest of the pack with its 8.7 inches of ground clearance which helps it tackle unplowed driveways and snow banks with relative ease. 

To put this into perspective, it’s competitors (listed below), all come with around 6 to 7 inches of ground clearance.

  • Hyundai Kona
  • Mazda CX-30
  • Honda HR-V

While larger trucks and SUVs hover at around 9 to 10 inches.

So if you live in an area that regularly gets several inches of snow, the Crosstrek will not disappoint.

But what really sets the Crosstrek apart from its competitors when it comes to winter driving and off roading is its very capable Symmetrical AWD system. 

The Crosstrek can easily handle unpaved roads covered with snow, slippery patches of ice, and steep inclines that will make other vehicles stop in their tracks. 

You won’t have to wait for the AWD system to decide to send power to the other wheels because it’s always there.

Subaru has been perfecting their AWD systems for the last 50 years, and it comes in all of the vehicles they offer (except the RWD Subaru BRZ).

So even the most affordable base model Crosstrek is equipped with AWD. 

Many professional reviewers and enthusiasts also consider Subaru’s AWD as the most reliable system in the market.

It’s no wonder that you’ll see lots of Subarus driving through snow-ridden areas and going to places that are normally reserved for more serious off road vehicles. 

What Features Will Improve Winter Driving?

There’s no doubt that the Crosstrek has all the essential qualities of a very capable winter vehicle. 

But aside from good ground clearance and AWD, it’s also loaded with modern features that make driving through snow and ice a relative breeze.

We’ll tour you through some of the more notable features of the Crosstrek that make it a great daily driver in the winter. 

Symmetrical AWD System

All Crosstreks use Subaru’s tried and tested Symmetrical AWD System.

It’s labeled as symmetrical because of how the drivetrain is laid out.

It all starts with Subaru’s boxer engines.

It’s placed right in the middle of the vehicle, along with all the other driveline components such as the differentials and the driveshaft.

Because of this design, all the drive axles that send power to the wheels also have the same length. 

When you look at it from the top, the entire drivetrain is symmetrical from left to right.

This makes the car better balanced and power delivery more efficient.

Compared to other AWD vehicles that normally function as FWD or RWD vehicles — until the primary drive wheels start to slip — the Crosstrek’s AWD system sends power to all four wheels 100% of the time.

It doesn’t just kick in whenever it feels like it, so you won’t lose momentum when you’re tackling trickier terrain, because the AWD has no delay at all. 

This gives you better grip on slippery roads at all times, whether you’re cruising on the highway, going through turns, or traversing tricky off road situations. 

For manual Crosstreks, power distribution or torque split from front to back is 50/50. On CVT equipped Crosstreks, it’s 60/40 front to rear. 

Vehicle Dynamics Control 

Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) is a form of Stability Control – designed to improve the stability of the vehicle by detecting and reducing loss of traction. 

The computerized system utilizes various sensors and constantly monitors:

  • Wheel speed 
  • Steering wheel position 
  • Yaw rate 
  • Lateral acceleration

When the computers sense that you’re about to slide or lose control, it will strategically apply the brakes to each wheel and cut engine power.

This makes the vehicle easier to control, especially when you’re driving on slippery surfaces that are unpredictable.

The Crosstrek VDC also has Active Torque Vectoring which applies the brakes to the inner wheels when going through turns to help the car rotate better. 

The VDC also improves traction in snowy and icy surfaces by individually applying the brakes to any wheels that are spinning.

Once the brakes are applied, the differentials send more power to the wheels on the opposite side to keep the vehicle moving forward.

There’s a button on the center console to turn off VDC which deactivates both the Stability and Traction Control systems.

This is useful when you’re stuck in deep snow or on a really icy patch of road, and you need more wheelspin to dig/power your way out.


This is an optional feature on the Crosstek, and is an excellent feature for winter driving as its primary objective is to increase traction and control.

Newer Crosstreks also have dual X-Mode with two settings:

  • Snow/Dirt
  • Deep Snow/Mud

When X-Mode is turned on, it changes how different aspects of the vehicle behaves, such as:

  • Engine power delivery
  • Transmission gear ratios
  • AWD torque split
  • Brake control
  • Traction control

On slippery surfaces, the traction control becomes more sensitive and reacts faster to stop the wheels from spinning so that power can be diverted to the other wheels.

X-Mode also turns on the Crosstrek’s Hill Descent Control (HDC).

This lets you easily go down slippery inclines without having to touch the gas or brakes — which can cause you to skid and slide out of control.

The vehicle will go down hills at a controlled pace and all you have to do is steer.

X-Mode also lowers the gear ratios and distributes power to the front and rear wheels more evenly to maximize traction on slippery surfaces.

This allows the Crosstrek to go up steep hills and treacherous terrain more efficiently.

Please also read our article: Are Subarus easy to work on, repair & maintain?

Anti-Lock Braking System 

Like all modern vehicles, the Subaru Crosstrek comes standard with an advanced braking system which includes Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD).

The ABS keeps you from sliding on slippery roads when you apply too much brake pressure pressure. 

It keeps the wheels from locking up by modulating the brakes on and off so that the tires don’t lose the grip they need to slow the vehicle down.

EBD works in conjunction with the ABS and intelligently distributes brake pressure between the front and rear wheels. 

When there’s not much weight in the rear, it sends most of the brakes to the front to keep the rear tires, which have less grip, from skidding. 

When it senses that the back is loaded up with cargo, more stopping power is sent to the rear because the additional weight helps the rear tires get more grip.

This dramatically reduces braking distances, especially during emergency braking situations.

EyeSight Driver Assist Technology

The Crosstrek also comes with Subaru Eyesight as standard on 2021 models and newer. Some older Crosstreks will have it as an option.

Eyesight includes a suite of modern safety features that use cameras to keep track of what’s going on around you.

Some of the features included with EyeSight are:

  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Lane Keep Assist
  • Lane departure warning
  • Pre-collision braking

Subaru EyeSight will warn you of dangerous scenarios, and in the case of pre-collision braking, it will even apply the brakes automatically when it senses that a crash is about to happen. 

Blind spot monitoring and rear traffic is also available with Subaru’s Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD).

Having these advanced driver aids onboard reduces the chances of getting caught off guard and having to suddenly swerve or slam on the brakes, which are the most common causes of skids and slides when driving on slippery winter roads.

Remote Start

Crosstreks can also be equipped with remote start by the dealer.

It can be enabled either via the Starlink app or through an additional key fob.

Remote Start is a welcome feature when the outside temperatures are really cold.

It allows you to start the car, along with the heater, so the cabin becomes a little bit cozier before you get in. 

All-Weather Package

Some Crosstreks will also be optioned with the All-Weather Package which includes:

  • Heated front seats
  • Heated windshield
  • Heated side mirrors.

Heated front seats make driving in really cold weather a bit more bearable, while the heated windshield and side mirrors can help remove frost and improve visibility. 

You may also be interested in our article: How Long Do Subaru Crosstreks Last?

Does the Crosstrek Have a Snow Mode?

Many Crosstreks come with X-Mode as standard, lower trim levels have X-Mode as an option.

The X-Mode is more advanced than traditional Snow Modes and its main aim is to improve grip and control in inclement driving conditions.

Depending on your Crosstrek’s model year, X-Mode can be turned on via a dial next to the shifter or through a button on the center dash, this will activate the system and an indicator light should then illuminate on the instrument panel.

By activating the X-mode 5 different forms of control are utilized to minimize slipping tires.

  • Throttle – Reduces throttle sensitivity and gradually delivers torque (similar to traditional ‘Snow Modes’.
  • Transmission – Keeps the transmission in lower gears to ensure engine power is optimized.
  • AWD – The force of the front/rear coupling force is raised thereby improving the overall control of the AWD. This effectively increases traction and helps deliver power more evenly between all four wheels.
  • Hill Descent Control – For speeds under 12 mph the HDC helps maintain starting speeds, this allows the driver to focus more on steering whilst the car manages throttle.

Can You Install Additional Snow Gear on the Crosstrek?

The Crosstrek has a pretty huge following so there are lots of aftermarket parts and accessories for it. 

You can easily add extreme snow gear on the Crosstrek such as:

  • Snow tires
  • Tire chains
  • Snow socks
  • Studded tires
  • Tow hooks

Snow tires are recommended for climates that regularly dip below 40 degrees since the standard all-season tires will harden up like hockey pucks in such low temperatures and provide very little grip.

If you see yourself diving through really harsh winter roads that are constantly covered with snow and ice, tire chains and studded tires will give you the traction you need. 

How Much Snow Can a Crosstrek Handle?

The Subaru Crosstrek has a really high ground clearance which stands at 8.7 inches.

This allows it to trek through really deep snow that will make other small crossovers stop in their tracks.

In most cases, you can plow through deep snow banks that go past the Crosstrek’s ride height since the AWD system can give you lots of traction. 

But don’t expect it to comfortably drive through more than 8 inches snow since the undercarriage can still get stuck and become high centered.

No matter how good the AWD system is, it can’t do you any good if the tires can’t even reach the ground.

How Do Fits Handle Low Winter Temperatures?

Subaru Crosstreks can handle subzero temperatures just fine.

Its fuel injection system uses computers that will compensate for different climates so you rarely have to worry about hard starts and rough running in the cold. 

If you live in an area that sees several months of subzero temperatures, you might want to prepare you Crosstrek with the following:

  • Winter rated engine oil
  • Engine block heater
  • Battery warmer or battery tender
  • Emergency gear such as tow cables and jump packs

When dealing with really cold winters, you need to make sure your battery is in tip top condition.

If it doesn’t have enough charge in it, you won’t be able to start the car up at all – cold temperatures are notorious for killing off car batteries. 

If you’re going to leave your Crosstrek in the cold for long periods of time, you should take out the battery and connect it to a battery tender so it’s always topped up.

If you’re going on longer road trips, a jump pack is extremely handy and will help you start up the car even if the battery goes flat.

Can a Subaru Crosstrek Drive on Ice?

Subaru Crosstreks can easily handle icy surfaces with its advanced symmetrical AWD and VDC systems, although you should always drive on ice with extreme care.

Both of these systems allow the Crosstrek to maximize traction even when it’s faced with extremely slippery surfaces. 

Once the VDC detects excessive wheelspin, it will automatically apply the brakes to that particular wheel so that power can be sent to the wheel on the opposite side. 

The Symmetrical AWD system also delivers power to all four wheels at all times which gives the Crosstrek more traction on icy roads.

The Crosstrek is also relatively lightweight, when compared to larger trucks and SUVs.

This means it’ll require less braking power to bring it to a stop.

It’s also less likely to skid on ice-covered roads because of its low center of gravity and lower inertia.

What About Older Crosstrek Models And Winter Driving?

The Crosstrek is only in its second generation. The first Crosstrek was released in 2012, which means it has most of the modern driver aids and electronics that current Crosstreks have. 

In addition, all Crosstreks are equipped with an AWD system and VDC, which makes them ideal daily drivers in the winter — even if they’re an older model.

Related: 11 Best & Worst Subaru Crosstrek Years (With Facts & Stats)

Do Subaru Crosstreks Need Snow Tires?

If you’re going to be regularly driving through snow and ice-covered roads, winter tires will always give you more traction and we highly recommend them.  

Snow tires are proven to significantly improve handling and stopping distances in winter driving conditions.

  • The compound is made to grip the road better in lower temperatures as it remains soft and flexible in cold weather.
  • The tread pattern is designed to push the snow out from underneath the tire. 

Can You Mount A Snow Plow on a Crosstrek?

Even though the Crosstrek has pretty much the same ride height as much larger pickups and SUVs, it’s still built using a unibody design, and we would not recommend mounting a snow plow on it.

It doesn’t have a bulky frame that you can easily mount a snow plow on.  

If you insist on using your Crosstrek to plow snow,  you’ll have to be prepared to damage your bumper and bodywork and potentially invalidate the vehicles warranty.

The Crosstrek also doesn’t have enough power to efficiently plow through really deep or hard-packed snow.

You may be able to use the Crosstrek for light plowing, but you’ll put a lot of strain on its drivetrain. 


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  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...