Subaru Outback in Snow & Winter Driving? (Explained)

The Subaru Outback is a rugged, go-anywhere station wagon that has loads of room for passengers and cargo. 

Aside from being extremely practical and able to go off the beaten path, it’s also more affordable compared to its competitors. 

Given all its great qualities, you may be wondering how the Subaru Outback performs when it comes to winter driving. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Outback’s features and how they help it handle snow and ice-covered roads. 

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

The Subaru Outback can handle driving in snow with ease. It comes standard with Subaru’s reliable Symmetrical AWD system, an impressive 8.7-inch ground clearance and features ABS, Traction Control and Stability Control – all of which make the Outback a safe choice for driving in snow.

Is the Subaru Outback Good in the Snow?

The Subaru Outback is a true winter warrior and is a safe, reliable option for anyone looking for a tried and true winter vehicle.

All Outbacks come with a great AWD system which Subaru calls Symmetrical AWD. 

Compared to other AWD systems, the Outback constantly sends power to the front and rear wheels at all times.

This gives it more traction on slippery roads and makes it more planted through the corners.

The Outback also outclasses other station wagons and a lot of SUVs, when it comes to ground clearance. 

It has a ride height of 8.7 inches which matches the Forester’s ground clearance and comes close to a lot of larger SUVs. So it can easily handle deeper snow and a bit of off-roading. 

The Symmetrical AWD and boxer engine also gives the Outback more balanced handling and easier to drive off road. 

The engine sits lower in the front which gives the Outback a lower center of gravity.

It’s also not as tall as other SUVs, which makes it less prone to rollovers and easier to maneuver.

It also comes loaded with advanced safety features that help keep you safe when you’re driving on really slippery winter roads. 

You may also be interested in our article: Subaru Forester in snow and winter driving

What Features Will Improve Winter Driving?

Here’s a closer look at some of the the Outbacks features which make it an outstanding winter vehicle. 

Symmetrical AWD

AWD will get you moving and keep you moving in deep snow and help prevent fishtailing when accelerating.

The Outback is equipped with Subaru’s legendary Symmetrical AWD system that the Japanese car maker has been developing for half a century.

It’s called symmetrical because all the drivetrain components, i.e., the engine, transmission and differentials, sit right along the centerline of the vehicle. 

This makes the Outback better balanced and also makes power delivery to all four wheels more efficient. 

Like in all other AWD Subarus, the Outback’s AWD is always sending power to the front and rear wheels, so it’s always going to have good traction even when the roads become unpredictable. 

AWD also comes standard in all Outbacks, even in the most affordable base model. So you don’t have to pay extra just to enjoy its superior AWD.


Pressing the X-Mode switch activates 5 different forms of control to improve traction and limit 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.
  • Vehicle Dynamics Control Sytem – The system applies brakes to individual wheels that are slipping, when X-mode is activated the brakes are applied much sooner than under normal operation.
  • 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.

With standard X-Mode you get a Snow/Dirt mode.

Newer vehicles with Dual X-Mode have a second setting called Deep Snow/Mud which makes the Outback’s AWD more responsive on really slippery terrain with tricky turns and steep inclines.

All new Subaru Outbacks (2015 models and up) come with Subaru X-Mode as standard.

Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC)

Vehicle Dynamic Control is a type of Electronic Stability Control and is a great feature in the winter when roads are slippery and loss of control can occur.

It utilizes strategically placed sensors to monitor:

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

Should the sensors detect the vehicle is not moving in the desired direction, the system will take measures to auto correct the situation.

As Outbacks are equipped with symmetrical full-time All-Wheel-Drive, the system will utilize this first to re-establish traction and stability at the first signs of trouble.

Failing that VDC will kick in and take corrective measures by:

  • Sending power from the front to rear
  • Applying brakes to individual wheels
  • Adjusting engine timing
  • Limiting the flow of fuel to the engine

The combination of these is designed to help the vehicle regain control, stability, traction and direction.

The Outback also comes with Active Torque Vectoring which improves handling and traction when turning corners, by applying gentle brake pressure to the inside front wheel.

Traction Control

The Outback’s Traction Control system keeps the car stable on slippery roads by keeping wheelspin in check. 

When its computers detect that the wheels are slipping, it will automatically apply the brakes and limit engine power.

If stuck in snow or ice the traction control can be disabled at the press of a button.

Anti-Lock Braking System

ABS comes as standard on all Subaru Outbacks.

During hard braking or on slippery surfaces, a driver may apply a braking force that is greater than the tires capacity to grip.

If this happens the wheels can ‘lock up’, causing the vehicle to skid out of control.

By preventing this lock-up the vehicle stops sooner and remains under the drivers control.

By keeping the tires rolling as you’re slowing down, you’re able to maximize what little grip there is and bring the car to a stop faster. 

The Outback’s braking system also comes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD).

This automatically adjusts the braking forces sent to the front and rear wheels which dramatically reduces braking distances no matter how bad the roads are.

EyeSight Driver Assist Technology

All new Outbacks come standard with Subaru’s Eyesight Driver Assist Technology. 

It’s a suite of modern safety electronics that includes things such as:

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

All of these reduce the chances of having to stop abruptly or suddenly swerve which can be really dangerous in the winter when the roads are slippery. 

Heated Seats, Mirrors and Steering Wheel

Subaru Outbacks, starting from the Premium trim level and up, come standard with heated front seats. 

These make driving in freezing temperatures more bearable and makes the car’s interior much more comfortable when it’s really cold outside.

Outback Limited and higher trim levels also come with heated rear seats, and the Touring comes with a heated steering wheel.

Remote Start

The Subaru Outback can also be fitted with a remote starter as an accessory by the dealership or as an aftermarket upgrade.

Remote Engine Start allows you to start the engine and switch on the heater to make the interior cabin significantly comfier when you climb into the car from the outside. 

You won’t have to rub your hands together to warm yourself up when you first get in because the car’s cabin has already been heating up for several minutes.

You may also be interested in our article: where are Subaru Outbacks made

Does the Outback Have a Snow Mode?

The Subaru Outback comes with a special snow and off-road mode called X-Mode.

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

Unlike the Snow Mode you’ll often find in other modern SUVs, the Outback’s X-Mode doesn’t just make the transmission start off in second gear to minimize wheelspin.

It actually changes the vehicle’s off-road characteristics electronically by balancing the AWD torque split and making the transmission use a lower gear to help you claw your way out of ditches and steep inclines. 

Can You Install Additional Snow Gear on the Outback?

Since the Outback is a very popular model, you can easily find loads of aftermarket accessories for it. 

It has lots of room in the back to carry all sorts of winter and off-road gear so you can confidently take it up snowy country roads and on skiing holidays. 

Here are just some of the special snow gear you can fit onto the Subaru Outback:

  • Snow tires – Provide better stopping distances and increased handling
  • Snow socks – These wrap around the tire to increase traction
  • Snow chains – This is at the owner’s discretion as some states and conditions require them however the owners manual will advise you not to install them
  • Roof racks – Extra space for storage, perfect for skis and snowboards
  • Rooftop Tent – Extend your days on the slopes without paying for expensive accommodation

Adding snow gear like studded tires or chains will allow you to fully maximize the Outback’s winter capabilities, however, you should always check local laws and regulations before doing so.

How Much Snow Can an Outback Handle?

The Subaru Outback has really good ground clearance at 8.7 inches making it an ideal vehicle for places that see lots of snowfall in the winter.

Its ride height is almost as high as some larger pickup trucks and SUVs, so you’ll have no problem driving it through deep snow and unplowed roads. 

We would advise not driving through snow any deeper than 7-8 inches if it can be avoided.

How Do Outback Handle Low Winter Temperatures?

The Outback comes with a modern Boxer engine featuring computerized fuel injections that automatically adjust parameters such as air/fuel ratio when the climate outside changes to make the engine perform flawlessly at all times. 

On top of it all, Subaru Outbacks see a lot of action in northern states and regions that see a lot of snow and subzero temperatures.

So many owners have put it through its paces in really harsh conditions and really have no complaints.

If you live anywhere that sees really low temperatures for months on end, you should do the following to keep the engine in top condition:

  • Switch to cold-weather rated engine oil
  • Install a block heater
  • Install a remote starter
  • Install a battery warmer 
  • Hook it up to a battery tender at night

If you want to make sure your Outback stays reliable throughout the winter, you should have a fresh battery and use the car regularly. 

Cold weather is notorious for draining batteries and an old battery will easily lose its charge overnight in colder temperatures.

You can also plug it in to a battery tender if you’re not going out very frequently so the battery is always topped up. 

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

Can a Subaru Outback Drive on Ice?

The Outback is capable of driving on ice however it should be done so with extreme caution, speeds should be lowered and corners should be taken with much greater care – if you regularly drive on ice you should invest in a set of studded tires if they are legal in your state.

The Outback can handle icy conditions well due to its AWD and its low center of gravity.

It’s not really that much taller than a sedan so it handles more like a car than a tall SUV. 

The Outback also has a longer wheelbase since it’s still a station wagon, which makes it more stable. 

It’s also relatively light which helps it come to a stop faster when there’s not much available grip. 

Heavier vehicles carry a lot of inertia when they’re moving so you’ll need lots of braking power to bring them to a complete stop.

This is not too much of a problem with the Outback’s car-like handling.

What About Older Outback Models And Winter Driving?

Subaru Outbacks have been in production since the mid 1990s.

AWD was offered as standard starting with the second generation Outback in 1998, so even the older models should still be decent in moderate winters.

Ride height was also increased to over 8 inches with the advent of the fourth generation Outback in 2009, which made them even better in deeper snow.

Older Outbacks still had good ground clearance at around 7 inches which is usually good enough to get you home safely even after a major snowstorm.

The Outback, starting with the second generation, also received traction control really early on.

And starting from 2008, many Outbacks got VDC or stability control as standard. So even an Outback that’s over a decade old should still be a great daily driver in the winter.

Do Subaru Outbacks Need Snow Tires?

A good set of winter tires will make the world of difference when driving in snow, and it is highly recommended.

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 an Outback?

Mounting a snow plow on a Subaru Outback will require heavy modification of the bumper and may potentially damage the bodywork and invalidate the vehicle warranty. 

Most snow plows in the market need to be attached directly to a vehicle’s frame.

This is why you’ll only see snow plows on pickups and SUVs that use a body-on-frame design. 

The Outback, on the other hand, uses a unibody frame which gives it car-like handling and a lighter overall weight. 

And even though the larger engined Outbacks have decent power and torque, as well as X-Mode, pushing through heavy snow banks will put a lot of strain on its engine and drivetrain.

So we don’t recommend putting your Outback through too much wear and tear by using it as a snow plow.

Related: 8 Most Common Problems With Subaru Outback (Explained)



  • 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...

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