Subarus put the traction into attraction getting to grips in tricky driving conditions

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrtur

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

The weather's cold, wet and wintry, the roads muddy and icy and the driving conditions difficult – it's 'Subaru season'. Motoring editor Andy Russell takes some standard road-going models for some serious off-roading to find out what they are capable of.

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrtur

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

The rain had been lashing down for days, the off-road course turned into a quagmire of muddy tracks and Chris Hawken, Subaru UK marketing director, was loving it.

'It's perfect weather for Subarus. The tracks have really been ripped up,' he announced with glee.

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrtur

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

'Not all 4x4s are the same. Subarus go where others can't.'

One of the world's leading all-wheel drive manufacturers, Subaru made 920,000 vehicles in 2015 but is only on the radar of 30% of people looking for a 4x4.

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrtur

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

I still didn't share his confidence these showroom standard Subarus would cope with this challenging, churned-up course with the compact XV and mid-size Forester sport utility vehicles and the Outback, the world's first crossover combining the benefits of an estate car with the all-road capabilities of an SUV, shod with normal road tyres hardly suited to the treacherous conditions.

I had an idea of what a Subaru could do having been caught in a white-out blizzard several years ago in an Outback which saw several inches of snow fall. While several two-wheel drive cars slithered, slipped and even slid off the road, the Subaru took it all in its stride, getting me home safely with no sense of drama.

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrtur

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

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But even that could not compare to the glutinous, deep brown sludge of the off-road course. The prospect of going up and down hills I had struggled to keep on my feet when I tried to walk them was scary.

Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. No sooner had I taken the wheel of the Outback diesel, with the Lineartronic automatic gearbox, than we were perched at the top of the steepest hill.

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrtur

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

With X-Mode and hill descent control engaged it was simply a case of letting the Outback crawl over the lip and steering a straight line – according to the instructor the car would do the rest… and it did, holding a steady slow walking pace all the way to the bottom.

It showed off the Subaru's abilities and was a confidence booster for tackling the rest of the course, made all the more impressive with standard road tyres and, even with the treads made smooth with mud, they somehow found some grip to keep moving.

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrtur

The Forester sport utility vehicle is Subaru's best-selling model and most capable off-road. Picrture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

Unlike heavy-duty off-roaders, Subaru's don't have selectable low-ratio gearing so the instructor was encouraging me to give it 'plenty of gas' to use the car's momentum to help blast up slippery slopes, lifting off the throttle as we cleared the crest.

Switching to Subaru's best-selling Forester SUV, I thought we might be in trouble with the revvy 241PS, 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine but my fears were unfounded.

The Subaru Outback is a crossover combining the off-road ability of a sport utility vehicle with the

The Subaru Outback is a crossover combining the off-road ability of a sport utility vehicle with the practicality of an estate car. Picture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

Yes, it spun its wheels easier, so you needed to be gentler on the throttle, and one tricky slope needed a couple of run-ups to get over it - more down to my lack of off-road experience than any lack of ability from this honest SUV - but the Forester's all-wheel drive system came out tops in the end.

So, mission accomplished, all the Subarus needed was a wash down to get rid of the cloying mud and that meant a further test with a quick dip and drive through some deep water.

The Subaru Outback is a crossover combining the off-road ability of a sport utility vehicle with the

The Subaru Outback is a crossover combining the off-road ability of a sport utility vehicle with the practicality of an estate car. Picture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

It's dirty work but some cars have to do it – and are more than capable. No wonder they call this time of year 'Subaru season'.

Do you drive a Subaru? Tell me why you chose the brand and what you like about it. Email motoring@archant.co.uk

The Subaru Outback is a crossover combining the off-road ability of a sport utility vehicle with the

The Subaru Outback is a crossover combining the off-road ability of a sport utility vehicle with the practicality of an estate car. Picture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

The Subaru Outback is a crossover combining the off-road ability of a sport utility vehicle with the

The Subaru Outback is a crossover combining the off-road ability of a sport utility vehicle with the practicality of an estate car. Picture: Andy Russell - Credit: Andy Russell

What makes a Subaru?

All Subarus use Boxer engines and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Picture: Subaru

All Subarus use Boxer engines and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Picture: Subaru - Credit: Subaru

Boxer engine

The heart of Subarus for 50 years and named after the punch-counterpunch motion of the horizontally-opposed pistons which balance each other out to make it smoother with less vibration.

Subauru's X-Mode driving aid maximises traction from the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. Picture

Subauru's X-Mode driving aid maximises traction from the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. Picture: Subaru - Credit: Matt Kimberle

The square Boxer engine sits in line with the centre of the vehicle and drivetrain, unlike many transverse or 'V' engines, for maximum transfer of power. Sitting well down in the engine bay, it also lowers the centre of gravity so improving handling.

Symmetrical all-wheel drive

A chassis designed purely for all-wheel drive means it is completely symmetrical front to rear, side to side, for better balance.

With the weight of the engine and gearbox spread across the front axle, there is perfect weight distribution across the chassis as well as a straight route for traction to travel to all four wheels so no power loss having to reroute it to the wheels. All wheels are driven all the time so maintaining momentum in tricky conditions, rather than four-wheel drive only being engaged after a loss of traction is detected.

X-Mode

Available on Lineartronic versions of Forester sport utility vehicle and Outback crossover estate, it optimises integrated control of the engine, all-wheel drive system and brakes, constantly monitors grip and comes into play before the wheels start to spin significantly so regaining traction quicker when tyres slip.

It includes hill descent control which automatically operates the brakes on each individual wheel at up to 12mph to keep the speed constant and the vehicle under control so the driver can concentrate on steering.

That's interesting…

Over the last 49 years, Subaru has made 15 million symmetrical all-wheel drive systems.

99.3% of Subarus in the UK are still on the road after 10 years.

The average Subaru will travel the equivalent of eight times around the world – 200,000 miles - in its lifetime.

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