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Subaru’s AWD system is a success story in automotive engineering

Japanese automaker has built 20 million AWD vehicles

One of the key factors in Subaru's success is its unique all-wheel-drive system. IMAGE FROM SUBARU

The inherent cost and complexity of four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive have kept these systems limited to vehicles that need to tackle harsh road conditions (such as the Toyota Land Cruiser) or deliver blistering performance on the racetrack (such as the Nissan GT-R). But one company that begs to differ is Subaru, which has stubbornly stuck with AWD as a key element of its engineering philosophy.

The balanced layout of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive ensures predictable handling even in low-grip conditions. IMAGE FROM SUBARU

Most automakers would simply slap a transfer box and a bunch of driveshafts to give a car AWD. But in the interest of making its vehicles handle predictably, Subaru has engineered its system to be as symmetrical as possible. The use of equal-length half-shafts, for example, ensures that the rotating masses of metal on both sides of the car are balanced.

Even the utilization of the brand’s signature boxer engine was likely dictated by the AWD system. Orienting the motor longitudinally aligns the crankshaft with the transmission along the centerline of the car. Having the pistons fire horizontally lowers the center of gravity, which contributes to the vehicle’s stability. A byproduct of this layout is the inherent smoothness as the opposed cylinder banks cancel out each other’s vibration.

The author experienced the driving pleasure of a Subaru car for seven years. PHOTO BY MIGGI SOLIDUM

It’s one thing reading about how Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive functions, and it’s quite another experiencing it firsthand. I personally had the pleasure of seeing Subaru’s technical expertise at work for seven years during my ownership of a 2013 Impreza. I found the car to be a solid highway cruiser, and I took comfort in the fact that all four wheels literally had my back when the weather turned nasty.

Even the base variants of the automaker's model range come equipped with AWD. PHOTO FROM SUBARU

One thing that’s great with Subaru’s AWD system is that everyone who buys its cars can experience it. In fact, with the exception of the BRZ and some Japanese-market kei cars, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is standard equipment in the automaker’s entire range. Such commitment to the technology has been key to the brand’s success over the years with 20 million AWD vehicles produced since 1972.

Miggi Solidum

Professionally speaking, Miggi is a software engineering dude who happens to like cars a lot. And as an automotive enthusiast, he wants a platform from which he can share his motoring thoughts with fellow petrolheads. He pens the column ‘G-Force’.