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2009 Outback - AWD systems

jim2345jim2345 Posts: 40
edited April 10 in Subaru
I have heard that all new Outbacks for 2009 will feature VDC (traction/stability control) as standard equipment. I'm wondering if this will make a difference to the AWD systems offered - does anyone know?

I have read that for 2008 and earlier, manual transmission models were mated to a "continuous AWD" system in which torque is normally distributed 50/50 (front/rear) through a viscous center differential that changes this distribution if slipping occurs. This appears to be a purely mechanical system without electronic controls.

In contrast, automatic transmissions were mated to an "active AWD" system which is essentially a front-wheel drive system since the torque is normally distributed 90/10 (front/rear). An electronically controlled transfer clutch then changes this ratio depending on feedback from electronic sensors that monitor wheel slippage, braking, throttle, and who knows what all else?

It sounds like the sensors used for "active AWD" may be the same as those used for VDC. So I'm wondering if I can still get a manual transmission with "continuous AWD" for 2009. It seems more likely that placing sensors everywhere for VDC would enable "active AWD" on all models.

The official Subaru websites don't have any product info out there yet for the 2009 Outbacks so I can't find out. Does anyone know??


  • I just got an email reply from Subaru customer service, so I can answer my own question. They say that for 2009, the 2.5i Outbacks with manual transmission will still have the same "continuous AWD" system as before - even though they now have VDC as standard equipment.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    The reason for the confusion is that the early "VDC Outback" as they called it came with VTD AWD, so VDC sort of became synonymous with that AWD system.

    Later, VDC was used as a seperate label for their traction and stability control system only. So it's now stand-alone, basically.
  • In my earlier post I described what I had just discovered by reading the 2008 Subaru Outback product info - that the manual and automatic transmissions are mated to entirely different AWD systems. The manual transmission comes with a "continuous AWD" system that normally splits torque 50/50 front/rear. A viscous center differential will adjust this split should slipping occur. This appears to be a purely mechanical system without electronic controls. The automatics are mated to an "active AWD" system in which torque is normally split 90/10 front/rear. A variable transfer clutch adjusts this split based on feedback from electronic sensors that measure wheel slippage, braking, steering, etc, etc.

    Now that Subaru has confirmed that the same AWD systems will be offered for 2009 in the 2.5i Outbacks, I have a choice to make and would like some help from people who know something about these AWD systems.

    I feel I need AWD because my 200 foot driveway is steep and anything more than an inch of snow keeps my wife's FWD Sable at the bottom (sometimes she slips backwards toward the street and gets stuck sideways). I am also a skier and do most of my driving in the winter months up in the mountains in NH. I drive in snow a lot - both on highways and winding mountain access roads. I don't go off-road (on purpose).

    I like a manual transmission for performance reasons and for driving fun (not to mention it will cost $1000 less than the automatic). But what about this difference in AWD systems? Does anyone have an opinion about which will work better for my needs?
  • I much prefer the 50/50 manual system. It's a subtle difference and probably not noticeable for normal driving, but I find better control with the 50/50 split. I have a 300 foot steep driveway that slopes away from the sun and in my mother's 90/10 I can feel the front wheels spin and the rear wheels engage. I don't like that, and by then you're already losing momentum. Also, I like to have fun in the snow. With the 50/50 I enjoy my driving so much more. I have a better feel for how far I can push the car. The 90/10 feels more like a FWD, especially when turning and the wheels begin to slip, but then the rear wheels engage.

    I'm sure other opinions will differ. In the end, either AWD system will far outperform a FWD Sable.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I had a 5 speed 98 Forester and it was great in the snow. If you break traction you're probably playing around and did it intentionally.

    I would take turns and hit the gas, and the rear end would break loose, rally style. The AWD should shift power to the front and it would pull me out of the skid.

    If I did it juuuuuust right, I would get it to wag the tail 2 or 3 times.

    Very controllable, very safe.

    Towards the end I had snow tires on for a season, and it was virtually unstoppable.

    We have an 09 automatic now, but haven't had snow yet.
  • Thanks for that reply which is a complete bulls-eye!

    What you said about losing momentum is right on. Momentum is everything for making it up my snow covered driveway. Also, from your description, it sounds like you can feel the system working on the "active" AWD system. It would drive me nuts to have the car constantly exceeding the limit of FWD adhesion before the system clunks in. I don't need any more white-knuckle thrill rides on snowy roads.

    I'm going to get the manual so I can have a better snow-beast, have more fun driving, and save $1000. Thanks again!!
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,391
    Hey, Jim. I have somewhat of a unique perspective, in that I owned both a manual (07) and automatic (08) Outback from this generation. I enjoyed them both very much.

    Also, I live in Fairbanks, Alaska, so snow and ice is the rule for a solid 6 months per year. My driveway is about 50' of steep (maybe 10-12% grade?), before leveling out.

    While I never noticed the "lag" or "momentum loss" that was cited here with the automatic, it certainly lacked some of the fun-factor of the manual. The auto wins hands down in dealing with deep snow at slow (or no) speeds. The manual transmission's clutch is grabby, so getting it started under high resistance, low traction conditions either spins the tires or results in a nice odor. ;) Granted, it was new, so it probably would have mellowed out with some more use.

    But, which did I prefer? The manual - no contest. I enjoyed it for all the reasons cited by the rest of you. In winter conditions, though, I tossed the auto around just as easily and precisely as the manual. You will not regret your choice of manual if that is your natural preference, but that is the only reason that makes it the clear winner. :shades:

    In case you are wondering why I had both, I purchased the manual as a personal, long-term car (life had other plans), and the auto as a short-term investment (easier to resell and better resale value).
  • Thanks Wes(?),

    So you're basically saying the choice of AWD system doesn't matter - both are fine in the snow. More important to get the kind of transmission I prefer - right? This keeps me in the manual transmission camp.

    But I need to ask you - did either of your Outbacks have VDC? This could explain the difference between your experience and ratbert's. And of course, all the new Outbacks will have VDC - which I'm not completely sure I'm ready for.

    I was talking to a friend this morning who told me about a guy in Michigan he knows who had a BMW sport wagon (3-series) with BMW's X-drive. I think this system is similar to an outback with VDC. He said this guy was on a side street stopped at the intersection with a main truck route. It was snowing and he thought he could scoot out in front of an 18-wheeler that was far enough down the road but coming on pretty fast. When he stepped on the gas to get out and get going, his wheels began to spin. The next thing that happened was that the sophisticated X-drive system took over the controls, braking the spinning wheels and ignoring his repeated stomping of the accelerator pedal to accelerate out of there. He had just enough momentum to limp strainght across the intersection before the trruck (which couldn't stop) missed him by a foot or so. . .
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    You almost have to let off the throttle and regain traction before hitting the gas again.

    My Sienna has an instrusive traction control system and my van struggled to get up my driveway with just 2" of snow. It got through eventually, but I may turn it off next time.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,391
    So you're basically saying the choice of AWD system doesn't matter - both are fine in the snow. More important to get the kind of transmission I prefer - right? This keeps me in the manual transmission camp.

    Yes, that is what I am saying.

    As for the VDC, no, neither had it, as in 07 an H6 was necessary to obtain VDC and in 08, a Limited. I do not prefer an invasive traction control system, because I know how to drive in adverse weather conditions and very much enjoy it. ;)

    I do not think VDC standard on all models will deter me from buying another Subaru, but I sure hope it is a feature with a toggle switch (like on AJ's van!).
  • krzysskrzyss Posts: 843
    The guy with BMW saved money in wrong spot. Winter tires could have help but "scooting" when snowing is not very clever thing to do.
  • No, scooting is not smart. My point is that having VDC probably means changing the way you drive. You always have to have in the back of your mind that the vehicle controls can be taken away from you at any time. . .
  • cptpltcptplt Posts: 1,075
    >I do not think VDC standard on all models will deter me from buying another Subaru, but I sure hope it is a feature with a toggle switch (like on AJ's van!).

    There is an off button on my 2.5 08, I think except for the first year or so when the VDC 3.0 standalone first came out, there has been an off button for the VDC.
  • Thanks Dennis,

    That's good news for people like me who are unsure about using VDC. I was able to confirm yesterday that the 2009's will also have an on/off switch on the dash - whew!

    Maybe people like you who have VDC have some opinions about whether to use it all the time or to be selective - and if so, when do they use it?

    I think that I will leave it on most of the time but turn it off when road conditions are obviously bad and require extra care. I prefer not to give up control under these conditions and rely on my own skill from years of experience driving in snow. At these times I'm already driving cautiously and feel I only need VDC when apparently good conditions present a surprise I would not otherwise be ready for.

    How do others with VDC feel about this and how do you use it?
  • cptpltcptplt Posts: 1,075
    I leave it on all the time, I have VDC on my OB, also a Tribeca and Sienna, I also use snowtires in winter and to be honest I don't recall ever seeing the VDC kick in when I'm driving those vehicles in snow but my wife drives the Sienna primarily and my in law the Tribeca and I don't drive their cars like my WRX so I'm not really pushing the traction to the limit on them! I think I've made the traction control on the Sienna kick in , I don't think its the stability control itself as it was in a straight line but its the same light going off on the dash. When the weather is bad, my high schoolers drive the OB which makes me breath a lot easier and is much better for my blood pressure. Is the VDC "worth " it for me, dunno. Is it good for my familys safety, probably.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Yeah, the van has an off switch but I hear it just increases the threshold.

    When it snows I'm taking the wife's Forester, so no thanks! ;)
  • I like a manual transmission for performance reasons and for driving fun (not to mention it will cost $1000 less than the automatic). But what about this difference in AWD systems? Does anyone have an opinion about which will work better for my needs? I've had 3 OB's, all auto, a 96 wagon, 99 SUS, and currently a 03 VDC wagon.
    In deep snow, the VDC never really kicked in.
    In loose gravel and wet roads it will engage momentarily.
    Where I notice the greatest difference is on ice packed roads, especially while turning or going up an upgrade. The first time it kicked in I was turning on an icy road and had the eerie feeling that the engine had died. The car pulled through the icy turn, slower, but with no loss of traction. The Grand Cherokee that was tailgating me at the time ended up in the ditch.
    On the models I have owned without the VDC, there would always be some traction loss, but overall would perform well.
    Sometimes, though, I think I would like a manual OB, especially when descending icy streets which require a stop at the end. I would like to downshift to slow the vehicle.
    All my cars were shod with all-season radials, not snows.
  • Thanks for the reply; I appreciate hearing about your experience.

    When you talked about descending icy streets, you really got my attention because this is something I have to do a lot. And it's at times like these that you really want to stay off the brakes. At the end of every ski day, I have to come down the winding mountain roads - often just after or during a flurry where the road surface has gotten covered and then packed by the traffic coming off the mountain. But doesn't your 2003 Outback have a shiftable automatic or does this not work as effectively as a manual transmission in slowing you down on steep down grades?

    Please reply as engine braking on a steep slope is something I probably cannot determine very well when I take out an automatic for a test drive. Thanks.
  • When descending a slippery slope I do down shift with the 2003 VDC, and it does do a good job of slowing the car without skidding, but engagement seems a bit slow.
    What I have noticed with the AWD manual is the feeling of being more in control by "playing" the clutch and the brake, if you know what I mean. Probably isn't good on the clutch, but sliding into a busy intersection could be worse.
    Most of my driving is urban and highway, and the VDC is great for that.
    If I had a lot of twisting mountain roads, I'd be inclined toward the manual.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,391
    Well, the weak link with either transmission is the tires. They only have so much traction, so if they lose it (whether it be engine braking or discs braking), they lose it. I found the 07 manual I owned to be more effective at engine braking than my '96 (which was an auto), but probably just because the first gear was a bit lower of a ratio than the 4-speed auto. For my '08 auto, it was more cumbersome to put into specific gears because it only does so in the "manumatic" mode, but it was effective at engine braking, and held gears to red-line before automatically shifting to the next gear, so you would not have to worry about it shifting without your input. One thing is for certain - ditch the OEM tires, especially if you plan to use all-seasons rather than dedicated winter tires.

    The only place I can think that the auto might make a drastic difference is with emergency maneuvers when immediate responsiveness is needed. If the manual driver is not perfectly in tune with the car, it may not be in the right gear at the right time (or even running, if the driver let the engine stall out) to avoid disaster. But, that is a driver consideration.... ;)
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