Testing the 2020 Subaru Lineup in Canadian Winter

Harry Zhou
by Harry Zhou

Recently we were invited to experience the 2020 Subaru models in snowy off-road conditions and put the all-wheel drive system and technologies through the wringer.

Canadians love to boast about our ability to survive painful winters, and having the right car to do so can make the difference between heading into spring with a smile or a hefty repair bill. It was the perfect opportunity to find out if Subarus are made for Canadians in mind.

Updates for 2020 models

You’ll have to really squint to spot the changes on the 2020 Impreza, but it remains the car to beat in the segment when it comes to all-weather prowess. The Crosstrek gains quite a few new creature comforts as standard or options this year, including automatic climate control on all trim levels. What you’ll really want for Canadian winters is the heated steering wheel that comes with the Limited model, but it’s a pricey step up from the base version.

The Legacy and Outback receive a slight exterior refresh, but the major attraction is the interior redesign that really bumps up the premium feel of the cabin. The bigger vertical 11.6-inch infotainment screen is where the eyes first go on the new design, but the use of better materials, metallic trim pieces, and sculpting of the dash and door panels all come together to create a much improved environment to be in.

Changes to the 2020 Ascent and Forester are mild. Both get a standard “Rear Seat Reminder” alert to help you remember the groceries you left on the back seats. On the Forester, the adaptive cruise control now allows for lane-centering and the tire pressure monitoring system now reports pressures from each individual corner.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Subaru Outback Review

Crosstrek into the wild

The day began in a Pure Red Crosstrek Limited, offering the other drivers on the route a welcome contrast to the otherwise bleak winter morning commute. It’s a car that’s easy to get immediately settled and comfortable in. Before setting off, I was reminded to be punctual and arrive at the first test location for 10AM.

Despite being taller than its sister car, the Crosstrek drives much like an Impreza. The extra few inches of road clearance proves its point when gliding over the chunks of snow and ice littered across the road. Steering is not as direct and telepathic as it could be, but the very-compliant suspension made for a quiet and comfortable ride to the first test location. Apple CarPlay, heated seats, and a heated steering wheel also contributed to a much more relaxing drive than expected. After stopping for a short coffee break, it was clear I had veered too far into relaxing and was now running late – after being told specifically to be punctual.

The 2.0-liter boxer had no empathy for my anxiety in being the last to arrive, and neither did the other cars sharing the two-lane regional roads I took. On a route where I prayed to the heavens for the solid centre line to break, each blessed chance to shift down and pass never really felt like a sure thing. Everything except my blood pressure seemed to be slowing down. After starting to get a little bored of my angst, I noticed no one else seemed to be in as much of a rush as I am. Maybe 152 horses would be enough for all of the ‘nice’ drivers who don’t feel the need to pass every car in front of them. Maybe the unhurried CVT could be perfectly adequate for ‘nice’ drivers cruising along at exactly the speed limit. If Canadians are international champions of ‘nice’, then in this way Subarus do seem to be made just for us.

Testing the limits of Subaru’s AWD

After brushing off the shame of being last to arrive, I snuck in line to get the opportunity to thrash the 2020 line-up at the first test location. The Crosstrek made easy work out of the snowy slaloms and emergency braking sections, but we weren’t there to simply make our way around the course. Our driving instructors switched off the traction control and encouraged getting the tail end to come around. It almost felt like a slight failure to not achieve at least some opposite steering lock. Even the hefty three-row Ascent felt comfortable being tossed around a roughly-plowed corner. At no time – not even on the bravest laps – did the cars leave you wanting more control.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Subaru Forester Pros and Cons: Road Trip Edition

An ode to off-road

After arriving at the second test location and warming up with some hot chocolate, we took to the off-road course set up around a scenic estate. With steep elevations and knee-high snow in spots, it’s not exactly the type of trail you’d want to take on without proper tires and all-wheel drive. Whereas in the first test we were encouraged to turn off electronic driving assists and toss the cars around in the snow, this portion of the event would mimic the inclement driving conditions and potential troubles Canadians could face on winter roads.

Even the Impreza, without having the ground clearance offered on Subaru’s taller models nor the X-MODE suite of technology had no issues plowing its way around the course. Subaru utility models are offered with X-MODE’s stable of technology, which includes climbing assistance as well as Hill Descent Control. Even before we had a chance to worry about plummeting down a steep decline, the brakes are applied automatically to keep the car going steadily downhill under 20 km/h. At this point, we were not at all concerned with sliding into a snowbank but rather looking to get ourselves to lunch as quickly as possible. A tap on the gas released control of the car back to us.

SEE ALSO: Subaru Impreza vs Legacy Comparison

Subaru: the Canadians of the automotive world

If there’s something Subaru knows better than making all-wheel drive vehicles to tackle treacherous conditions, it’s getting people to love them. Owners rave about reliability and safety. EyeSight Driving Assist Technology is now offered on most models and includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, and pre-collision braking to confidently drive that point home.

The non-turbo engines may not have the most urgency, the steering isn’t quite as sharp as its competitors, and the CVT decides for itself when it wants to do things. But a razor-edged sports car is not what you would want when road conditions get challenging. You want a car that has your back when the road conditions get difficult, and keeps your family safe. It’s no wonder Subaru owners are obsessed with their cars. Subarus are the Canadians of the automotive world.

Harry Zhou
Harry Zhou

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