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AWD/4WD systems

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My boss has had 2 Escape 4WDs as his demos this winter, first a black Hybrid, and now an XLT V6. The few times I've gotten to drive them, I've been impressed with the solid, quiet ride on dry pavement. I asked him how the 4WD did for him in the snow, and he said he was unimpressed, said neither one felt like it was really pulling much with the rear wheels, even in deep snow where it surely would have been necessary. He said it was not like a pickup truck, where you shift it into 4WD and you can feel it work. Kind of disappointed me to hear him say that. I wonder if GM's AWD Equinox/Terrain system is similar to the Escape's in operation and in low-traction conditions driving feel. If I get a 4WD/AWD vehicle, I do not want some wimpy poseur.

I know Subaru's Symmetrical AWD is in gear all the time, and I've seen the new Outback in hillclimbing action in a YouTube vid, it did very well in comparison to an Explorer and a Venza.

Traction in all driving conditions and a commanding driving position, plus versatility for occasional hauling are my reasons for wanting to get back into a truck/SUV. I know a GMT355 will fulfill those criteria, but I've never had an SUV/CUV before, and I might like to try one, but I need something with a 4WD system that is worth the effort.

Anyone have any Escape/Mariner/Equinox/Terrain/Outback/Forester experience in snow? How do the systems compare mechanically?

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I don't know if this is still the case, but Subaru actually has two AWD systems. One for manual transmission cars and one for automatics. The one that goes with the manual transmission is the one you're referring to. Caveat, my information is old, so I don't know if this is still the case.

GM's Versatrak was apparently very good with the ability to send most of the torque to the rear wheels if needed. There is a demo on youtube of an AWD Aztek pulling an AWD CR-V kicking and screaming backwards across the ice. Anything with the latest generation Haldex system can probably do the same as it can direct the torque to any wheel it wants to.

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I'm not convinced that the AWD in the Volvo SUVs is all that great. We had a freak icestorm mid-day in late November and a Volvo XC90 with snow tires couldn't seem to make it up an icy hill that my FWD Cobalt with all seasons just carved right up... given I had narrower tires and whatnot but even so...

I am kinda distrustful of AWD if it's not full-time or set via a transfer-case. Those computers that distribute the power get REAL confused (I've seen it) on icy Canadian roads. With 2WD you always know what the car is going to do, it's predictable (even RWD) and that's how I like it.

Edited by vonVeezelsnider
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Most FWD-based vehicles have AWD systems that only send power to the rear wheels when the fronts start slipping. Sounds great in theory, but often such systems don't deliver because they're 'reactive' rather than 'proactive.'

Subarus and most Audis (not the TT or A3) have permanent AWD systems that distribute power among all four wheels all the time.

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I don't know if this is still the case, but Subaru actually has two AWD systems. One for manual transmission cars and one for automatics. The one that goes with the manual transmission is the one you're referring to. Caveat, my information is old, so I don't know if this is still the case.

...

You are correct, that is still the case with Subaru. Manuals get mechanical systems working the AWD and distributing torque, while automatics get electronic controls.

Personal experience with a Forester 5MT, good in snow. The car doesn't have winter tires so it will occasionally drift, but otherwise all is well.

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Boss' Escape was sold out from under him this afternoon, to a young couple with a babby. Seems the wife was concerned for the family's safety, so they traded their Toyota.

Not sure what he'll be driving next.

Anyhoo, back on topic, if I want a small SUV I can lock into 4WD, my choices are growing narrower. Jeep Liberty/Wrangler/Patriot/Comp ass come to mind (last two do have a lock switch). Ford and GM don't sell a small SUV/CUV with shiftable 4WD anymore.

Subaru's AWD system is compelling in its real usefulness, and the only Japanese-based SUV/CUV I'd consider. So it's either that, a Jeep, or back to a pickup truck.

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Boss' Escape was sold out from under him this afternoon, to a young couple with a babby. Seems the wife was concerned for the family's safety, so they traded their Toyota.

Not sure what he'll be driving next.

Anyhoo, back on topic, if I want a small SUV I can lock into 4WD, my choices are growing narrower. Jeep Liberty/Wrangler/Patriot/Comp ass come to mind (last two do have a lock switch). Ford and GM don't sell a small SUV/CUV with shiftable 4WD anymore.

Subaru's AWD system is compelling in its real usefulness, and the only Japanese-based SUV/CUV I'd consider. So it's either that, a Jeep, or back to a pickup truck.

For me it came down to the Patriot and Forester (and the Equinox for being a Chevy, but wasn't really sure about the AWD and it didn't matter since I couldn't find any AWD that weren't in the $30k range). Unfortunately nobody in SoCal had a Patriot Sport 5MT 4x4, so there wasn't really a decision to make in the end.

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AAS, please tell me more about your Forester. What color/trim level is it? How does it drive? I was just over at the Jeep site, and a Patriot Freedom Drive II with Sound Group is $25k MSRP. It is a shame the Trail Rated version is not available with a 5MT.

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AAS, please tell me more about your Forester. What color/trim level is it? How does it drive? I was just over at the Jeep site, and a Patriot Freedom Drive II with Sound Group is $25k MSRP. It is a shame the Trail Rated version is not available with a 5MT.

The Forester is a 2010 2.5X Premium 5MT, steel silver exterior (darker of the two silvers, the website doesn't do it justice) with light gray interior. Optional equipment/packages: cold weather package, trunk mat, mud flaps, rear bumper cover, all-weather floor mats, rear cargo cover. It drives very nice. Smooth over most road conditions, handles well for what it is, shifting feels nicer than the Impreza I test-drove, peppy (the engine is like my Camaro's, not to say it's as powerful but similar rev characteristics and power delivery i.e. it's got low-end grunt and doesn't like to rev quick), some rattles from the rear hatch area (occasionaly 'shimies' over bad roads), comfortable seats (drove it ~900 mi in one day, no complaints), 4th gear seems lost sometimes (often shifting up on inclines to find 4th is too tall, could use a 6MT just to have better/more ratios), good mpg, interior feels open and is nice looking...

Sorry for the long, not well presented list of stuff, feel free to ask if I missed anything.

Freedom Drive II sounds awesome, and it is sad it's only coupled with the "crappy" CVT (crappy since it demolishes the otherwise good mpg with the 5MT). The only Patriots I sat in were all black interiors, which made it clostrophobic/cramped for me.

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Thanks for the Subie info. Just a few more questions: The light gray interior, is it easy to keep clean? How is the sound system? I am under the impression Subaru sound systems aren't powerful. And you seem happy with the gas mileage, have you by any chance calculated an MPG number?

As far as the Patriot interior, I get that same impression (re: claustrophobic in black). I do like the mild redesign on the newest Patriots, and would get the tan, still it does seem as though the greenhouse design and relatively small windows are to blame for the closed-in feeling one gets. The Forester definitely has larger windows, and while I haven't driven one, I'd imagine it would have good visibility.

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Thanks for the Subie info. Just a few more questions: The light gray interior, is it easy to keep clean? How is the sound system? I am under the impression Subaru sound systems aren't powerful. And you seem happy with the gas mileage, have you by any chance calculated an MPG number?

As far as the Patriot interior, I get that same impression (re: claustrophobic in black). I do like the mild redesign on the newest Patriots, and would get the tan, still it does seem as though the greenhouse design and relatively small windows are to blame for the closed-in feeling one gets. The Forester definitely has larger windows, and while I haven't driven one, I'd imagine it would have good visibility.

I can't really say if the light gray interior is easy/tough to keep clean, since I haven't had to clean it. It is nice that, while it's mostly light gray, it has a darker gray pattern in the cloth that would seem help not look dirty. Also, the all weather mats have helped to keep the carpet clean. I have had it full of skiing gear and people, and it's managed to stay clean.

Powerful or not, the sound system in the Forester is adequate. It is only 4 speakers (compared to 8 or 10 in the smaller Impreza), but can be upgraded with tweeters in the front doors and a sub under the driver's seat.

I haven't personally calculated MPG, but the trip computer does. Lifetime (trip B never reset, for ~2k miles) shows around 27 MPG, while my current tank (went on a ~250 mile road trip through mountains and hills, good amount of coasting) shows around 33 MPG. I believe the computer showed around 26-27 MPG on the ~900 mile trip I took it on, and that was with the engine not broken in and the car loaded with stuff.

I would suggest test-driving both the Forester and Patriot (with tan interior) with 5MT. I'm still curious as to how they compare.

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Cool, thanks. Autoweek magazine just ended a long-term test with a Forester XT. Overall, they liked it, but they did say it was a bit loud inside, and theirs was one that was affected by the engine manufacture problem, they had to have the engine replaced, which is major beyond anything I've ever had go wrong with a vehicle.

Best thing to do is drive them, I agree. Thanks again for the info.

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I'm a huge Subie fan after having the '96 Legacy around for a while, and the new Forester always caught my eye. The downfall, odd or not, is what some reviews have continued to say recently about the latest one not just for noise but a structure that feels gooey with some shivers & noises. Not something you expect from a new vehicle, but I read it again & again. Mechanically and otherwise, they're strong, but that is just bizarre for a latest & greatest redesign. Then there's the turbo engines imploding (yikes, did Subie have some nice warranty bills there lately...) but the standard boxers are as good as always.

Then you have the new Legacy/Outback, which although the Legacy sedan looks like a turd, the Outback is great. More refined and solid than the Forester, now pretty tall itself and I think with more room. They're a great package. Definitely not the same presence as a cute 'ute, but a nice burly "in between" wagon like nothing else.

Beyond that, from what I've experienced in a co-workers '10 Escape XLT 2.5L 4WD, it's at least really strong on the snow & ice and seems to claw itself around pretty well. The guy who drives it complained "but it's not that good...can't lock it in real 4wd like a truck", but he bashes the daylights out of it over everything and it remains solid and connected over the ice, snow, etc.

Then the latest GM Theta's, not sure. I'd assume it's another good AWD system, especially with Stabilitrak at the helm, but probably the most pure on road water/snow/ice oriented of all of them. That's not a bad thing, they're just the most on road luxury of the group.

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The new Forester's perceived structural rigidity might not be good, but its structure holds pretty well in crashes. Its roof is among the strongest in the segment, which is surprising considering its relatively slim pillars.

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Subarus certainly are engineered to crash well. I think every one of them is a "Top Safety Pick" or something.

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Subarus certainly are engineered to crash well. I think every one of them is a "Top Safety Pick" or something.

Very true. I remember the Forester ads a few years back after one of the best ever offset crash results. They're not heavy, but they certainly have some structure in them.

Complaints of quivering, rattles and other "loose" sensations in the latest gen of Foresters puzzles me, and would drive me nuts, but they remain popular and who knows.

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Very true. I remember the Forester ads a few years back after one of the best ever offset crash results. They're not heavy, but they certainly have some structure in them.

Complaints of quivering, rattles and other "loose" sensations in the latest gen of Foresters puzzles me, and would drive me nuts, but they remain popular and who knows.

Mine does have rattles in the front doors, which are a well known (reparable) issue with the latest generation.

The quivering/rattling, which I have noticed, usually comes from the rear hatch area when driving over certain bumps. It can get annoying, and I often wonder if a rear strutt-tower-brace would stop it (that would probably make the trunk area partially useless. Luckily, the rear shudders don't happen all the time. The chassis is generally stiff, unlike my Camaro that will creak/flex over driveways etc.

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