Subaru Celebrates 50 Years Of Building AWD Cars

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It got there eight years before Audi did.

Subaru is synonymous with all-wheel-drive and this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of its AWD system, which first debuted on the Subaru Leone 4WD Estate Van. It was Japan's first mass-produced AWD passenger car, launched in 1972. If you were wondering, that's a full eight years before Audi put its famous quattro AWD system in the Audi Quattro.

Since September 1972, Subaru has produced about 21 million AWD vehicles. If you break down the current sales, 98% of all Subarus sold are equipped with the latest Symmetrical AWD system fitted with the horizontally-opposed Boxer engine. The other 2% are BRZ sales.

Frontal Aspect Subaru

The Symmetrical AWD system and boxer engine work hand-in-hand to enhance the driving experience. The "symmetrical" part of the AWD system's name has nothing to do with how it distributes power but rather how weight is distributed across the drivetrain. Thanks to the layout of a Boxer engine, it can be mounted lower down in the engine bay, which results in a lower center of gravity.

AWD and turbocharged boxer engines helped Subaru become a dominant force in the World Rally Championship, but the Japanese manufacturer sadly decided to leave that all behind during the Great Recession.


Since then, it has been producing a series of likable SUVs like the evergreen Forester and Outback and its halo sports car, the WRX. Sadly, Scooby dropped the ball with the latest model, but it is at least improving its other products.

The latest big step forward is the e-Boxer-equipped models. Subaru now incorporates a responsive electric motor in its CVT transmissions, which it claims allows for more precise control of the AWD. In addition to the e-Boxer mild-hybrid system, Subaru has also had to adapt to full electrification in the Solterra. Unlike the Symmetrical AWD system, the Solterra uses an eAWD system with no physical connection between the front and rear electric motors.

2023 Subaru Solterra Driving Front Angle Subaru

"As one of the core technologies that underpin Subaru's commitment to safety and driving enjoyment, Subaru's AWD system has been continuously enhanced over half a century," said Tomomi Nakamura, President and CEO of Subaru Corporation. "Toward the age of electrification, we will further refine our long-cultivated AWD capability with electrification technology and continue to pursue the 'Subaru Difference,' such as stability, driving dynamics, and handling."

Subaru has promised to continue evolving its AWD system as it heads into the future. It will likely be an evolution of the eAWD system, as Subaru will build its first dedicated EV factory this decade.

2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Front Angle View CarBuzz

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2023 Subaru Solterra Driving Front Angle Frontal Aspect 2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Front Angle View

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