SI-Drive: Power or Efficiency at Your Discretion

Now, the details on Subaru Intelligent Drive, which comes only on the turbocharged 2.5 XT with the optional automatic transmission and on the 3.0 R. The SI-Drive knob on the center console allows the driver to choose among three acceleration programs: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. Each mode changes the way the accelerator pedal relates to the engine's throttle, and also varies the transmission's behavior. In the default setting, Sport, the accelerator pedal responds like most cars' do.

The Sport Sharp mode makes the pedal more sensitive. The first inch or so of pedal travel yanks much harder on the throttle, so the car accelerates faster — for the amount you're stepping on the pedal. This mode also lets the engine rev into higher rpm before the transmission upshifts. Note that this doesn't make the car faster overall. Stand on the pedal and both modes give you full acceleration.

Intelligent mode is the opposite of Sport Sharp. It gives you less throttle than the Sport mode for the same amount of pedal travel. It also makes the transmission shift more conservatively, hopping up through the gears promptly and keeping the engine revving at lower rpm overall. This mode is all about gas mileage. Unlike the other two settings, this mode does limit the overall power in such a way that the Outback doesn't sprint as fast, even if you floor it. I don't like this. There's something to be said for having all of your car's power available to you at all times in case you need it. Having a modestly powered car is one thing; you adjust your driving. But a car that responds differently at different times could spell trouble. If you forget you're in Intelligent mode and you put yourself in the path of oncoming traffic, you aren't going to be able to accelerate as quickly as you might have expected. Subaru added a big button to the steering wheel that you can whack with your thumb to engage Sport Sharp mode, but I don't think that goes far enough to mitigate the scenario above. At a time when people want power but demand efficiency too, SI-Drive is the right idea. It's the execution that needs work.

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