The temperatures in Finland drop pretty low at the end of January, and the gauges were already hitting minus-20 degrees centigrade by the time we arrived. Freezing cold for us, but these are the sort of conditions most car manufacturers will test their vehicles in, to ensure each component’s up to scratch.
With a lot of snow on the ground, we headed to a testing facility close to Rovaniemi, just inside the Arctic Circle, for a day of track testing, drifting sessions and an off-road course. Plenty to tackle, then.
Our first task was to take on an oval. While in ‘normal’ conditions this wouldn’t be too much of a hassle, tackling it on snow while behind the wheel of Subaru’s rear-wheel-drive BRZ sportscar takes a little more thought. Despite producing just 200bhp, the BRZ makes for the perfect snow drifting car and, while you may not be able to tell much about the car’s ride, you can instantly sense its inherent balance. After a few attempts, we quickly managed to join together a succession of sideways laps around the circle.
You may also like: 2018 Subaru XV review: One for all seasons
Next up was an off-road route. The BRZ was swapped for the Forester, Subaru’s rugged, four-wheel-drive SUV. A crucial feature of the Forester, particularly in tricky conditions, is X-Mode. By pressing this, the car’s on-board system manages the brakes, accelerator and traction control to efficiently drive on poor surfaces.
Where does this come in handy? Well, we drove up a steep, slippery banking and found ourselves having to drive down the equally treacherous opposite side. With X-Mode switched on, you merely need to start descending, tap the brakes and the system will engage, slowing you down and steadily lowering you down the slope.
In practice, it works extremely well. This system isn’t just limited to the Forester either — you’ll find it in variety of Subaru cars, including its latest XV compact crossover. While you may not find yourself traversing snowy hills on a frequent basis, the system does give you a little more security when driving on slippery roads. It means that, for instance, when exiting a slippery car park or when tackling a country lane, it’ll give you just a bit more confidence. However, as we found in Finland, it’s also good at making the Forester go where usual cars can’t.
Finally, we headed to the track. However, tarmac was replaced by an awful lot of snow, while the high bankings looked formidably solid. Back in the BRZ, the sense of all-wheel safety was removed entirely, replaced by sheer rear-wheel-drive fun. With so little friction, the car goes sideways at nearly every prod of the throttle, with only a little too much gas sending it pirouetting. But be smooth with the throttle and steady with the steering, and you can quickly thread together different sections of track. We did that on several occasions, punctuated with the odd spin here and there. Thankfully, there weren’t any collisions with the banking.
Then, as quickly as you can say ‘opposite lock’, the day was over. In truth, that’s not surprise — the days are quite short in Finland at the start of the year, and the darkness swept over in little time at all, with temperatures plunging even further.
The day had fully shown just how capable Subaru cars are in difficult conditions and we can confidently say that the systems provided should help people feel a little more comfortable when things get slippery.
You may also like: Not their finest hour: Subaru Baja