It's more important to do the 2nd gear thing when the car is just warming up. Since the AWD tranny is so large for such a small engine, it takes a long time for it to reach an ideal temp. As we all know, Auto trannies don't like shifting when cold. The tansmission will slam into 2nd gear and cause unneeded stress when cold. So, drive around town in second (second is good for speeds between 0-60) for a while before using 1st.
My 1991 Legacy Sport Sedan shifts very well when cold.
I have never had a too firm shift, unless floored when cold, and who does that
My car has 310,000Kms on it, and the infamous AWD bind - but it still shifts great.
It is different when it gets to minus 20 - but I need to warm up then, not all year.
Perhaps I have a one off....