All-Wheel Drive Passenger Cars

DriverSide reveals a sampling of smaller automobiles that have four-wheel drive.
By Jon Alain Guzik
2007 Suzuki SX4 1
2007 Suzuki SX4

If you live anywhere where the weather gets rough, an all-wheel drive vehicle can work wonders for your daily drive. But what if you want the safety of all-wheel drive without having to drive an SUV?

As recently as a few years ago the market for all-wheel drive passenger cars was fairly small. If you wanted one, your choices were limited to a few manufactures, and the models were usually priced at a premium.

That changed with the introduction of the 2007 Suzuki SX4. The SX4 was a neat little five-door crossover that offered style, all-wheel drive, and a low sticker price of $14,999. Suzuki launched an SX4 sedan for 2008 that offers the same amenities and underpinnings as the crossover, but in a four-door package at a base price of $14,770.

For a few dollars more at $16,270, a touring package adds upgraded amenities, and, more importantly, an electronic stability program and a traction control system to keep the wheels on the road in tough driving conditions.

For the more well heeled, two legendary bastions of all-wheel drive, Saab and Subaru, recently released new versions of their mainstay vehicles: the Saab 9-3 Aero and the Subaru Impreza.

The Saab 9-3 Aero was completely overhauled for the 2008 model year. The interior and exterior design is much more forward-thinking than the previous model and befits the entry-level luxury of the Saab brand. But in a very Swedish way, the most important part of the new 9-3 Aero is under the sheet metal.

"Saab has always been a great winter car. It is part of our Swedish tradition," says Saab's Jan-Willem Vester. "Our new advanced all-wheel drive system, the Saab XWD, makes it unique."

The new all-wheel drive system, exclusive to the 9-3 Aero Sport Sedan and SportCombi models, features an electronic limited slip differential that splits the torque between not only the front and rear wheels, but the left and right rear tires, as well. There is also a pre-emptive engagement system that optimizes rear-wheel traction at takeoff, as well as during those moments when you need some extra grip, like passing on the freeway. Both 9-3s include a 2.8-liter, 24-valve turbocharged V-6 engine with 280 hp. Saab was a pioneer of turbocharging with the 900 models of the late '70s and early '80s, and the new 9-3 does wonders for the Saab brand, which we feel spent the last few years a bit directionless.

Subaru is another brand with a long all-wheel drive history, and the newly redesigned Impreza-it's roomier, with an all-new and much more upscale interior and exterior-is a sure winner.

The new Impreza comes in two models, 2.5i and WRX, and both are available with four or five doors. While the $24,350 WRX is a great piece of machinery in its own right - 224 horsepower turbocharged engine, sport-tuned suspension, that iconic, massive hood scoop - the base 2.5i model, starting at $16,995, is the value proposition of the year. The Premium package, another $1,500, adds a full array of vehicle dynamic controls to facilitate safer driving.

All-wheel drive features also count if you're looking for a more performance-driven car. The 2008 Audi A5 and Audi S5 models are the all-new (and may we add, gorgeous) coupes from Audi. Both come standard with Audi's proven Quattro system. Audi debuted Quattro in 1980, and the years of development have put the brand on solid footing. We recently had a chance to spend some time behind the wheel of the A5 and found the drive superlative. The asymmetrical dynamic Quattro all-wheel drive system, combined with the 265 horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 FSI, created a close-to-perfect driving synergy, giving us a locked-in feeling with the road. Add to that the rakish lines of the Walter de'Silva-penned vehicle, and it looks like Audi is set to have another instant classic on its hands.

Other models that offer a more performance-based all-wheel drive system include the 2008 Infiniti G35x, the 2008 Volkswagen R32, the 2008 Audi TT 3.2 (Quattro and R8 models), the 2008 Acura RL sedan and the 2008 BMW 528xi.

Don't forget the domestics, either. They have their own takes on beating bad weather. Consider the 2008 Cadillac CTS, the 2008 Dodge Avenger R/T AWD, and the 2008 Ford Fusion V6 SE AWD. We're sure that if you look, you'll find the right all-wheel model for you.

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