The number of all-wheel drive vehicles on the market today is positively mind boggling. You can order this feature on sedans like the 3-series, the Subaru Legacy or Audi A8 or can get it with posh-utes like the Mercedes GLK or Audi Q7. But just because a vehicle comes with all-wheel drive (or AWD) doesn’t mean the car is any good.
Given that most all-wheel drive vehicles are used for skiing trips and for family duties the most rational applications are in either SUVs or station wagons. These body styles afford these vehicles with the utmost in utility to go with their highly advanced drive trains. Do be aware that if you live somewhere like Southern California that has no actual weather there is little point in getting an AWD vehicle. And no, you don’t need AWD to survive a rainstorm.
The 2010 restyle of the Subaru Outback is a real homerun styling-wise inside and out and now it has more rear seat legroom than most any other car in its class. Last year’s rear seat only had enough legroom if you were an extra in “The Wizard of Oz.” Powered either by a frugal 2.5 liter 170 horsepower boxer engine or an ultra smooth boxer 6 cylinder rated at 265 horsepower, the Subaru offers owners the choice of the utmost in frugality or sports car levels of speed. (Boxer engines have horizontally opposed cylinders and their back and forth motion across the combustion chamber looks like two boxers punching each other’s fists. Porsche is the only other automaker to still use this engine design). Also note that the Subaru system is full time so there are no buttons or levers to press. The car is always sending an equal amount of power (50/50) to the front and rear.
Audi A6 3.0 T Quattro Avant
Okay, it may be a bit of overkill to sell a turbocharged AWD 300 horsepower station wagon. But oh the fun you’ll have driving this monster. The typical Audi virtues of unparalleled interior design and build quality still apply here. Thanks to direct injection the turbocharger is able to spool up nearly instantly affording this Audi wagon with intoxicating acceleration. Do be careful driving your kids around in this car as the g-forces you will be capable of pulling might just make them barf in the back seat.
2010 Toyota 4Runner
Toyota stuck to its guns with this one by leaving it as an off-road trail ready body on frame design. With room for seven (the third row is best left for kids) the interior of the new 4Runner is stylish and looks like it has been built with very robust materials. There are multiple off-road, all-wheel drive modes to choose from in your 4Runner so this vehicle is ready to tackle snowy roads on the way to the grocery store or a steep mountain trail. (One last cool trait: The AWD controls are located above your head between the map lights where a sunroof switch might go. This design was created so you wouldn’t have to look down to switch modes on a perilous mountain road. Very clever.)
This regal SUV belongs in the top ten just because it is better looking inside and out than any other SUV in the world. It’s just as simple as that but unfortunately you pay through the nose for the privilege of ownership. The Range Rover may look pretty but thanks to an AWD system with five distinct modes you can handle anything from deep sand to deep water. A truly awesome machine.
Available with a turbocharged straight six or V8 and a highly frugal diesel engine; there is a BMW X5 out there for any need. The turbodiesel version has 400 plus pound feet of torque turning it into a real all wheel drive stump puller. It may be a bit grumblier than the gas engines but it is only a half a second or so behind the eight cylinder engine to 60 miles per hour. Oh yeah, all X5s come with all wheel drive as standard.
It may be older than Dick Cheney but at least you can depend on this SUV stalwart to not shoot you accidentally on a duck hunt. In all seriousness this SUV is the premiere off-road machine if you are really into boulder crawling and dirt road exploring. The top may be a nightmare to assemble but why would you ever put it up? (Note: Chrysler claims that the top has been made easier to assemble for the 2010 model year.)
Audi A4 2.0 T Quattro
Just like Subaru with its full time 4wd, Audi built its reputation on its Quattro AWD system. If you live in a snow belt state or love to ski this might just be the perfect car for you. The A4 also comes in sedan or wagon form so try and decide which body style works best for you before going to the dealership. Another bonus? The 258 pound feet of torque afforded by the 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 is available nearly from idle so stop light races can be done in all sorts of weather. Turbos are also known to not lose power like their naturally powered brethren in higher altitudes.
Fun to drive, gorgeously built and the right size for most people; the Audi Q5 is the king of the mini posh ute brigade followed by the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLK350. If you can afford the price of entry this is without question the best small luxury SUV on the market.
Honda CR-V (AWD)
Just because you don’t want to spend over $25,000 on a new AWD SUV doesn’t mean you have to go without the utmost in build quality, reliability and durability. The interior of the CR-V looks like it could survive a bomb going off it is so precisely assembled. Do try and remember that Honda’s AWD system is meant only for inclement weather and not hardcore off-roading. If you are dumb enough to do that in a CR-V you deserve to see your driveshaft dangling under you SUV.
Land Rover LR3
This model is known as the Discovery in other parts of the world as it was before Americans got bitter towards the nameplate when it was horrifically unreliable in previous iterations. With quality gremlins mostly banished now you can enjoy the impermeable feeling that comes with any Land Rover and the air of superiority you feel when perched in those gigantic captain’s chairs up front.