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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Jessica L. Anderson, Associate Editor
| November 12, 2014
When you have to drive on the white stuff—or, worse, a wintry mix—you want to feel confident that you can get where you're going. All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive can give you that assurance. With power directed to all four wheels at the same time, vehicles with these systems provide better traction than two-wheel-drive vehicles.
All-wheel-drive systems may be full-time or part-time. With part-time systems, power is sent to one set of wheels, and the other set is automatically powered when needed for traction. Four-wheel-drive systems are primarily designed for off-road use and may have selectable drive modes for different types of terrain.
NEW: See our AWD picks for 2016
In preparation for colder weather, we recommend 10 2015 vehicles equipped with all-wheel drive that offer a shovelful of value—as measured by our annual rankings. We reward resale value, fuel economy, safety and more, so these vehicles are well rounded. All of our picks were either Best in Class or Best New Model winners for the 2014 model year. Six of the 10 were awarded Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Take a look to see our top picks in order from smallest to largest.
Courtesy of Subaru
Sticker price: $18,990 (2.0i manual sedan)
Invoice price: $18,176
MPG (city/hwy): 25/34
Heated front seats: Available on 2.0i Premium and higher trims
One of the least expensive all-wheel-drive vehicles on the market, the Impreza has high resale values and a roomy interior and offers a choice between sedan and hatchback. It also wins the prized Top Safety Pick designation from IIHS. Denizens of northern climes may want to step up to the Premium trim level ($21,790) for standard heated seats, heated exterior mirrors and a windshield-wiper deicer.
Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive is standard on all models, but it works differently depending on the transmission. Manual-transmission models get "continuous AWD," which initially splits power 50-50 between front and rear wheels and will send more torque to one set or the other if it senses slippage. Models equipped with automatic transmission, which costs an extra $1,000, get "active torque split AWD," which sends power to the wheels based on driving conditions, the driver’s acceleration and deceleration, and wheel slippage.
Courtesy of BMW
Sticker price: $35,900 (320i xDrive)
Invoice price: $33,285
MPG (city/hwy): 23/35
Heated front seats: $500
The BMW 3 series combines power, precision and bang for the buck. When equipped with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, most of the power is sent to the rear wheels—so it retains its sporty feel—but power delivery is adjusted based on driving conditions. If the system senses understeer, for example, it will correct it by shifting power to the rear and applying a combination of throttle and braking to individual wheels. Heated side mirrors are standard, but for when it’s frosty out, you might want to add heated front seats ($500) or opt for the Cold Weather Package ($950), which includes heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, and retractable headlight washers.
Courtesy of Ford
Sticker price: $29,050 (SE AWD)
Invoice price: $26,847
MPG (city/hwy): 22/31
Heated front seats: $2,350 in Luxury Package
A perennial pick for value, the Fusion keeps comfort and safety top of mind. Heated side mirrors are standard on models equipped with all-wheel drive, and options include a heated steering wheel ($150) and remote start ($345). Ford’s “intelligent AWD” uses sensors to constantly monitor traction and balances torque between the front and rear wheels, to avoid wheel slip before it occurs. The Fusion also receives a Top Safety Pick + designation from IIHS when it’s equipped with forward collision warning with brake support ($995): If the vehicle senses an impending collision, the system precharges the brakes to give you more stopping power.
Courtesy of Lexus
Sticker price: $51,775 (350 AWD)
Invoice price: $48,218
MPG (city/hwy): 19/26
Heated front seats: Standard
Lexus’s midrange sedan seamlessly blends sportiness and luxury. A rear-biased all-wheel-drive system sends the majority of power to the rear wheels for agility in normal conditions, but it can split power evenly between the front and rear wheels if needed for traction. Heated seats and side mirrors come standard, and a cold weather package ($190) includes a wiper deicer, heavy-duty heater and water-repellent front door glass. You can opt for a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats in the $6,375 Luxury Package, which also includes adaptive suspension and adaptive headlights, as well as rain-sensing wipers, LED fog lamps and 18-way multi-contour front seats.
Sticker price: $23,045 (2.5i manual)
Invoice price: $21,845
MPG (city/hwy): 22/29
Heated front seats: Available on 2.5i Premium and higher trims
As with the Impreza, manual and automatic transmissions on the Forester get different versions of all-wheel-drive, but both continuously power all four wheels and can transfer more power to the wheels with the best grip. The Limited and Touring trims on the 2.5i models and all 2.0XT models feature X-Mode, which optimizes control of the engine, brakes, all-wheel drive and stability control systems to provide better wheel control on slippery surfaces and steep inclines. Stay warm with heated seats, which are standard on the 2.5i Premium with manual transmission ($25,445) and a $500 option on the 2.5i Premium automatic. The fourth-generation Forester has the most legroom in the compact crossover category, increased cargo space and a rearview camera on all but the base model. A driver’s knee airbag, a suite of optional safety features and a Top Safety Pick + rating from IIHS complete the package.
Courtesy of Mazda
Sticker price: $25,225 (Sport AWD)
Invoice price: $24,526
MPG (city/hwy): 24/30
Heated front seats: Available only on Grand Touring model
Mazda introduced the CX-5 two years ago, with impressive fuel economy and sport-sedan driving dynamics, while giving you the view from an SUV. Resale values are strong across the board. Plus, the CX-5 is one of only four small crossovers to be named a Top Safety Pick + by the IIHS. To traverse slippery conditions, opt for the all-wheel-drive model, which sends power primarily to the front wheels but always sends some power to the rear wheels because sharing the drive load reduces energy lost from front-wheel slippage and helps boost fuel economy.
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
Sticker price: $51,725 (ML350 4Matic)
Invoice price: $48,169
MPG (city/hwy): 17/22
With four M-Class models, you can pick your performance, from basic to sporty to green. All except the 350 come with standard all-wheel drive (the 350 comes with a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive). The four-wheel electronic traction system can brake a slipping wheel individually, sending torque to gripping wheels and helping you maintain traction. Other useful standard features include heated front seats and side mirrors; Attention Assist, which reminds you to take a break when it detects drowsiness; and forward collision warning. When you add optional auto-braking, the M-Class gets a Top Safety Pick + from IIHS. You can also choose heated rear seats ($620) and a heated steering wheel ($250) to ward off chills.
Courtesy of Jeep
Sticker price: $32,890 (Laredo 4WD)
Invoice price: $32,422
MPG (city/hwy): 17/24
Heated front seats: $1,695 in All Weather Capability package
Whether you’re in the concrete jungle or off the beaten path, the Grand Cherokee will capably carry you in style. Leather and wood interior appointments meet rugged features such as three 4x4 systems, which automatically detect a loss of traction and reroute power as needed. The Selec-Terrain traction-control system allows you to choose settings for four terrains: sand, mud, snow and rock. On the Laredo model, Selec-Terrain comes in the All Weather Capability package, which also includes a remote start system, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Selec-Terrain and the all-weather features are standard on all other models.
Courtesy of Acura
Sticker price: $45,460 (Base SH-AWD)
Invoice price: $42,163
MPG (city/hwy): 18/27
The MDX can handle almost anything Mother Nature throws its way while providing a ride you’d expect from a luxury crossover. Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system directs torque not only to the front and rear wheels but also between the left and right rear wheels. Heated seats and side mirrors are standard. Redesigned last year, the MDX boasts better fuel economy and more standard features than before. It’s safe, too; when equipped with the optional forward collision warning system, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates it a Top Safety Pick +.
Sticker price: $33,595 (Base 4WD)
Invoice price: $31,715
MPG (city/hwy): 17/23
Heated front seats: Available on XLT and higher trims
Tweaks last year gave Ford’s family hauler bigger brakes to improve stopping distance, plus electric-assisted power steering to give it more responsive handling. Brave the elements with Ford's Intelligent 4WD, which not only adjusts power delivery automatically in normal driving mode but also allows you to use the Terrain Management System to select mud, sand or snow mode. Available features include heated second-row seats ($695 on the Limited trim) and adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning ($1,150 on the Limited trim).