4 Wheel Drive Cars
Looking for great 4 wheel drive cars? Not all Americans live where the snow falls but those of us who do know what it can be like to drive daily through snow and ice. It’s really just part of life for most of us and we can do it in our 2WD cars just fine.
Increasingly though many manufacturers are offering more options when it comes to 4 wheel drive cars (usually called AWD cars) and they really are a level above the standard models when it comes to traction in ice, snow or just on wet roads.
If you’re in the market for a new or used AWD vehicle we’d like to invite you to look around our site a bit and see what’s available. We feature some of the best models from foreign and domestic manufacturers and give you the scoop on the specifications and features.
The Best 4 Wheel Drive Cars
Below you’ll find a list of the most popular makers of 4WD/AWD models, a little history of the brands experience in the area, and what makes each system different or better. You can click any brand name to go to the category for that brand and see information on specific models.
- The SH-AWD system from Acura/Honda is relatively new but also one of the most effective traction systems available. It was introduced to the U.S. market in the 2005 model year and has expanded throughout the Acura line since then. The defining feature of this 4 wheel drive system is it’s ability to vary power distribution not only between the front and rear of the vehicle but also from one side of the car to the other depending on driving conditions.
- One of the most common AWD systems on the road today is Audi’s Quattro four wheel traction system. It was introduced in 1980 on the eponymously named Audi coupe. It was successful enough that it is virtually taken for granted today that any given Audi is a four wheel drive model. Audi has recently developed advances in power distribution to compete with Acura’s SH-AWD system.
- The famous German automaker has offered various forms of 4 wheel drive systems on it’s cars since the 1980s. The current xDrive traction system was introduced in 2003 on the X3 model and is now available on several BMW cars and SUVs. While earlier 4WD BMWs lacked the feature the latest xDrive models are able to vary power between the front and rear of the vehicle as has been common with Audi models.
Buick , Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC
- While GM isn’t a standout pioneer in the AWD vehicle arena they do offer the feature on a number of models from minivans to high performance sedans. We can most likely expect to see the feature spread further throughout the model line in the future.
Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep
- While Jeep is known for 4 wheel drive vehicles -not cars of course- Dodge and Chrysler don’t have the same reputation for traction. They have however featured a few AWD models at various times. One of the most interesting is the all wheel drive version of the Dodge Charger which features components borrowed from Mercedes’ 4Matic system.
Ford, Lincoln, Mercury
- Ford Motor Co. is another user of Haldex technology which it has offered in the Taurus and it’s now defunct Mercury variants.
- Mercedes introduced it’s first 4Matic four wheel drive in 1986 on the W124 generation of the E class. The second generation of 4Matic Mercedes vehicles came in 1998-99 and the system is currently in it’s third generation and is available on many models from the automaker.
- Mitsubishi takes a slightly different tack with it’s all wheel drive naming convention. They call the system AWC for All Wheel Control. An improved version of AWC was introduced on the 2007 Lancer Evolution and is called Super – All Wheel Control though the maker’s AWD experience dates back to 1987 with the Galant VR-4.
Nissan & Infiniti
- ATTESA E-TS is Nissan’s AWD implementation. An advanced variant of the technology is featured on the top-of-the-line GT-R but the most common late model variants are found on vehicles such as the Infiniti FX.
- XWD or Cross Wheel Drive is the recent Saab traction system implementation. It was developed in partnership with Haldex and first featured on the Turbo X. The power distribution both fore and aft as well as from one side of the vehicle to the other make it similar to the latest systems from Acura and Audi.
- The Japanese automaker could be considered one of the founding fathers of standard AWD. Subaru has featured 4 wheel drive cars in it’s lineup since the early 70s and has some extremely popular models in areas of the country where there are more months of winter than summer. If you are an enthusiast who needs a practical AWD vehicle you might want to check out the Forester XT. Not only does it feature the typical Subaru 4 wheel drive system but it also features turbocharged power not found in some other models put out by the Japanese car maker.
- VW calls their four wheel drive system 4Motion however if you got underneath and did some looking you might call it “Quattro.” No surprise (or complaints) there of course since many VW and Audi parts are shared and the Quattro system is quite good.
- The other Swedish automaker partnership with Haldex can be seen in Volvo’s AWD vehicles. First introduced in the mid-to-late 90s AWD Volvos like the XC70 are quite popular and common now. If you are looking for a budget priced all wheel drive sedan there are quite a few clean, low priced Volvo S70s out there. They probably aren’t the best 4WD cars on the market but they are better than a 2WD model in the slippery stuff.
Cutting Edge 4 Wheel Drive Cars
As you may know some of these manufacturers have been more successful than others at integrating a really effective traction system in their individual 4 wheel drive cars. Audi and Acura are standouts in this area but face serious competition from automakers like Saab with it’s new 9-3 XWD and long time AWD proponent Subaru.
If you driving orientation is more towards the sports car or sports sedan type of driving environment then you’ll likely want to put an emphasis on some of the AWD system with more advanced torque vectoring capabilities. That’s assuming you’re looking to buy this type of car sometime in the future.
These systems allow you to take advantage of the increased traction in snow, ice and rain that an AWD system offers while at the same time mitigating some of the negative handling aspects common to 4 wheel drive cars such as ever present understeer.
With a sophisticated traction system and a high performance vehicle you can actually obtain a handling attitude similar to a rear wheel drive model but with the advantage of additional performance enhancing grip.
Even if you aren’t interested in maximum performance and a sports car like driving experience you’ll want to watch out for some of the less effective four wheel drive systems out there unless you truly don’t find yourself in very challenging traction environments for most of the year.
The less effective drive systems are typically front wheel drive models adapted with a type of rear wheel assistance that is sometimes referred to as 4WD or AWD but in reality isn’t nearly as capable or effective. Some of the best all wheel drive vehicle systems out there are:
- Acura SH-AWD
- Audi Quattro (w/torque vectoring differential)
- Saab XWD
- Subaru Symmetrical All Wheel Drive
- BMW xDrive
It may take a little digging to find out exactly how the drive system on the model you have or are considering purchasing works but you should be able to find some data and perhaps even reviews and demonstration videos comparing one models performance to another’s.
Of course we’ll be sure to post what we know about various drive systems here and point out their advantages and disadvantages as much as possible.
Ready to read more about some of the top 4 wheel drive cars on the market today? You’ll find more right here on the site about small all wheel drive vehicles, AWD sports sedans and so on. We even feature 4 wheel drive SUVs worth taking note of in addition to our main content featuring 4 wheel drive cars.