While it might come as something of a surprise the history of 4 wheel drive sedans goes back several decades and may begin in the USSR with the GAZ-61 in 1938.
There were various 4 wheel drive cars made before the GAZ-61 like the 1903 Spyker 60 H.P -which was a Dutch model and the first 4WD car to feature a combustion engine- but the GAZ was the first sedan style vehicle although given its height we’d probably call it a truck or SUV now.
The good news is that the world of 4 wheel drive four-door cars has come a long way since then and the vehicles we can buy now are much more advanced, comfortable and agile on their feet…er, wheels.
Modern 4 Wheel Drive Sedans
Just a few years ago the variety of AWD choices in the sedan market where a bit slimmer than they are now. Many different automakers are either introducing their first AWD models or adding additional models with enhanced traction capabilities.
Here are some of the top 4 wheel drive sedans on the market today:
- Audi A3, A4, A6 and A8
- Audi S4, S6 and S8 (the S line up skips some model years)
- Acura TL and RL
- BMW 3, 5 and 7 Series xDrive Models
- Chrysler 300 AWD
- Ford Fusion AWD
- Infiniti G25x and G37x
- Lincoln MKS and MKZ
- Lexus GS350 AWD
- Lexus IS250 and IS350 AWD
- Lexus LS460 AWD
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
- Mercedes C, E and S Class Sedans (with 4Matic)
- Saab 9-5 and 9-3 XWD
- Subaru Impreza and Legacy
- Volvo S60 and S80
That’s a pretty long and impressive list. The good news for you if you are a potential car buyer is that not only do you have so many choices but they span the price and class range from economy type cars like the Subaru Impreza to the upscale luxury sedans with 4 wheel drive like the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series with xDrive.
Naturally not every automaker has the same type of all wheel drive system and some of them are better than others. Audi and Subaru have been in the business of making 4 wheel drive sedans longer than most other automakers and their traction systems are quite proven. Audi is innovating with the S4 model which features an optional torque vectoring rear differential as part of its quattro all wheel drive system. Hopefully this option will spread to other models in the Audi line up.
Although Acura didn’t release an AWD car until 2005 -with the company’s redesigned RL model- they leapfrogged some of the competition since their SH-AWD is more advanced than the average AWD system.
SH-AWD is adept at adjusting power distribution from side to side of the vehicle as well as front to back like most all wheel drive systems. This improves both traction in slippery conditions and handling on dry pavement.
You can see an example of how the Acura SH-AWD system compares to Audi’s Quattro AWD and the Lexus AWD system in the video below. This demonstration is done using SUV models from the three automakers but it should give you an idea where the automakers rank in terms of AWD effectiveness.
Acura is getting competition from Saab’s new XWD system though and you can expect more of the top level car companies to continue improving their systems and adding flexibility to match or surpass SH-AWD and XWD.
4 Wheel Drive Sedan Fuel Economy
Some folks are worried about how much fuel economy will suffer if they go with the AWD version of a particular sedan. While the extra weight and drag of an AWD system does usually take fuel economy down a notch or two it isn’t bad especially when you consider what you are getting in return.
If you live in a sunny part of the United States that never sees snow and rarely has torrential downpours of rain then you can probably just skip the all wheel drive shopping and go for a front or rear wheel drive model. For those of us who live in the more Northern reaches of North America a good all wheel drive system can be a lifesaver during the winter.
There is actually much more difference between particular models of all wheel drive sedans when it comes to MPG numbers than there is between the 2WD and 4WD versions of a specific sedan.
If you want a more efficient model go with something like the Audi A3 or A4 AWD both of which can get over 30 MPG. You should be able to get good fuel mileage out of the Ford Fusion AWD and BMW 3 Series xDrive sedans as well.
If you need a large sedan that still gets great fuel mileage look at the Mercedes S350 BlueTec 4Matic. It’s the only 4 wheel drive diesel sedan on the market and is rated at 31 MPG by the EPA but can likely achieve around 35 MPG under the right conditions.
Used All Wheel Drive Sedans
If you can’t afford a brand new 4 wheel drive sedan you can always start shopping in the used market. The good thing about buying used is the massive discount off of the sticker price you can get.
While you might have to pay over $70,000 for an Audi A8 you can buy a ten year old model in great condition with under 100,000 miles for about $10,000 and put another 100,000 miles on it easily. This applies to more cars than the Audi A8 too since any car depreciates significantly in the first few years of its life.
If you want to go even cheaper there are many AWD Subaru sedans on the market. The Subaru Legacy has been in production for a number of years and you can get a great value if you focus on the late 90s or early 2000s in your shopping (depending on your budget and which body style you prefer).