2012 Subaru Impreza delivers the best mileage of any all-wheel drive vehicle sold in the U.S. – 27-mpg city, 36-mpg highway, 30 combined – better than any hybrid AWD. The handling is designed to get you to your snow board / ski resort in the winter, off-road hike and bike spots in the summer, and get to school and work when the rain is pounding. Remember last winter’s miserable roads and high gas prices. Available as either a compact 5-door hatchback or 4-door sedan, the Impreza has a base price of $17,495 for the sedan with a five-speed stick. A hatchback with automatic starts at $18,995 MSRP (all prices in this article are starting points for negotiation, are subject to change, and can be higher due to destination, handling, and options). 2012 Subaru Impreza Details
Lexus RX 450h AWD is an SUV designed for better traction in the snow and wet roads. The RX 450h is one of five hybrids now offered by Lexus, the premium car hybrid champion. The RX 450h delivers 30-mpg highway and 28-mpg around town and 29 miles per gallon combined miles per gallon (mpg). The hybrid drive system is smart enough to know when to only use the electric motors, when to engage the 3.5 liter engine, and when to use both. The RX 450h AWD starts at under $46,000.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD can seat 7 people in 145 cubic feet in comparison to the 5 seat Lexus, Ford, and Mercury alternatives. The Highlander Hybrid 4WD uses two electric motors and a 3.5L engine to get you through a wide range of conditions. This 4WD delivers 28 combined, 28 city, 28 highway. Starting at $37,490, you get more room than the Lexus and Ford alternatives. With 7 people you have little cargo room, start collapsing seats and you have up to 94 cubic feet of cargo.
Mazda CX-5 AWD brings affordability to the AWD Crossover SUV segment by starting at $23,345. This 5-door, 5-seater delivers 28 mpg combined, 25 city and 31 highway with a 6-speed automatic transmission and a 2L DOHC engine. Smaller than the more expensive Lexus and Highlander, it still offers 103.8 cu-feet passenger, 34.1 cargo, or drop the 60/40 split back-seat for up to 65 cu-feet cargo.
MINI Cooper S Countryman All4 is a compact sportswagen, 4-door, 4-seater, that delivers 28 mpg combined, 25 city, 31 highway. Drive this 6-speed stick and enjoy the sporty-feel. With an automatic 6-speed you can still get 26 mpg combined. Fit in tighter parking spaces and still get 87 cu-feet passenger and 16 cu-feet cargo starting at $27,050.
Nissan Juke AWD delivers good mileage without the added cost of being a hybrid. With 4 doors and a hatch, some find the styling fun and hip, others don’t like the looks. Because of the slopping roof, the back seat will not be popular with anyone over 5’10”. The cargo is limited to 10 cubic feet, but you can lower the backseat for 36 cubic feet. The Juke AWD, starting at about $20,500, is $10,000 less than the above hybrids, and is rated at 27 mpg combined, 25 city, and 30 highway.
Subaru Legacy AWD is a popular sedan designed to deliver mileage and safe handling on wet and icy roads. Subaru includes AWD in almost every vehicle it sells. This sedan has been popular in colder climates for two decades. Mileage improved for the 2013 Legacy with a 2.5L engine and automatic delivers 27 mpg combined, 24 city, and 32 highway. Starting at $19,995 this 4-door, 5-seat midsized sedan makes all-wheel drive affordable for more people.
Subaru Outback Wagon is a highly versatile SUV with AWD at a starting price of $23,195. The Outback delivers 26 mpg combined, 24 city, and 30 highway with the 2.5L engine and automatic transmission. Comfortably seat 5 and still have 34 cubic feet of cargo, or use the 60/40 fold-down rear seat for 71.
Audi Quattro family offers a premium interior, performance, and multifunction sport steering with shift paddles. Most Audis sold in the U.S. are AWD. The Audi Quattro brand name assures you that have drive to all four wheels. Audi provides a wide selection of AWD cars for those who value handling, performance, and take driving seriously. The Audi TT Coupe Quattro delivers 26 mpg combined, 22 city, and 31 highway. Appointed with a rich leather interior and rich electronic entertainment, this Coupe Quattro starts at $38,300. The Audi TT Roadster Quattro also delivers 26 mpg combined, 22 city, and 31 highway, and starts at $41,300. Larger sedans like the A4 Quattro and A5 Quattro deliver great snow and rain handling in premium cars. Audi A4 and A5 Quattro delivers 25 mpg combined, 21 city, and 31 highway. These premium sedans are popular with Audi lovers. The A4 starts at $32,850. The slightly bigger A5 starts at $36,500.
BMW 528i xDrive brings Audi new competition in the AWD midsized sedan AWD segment. The xDrive starts at $49,200 with an 8-speed automatic and 2L turbo engine. It delivers 26 mpg combined, with 22 city and 32 highway.
Ford Escape SE 4WD delivers good mileage, wet and icy road handling, and carries five people with room left for lots of cargo. Now selling is the 2013 Escape SE with new fuel-efficient 1.6 and 2L EcoBoost engines. The 4WD SE starts around $27,645 with 25 mpg combined, 22 city and 30 highway. 2012 was the last model year for the Escape Hybrid 4WD with 29 mpg combined. The Ford Fusion sedan also has optional AWD.
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport AWD is a 5-door, 5 passenger crossover SUV that makes four-wheel drive affordable and delivers 25 mpg combined, 23 city, and 28 highway. The Outlander Sport SE AWC starts at $22,995.
Best AWD and 4WD Mileage
For millions that face snow and icy roads 10, 20, or even 40 percent of the year, a car or SUV must safely navigate dangerous conditions and still deliver good fuel economy. Winter storms and gasoline approaching $4 per gallon are making these dual demands more important.
A four-wheel drive provides better traction on ice by delivering power to all four wheels when the driver selects 4WD. All wheel drive vehicles (AWD) automatically deliver power to all wheels. Winter and mountain safety is further improved with snow tires or good all-weather radials. Added vehicle weight can help. Now you can have AWD and 4WD cars and SUVs that still deliver good fuel economy. Whether you are taking your kids to school in Chicago, getting to work in Washington D.C., or running a taxi fleet in New York, an AWD may help you through the storm.
Is AWD really safer? You will have better traction starting from a parked position in snow and ice with less wheel spinning. The traction may provide better handling while driving. AWD is some states can allow you to legally drive without putting on chains, while others must pullover and add them. There is no guarantee that AWD will help you stop any faster. Only you can decide if all wheel drive is worth the added purchase price and fuel cost compared to crossovers and sedans that get better mileage, increasingly over 40 miles per gallon.
This list was developed by first searching the U.S. EPA and DOE’s valuable fueleconomy.gov, then reviewing details on the vehicle maker websites. The EPA combined miles per gallon rating is based on 45% highway and 55% city driving.
Own or Rent an AWD
The average U.S. household has two cars. A growing trend is to put the most miles on the car with great mileage and have a bigger second vehicle for trips with passengers and tough road conditions. Bob and Weihong Eubank put the most miles on their Prius, but they are happy about having a Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD when heading for the mountains, or when loading 4 to 7 people in the SUV. Tim and Sandy Flood put most of their miles on commuter rail and on their Prius, but have a Honda CR-V AWD if they need more room or face bad roads.
By 2014, we expect premium AWD plug-in hybrid sport coupes from Audi and BMW and a premium AWD all-electric SUV Tesla Model X. All three will have two electric motors, one for each axle. Sorry, all 3 are likely to be expensive. Mitsubishi may be the first with an affordable AWD plug-in hybrid.
Instead of spending a small fortune to own a vehicle that gets you through the worst day of the year, consider what best meets your needs 350 days per year. When I lived in New Hampshire, I got along fine without AWD, driving my Saab with good all weather radial tires. Now living in California, my Prius did surprisingly well during the few days each year that I was on bad winter roads in the mountain, although I sometimes went through the hassle of putting on chains. When we needed an SUV for the 2002 Winter Olympics, we rented a Ford Escape 4WD and were glad that we did. Consider renting an AWD if you rarely face icy roads.
When that 100-year storm hits, relax. Schools are closed and you can work at home that day. Lots of room and premium comfort.