Summer, sadly, is a thing of the past. We're now in the part of the year where the days grow shorter, the light more dim, and above all else, the days grow colder — which means ice and snow for many of us.
Dealing with winter's frozen precipitation is a major reason all-wheel-drive cars have become popular in recent years. That's been helped by the fact that AWD technology has improved to the point where it's light and compact enough to appear in all sorts of vehicles; indeed, all-wheel-drive is as likely to appear on your sport sedan these days as it is your crossover SUV.
Here, then, is our list of the best AWD vehicles by segment. Yes, this list is somewhat subjective; there are many other good choices in each category. But these are our favorites.
Best Sports Car: Porsche 911 Turbo S
Porsche produces precisely engineered supercars, whose practicality distinguishes them from other manufacturers. Porsches are comfortable; Porsches are robust. Most 911 owners won’t use their car as a daily driver, but they could. Even the insanely powerful 911 Turbo S.
The 911 Turbo S will do everything you expect from a $205,000 sports car. It has 640 horsepower, and accelerates from 0-60mph in well under three seconds. But, with all-wheel drive, it can also go well beyond what you’d expect. The 911 Turbo S will not just get you to the ski slopes; it can drive up the slopes.
Engine: 3.8-liter turbocharged flat-six6
Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch automatic
Horsepower: 640 hp
Torque: 590 lb-ft
Base Price: $203,500
Best Electric Vehicle: Tesla Model S Performance
Tesla is often in the headlines: you’ll frequently read about its dear leader, its stock price and its ad hoc methods of reaching production targets. Forget all that. We’re here to discuss the Model S, the sedan that redefined the electric vehicle. Tesla describes its acceleration as “Ludicrous,” which is an apt description; Motor Trend clocked its 0-60 mph time at 2.28 seconds. When not doing that, the Model S Performance can achieve a 348-mile range on a full charge.
Engine: Dual electric motors
Transmission: 1-speed direct drive
Horsepower: 680 hp
Torque: 791 lb-ft
Base Price: $94,990
Best Sport Sedan: BMW M5 Competition
The BMW M5 was one of the first vehicles to ever earn the sobriquet of "sport sedan," and in its current form, it's made clear that it deserves to hold that title still. The AWD speed machine packs a luxurious cabin for four inside, but enough performance to make them scream: a 0-60 mph time of three seconds or less, thanks to the all-wheel-drive grip, but with a Drift Mode for rear-wheel-drive antics when desired.
Engine: 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 617 hp
Torque: 553 lb-ft
Base Price: $111,095
Best Wagon: Volvo V90 Cross Country T6
Volvo is in the business of premium practicality. The Volvo buyer shares common concerns with the Subaru buyer, but needs a more sophisticated aesthetic and that little bit of extra pampering. The V90 Cross Country wagon hits that note perfectly. It’s like a Subaru Outback, but fancy.
The turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder T6 engine delivers ample power and torque, while its AWD system is tuned to master all reasonable terrains and weather conditions. A base price north of $50,000 isn’t cheap — but this car feels like it should be much more expensive.
Engine: 2.0liter turbocharged and supercharged inline-4
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 316 hp
Torque: 295 lb-ft
Base Price: $56,100
Best Regular Sedan: Mazda3
Mazda was once known as the zoom-zoom brand, but in recent years, it's set about bringing exceptional levels of refinement and features to its cars on top of their usual fun-to-drive characteristics. The Mazda3 would be one of the best regular sedans on sale even if it just came in front-wheel-drive form; the fact that you can get an AWD version, though, earns it a clear spot on this list.
Engine: 2.5-liter inline-four
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Horsepower: 186 hp
Torque: 186 lb-ft
Base Price: $24,100
Best Crossover: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Car people don’t like crossovers. Cars that do everything decently tend not to do anything particularly well. Crossovers are functional but boring. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is the crossover for car people. It looks like an Alfa Romeo on the surface and is powered by a Ferrari under the hood.
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is the world’s fastest production SUV, with a sub-eight-minute lap around the Nurburgring. Getting from 0-60 mph in only 3.6 seconds, it's quicker off the line than its sedan sibling the Giulia Quadrifoglio. (Thanks, AWD.) And when you want to turn the volume down, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio returns to being a charming, comfortable and nimble kid hauler.
Engine: 2.9-liter turbocharged V6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 505 hp
Torque: 443 lb-ft
Base Price: $80,500
Best Hatchback: Volkswagen Golf R
When you need a hatchback, it’s best to stick with the classic that invented the category, the VW Golf. The Golf R is the hottest variant; it packs spot-on steering and handling, the option of a manual transmission, and tons of grip and go. Sure, you are spending $40,000-plus for a Volkswagen that doesn't look that much different from a standard Golf. But, there’s nothing wrong with keeping things low-key, especially when driving quickly.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbcharged inline-4
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic
Horsepower: 288 hp
Torque: 280 lb-ft
Base Price: $40,395
Best…Subaru Outback: Subaru Outback XT
Any list of all-wheel-drive cars would be incomplete without the the Subaru Outback. In many ways, the Outback was the ur-crossover: it combined the handling of a car with serious all-terrain capability. Considering Subaru’s now--standard EyeSight technology and the copious cabin and cargo space, the Outback is the ultimate practical family vehicle.
The only trouble with the Outback is, it’s a vehicle made to get you to your fun, not to provide any of its own. Upgrading to the turbocharged 2.4-liter engine found in XT versions makes things a little more enjoyable, at least on the straightaways — but you’ll pay up both front and at the pump by comparison.
Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four
Horsepower: 260 hp
Torque: 277 lb-ft
Base Price: $34,995