Love it or hate it, all-wheel-drive is becoming more and more common in everything from hatchbacks to supercars. Some purists bemoan the loss of handling finesse that such a layout usually entails, but unless you spend your days at a racetrack this is unlikely to make much of an impact on your driving experience.
Most motorists will be more interested in the fact that a 4WD layout provides additional grip and therefore enhanced safety in inclement weather conditions. Combined with a heightened ground clearance you can also take that family vacation without fear of getting stranded. The fuel consumption penalty for going 4WD has also been reduced drastically over the years thanks to more efficient designs.
Performance levels also tended to suffer from the additional drag of this setup, but many powerful modern cars actually benefit from the additional grip and post much faster acceleration times as a result. We have selected some of the best new saloons, estates and SUVs on the market that make the most of their 4WD systems and offer both practicality and performance for the modern family.
Subaru- the one stop AWD shop
Subaru has built its reputation on its symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, everything from the Impreza hatchback to the WRX STI saloon (except for the BRZ Toyota clone) is so equipped.
The STI gets its supercar scaring cross-country pace from its AWD setup and the base hatchback is one of the handful of small cars on the market that put the power down to all four wheels. If you require something with a bit more luggage space and ground clearance then there are the capable Outback estate, Forester SUV and Levorg tourer to choose from too.
The Skoda brand offers some great value for motorists willing to forego some of the upmarket interior trim found in the mechanically identical VW and Audi alternatives. Being based on the VW Group architecture, you also get all the solid engineering without having to pay the premium.
The Octavia vRS Estate for example offers a huge load bay, AWD and can be had with the 230-bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine straight out of the Golf GTI. Another alternative is the diesel-only Octavia Scout, this model adds some underbody protection and a slightly increased ride-height for those off-road excursions.
If you are happy to pay a bit extra for a more upmarket interior and an even wider choice of AWD saloons and estates, then Audi’s range is just what you need to look at. You can get the Quattro AWD system in so many shapes and sizes that picking the best option can be a bit overwhelming.
We suggest that you look at the A4 Allroad as it offers a broad engine range from a frugal 190-bhp four-cylinder turbodiesel right up to a 272-bhp 3.0-litre turbodiesel or 252-bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines.
The Allroad spec means you get the estate body style on a higher riding suspension setup. Few cars offer such a convincing mix of versatility and luxury at this price point.
VW Golf R Estate
The Golf R Estate may not be able to go as far off the beaten path as an Audi Allroad, but it will leave it for dead when it comes to performance on the road.
The DSG gearbox is great and the 310bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and AWD traction helps the car launch to 62mph in under 5-seconds. There is an Alltrack version available too which is similar in execution to the Allroad however the engine options top out at a 178-bhp turbo petrol or a 181-bhp turbo diesel, so you can’t quite have your speed cake and eat it.
They do make a lot of sense though for those that are more interested in affordable running costs than tar-burning acceleration.
Mercedes’ 4MATIC AWD system is fitted to everything from the new A-Class right up to the top S-Class saloons. In a world filled with SUVs and crossovers it is easy to overlook the very capable E-Class saloon range.
The sensible family option lies with the 194-bhp E220 turbodiesel 4MATIC, but it is good to know that a 571-bhp E63 4MATIC+ saloon is also on offer. That these cars can also be had in a practical estate shape really makes one wonder why SUVs are as popular as they are.
The company that has spent most of its existence espousing the virtues of RWD sure has a lot of AWD derivatives in its range.
The reason for this is twofold, firstly harsh European winters can often leave a RWD car helplessly spinning its wheels in the unless the driver is an expert behind the wheel. The second reason is that the need to put ever-increasing amounts of power down effectively have necessitated the move to AWD.
The latest M5 for example has a switchable AWD setup that gives you traction when you need it and the ability to drift around corners when you don’t.
For the family man or woman who has just about everything but still finds themselves roped into the school run, the Ferrari GTC4Lusso is on hand to ease the pain.
Starting life off as the FF, this shooting brake style Ferrari was an answer to a question nobody asked but it has become quite a popular model over the years. The updated GTC4Lusso can now be had with a very capable turbocharged 602-bhp V8 but for the proper AWD drivetrain you will have to opt for the 681-bhp V12. One thing is for sure, your kids will never be late for school again.
You can also leave that lardy SUV at home for your next winter holiday in Switzerland, the GTC4Lusso is quite capable of climbing up a slippery mountain pass.
Jaguar on the Pace
If an SUV is more your flavour then the F-Pace is a refreshing alternative to the German opposition. It can be had in anything from an affordable 180-bhp fuel-sipper right up to a 550bhp V8 petrol alcoholic.
The all-electric I-Pace is another great family-friendly AWD vehicle, although the steep starting price and patchy recharging network in some parts of the country may make it a tough sell.
Range Rover Velar
The Velar may slot into the existing Range Rover offerings a tad awkwardly as its pricing and size overlaps some existing models, but its stunning looks make all rational though quickly disappear.
It may not be available with a stonking supercharged V8 but there is a 300-bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged four that is more than quick enough for most tasks. You really can get carried away with the options here so be careful with what you tick.
The R-Dynamic pack is not entirely necessary, and the lower Velar S trim offers plenty of kit for reasonable outlay.
The XC60 is the mid-sized SUV offering from Volvo and offers a lot of Scandinavian style in an attractive package.
The engines are all efficient small capacity turbocharged petrol or diesel offerings and even the top performing T8 remains at a modest 2.0-litre capacity. It combines turbocharging and supercharging with an electric motor to provide a combined 400-bhp.
If you don’t need the raised ride-height then the similarly sized V60 estate is a cheaper and better handling alternative.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Alfa Romeo’s first entry into the SUV sector has been mightily impressive. Aside from the fantastic looks and class leader challenging handling capabilities, the Stelvio also does the sensible day-to-day thing rather well.
That is if you choose the 280-bhp 2.0-litre model. The nutty 500-bhp Quadrifoglio variant is better suited to fast cross-country trips and the odd traffic light grand prix. In fact, it gets to 60mph quicker than the similarly powered Giulia Quadrifoglio thanks to its AWD traction advantage.