All-wheel drive has long been recognized for its advantages in adverse weather conditions such as ice, snow and rain when available traction is at a minimum. Today’s AWD systems have become so advanced that many high-performance vehicles incorporate high-tech AWD systems to maximize traction even in dry conditions. Most systems include some combination of electronic controls, sophisticated differentials and torque-splitting devices to transfer torque between the axles and from side to side in fractions of a second. What follows are the latest high-performance vehicles employing AWD to enhance performance. But remember, if a vehicle rides on summer tires for maximum performance, to take advantage of all-wheel drive in winter weather conditions the tires will need to be changed to at least high-performance all-season tires, if not dedicated winter tires — no AWD system will keep a vehicle out of a snowbank if it’s shod with summer rubber.
Audi was one of the first manufacturers to develop high-performance cars with permanent all-wheel drive, beginning with the debut of the original quattro at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980. After a string of successful rally cars and a quattro coupe for the street, Audi began offering quattro AWD across a wide range of models. When the mid-engine Audi R8 sports car debuted as a 2008 model, quattro permanent AWD was part of the performance package. Originally powered by a 420-horsepower 4.2-liter V8, followed later by a 5.2-liter V10 with up to 550 horsepower, the first generation R8 had an eight-year run. The second-generation 2017 Audi R8 — which debuted last spring in Geneva — will go on sale in 2016 and launch with two engine options: a 540-horsepower 5.2-liter V10 or a 610-horsepower V10 for the R8 V10 Plus.
The high-performance version of the premium compact A4 sedan, the Audi S4 gets power from a 333-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter TFSI V6 engine with standard quattro all-wheel drive, combined with either a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission. A torque-vectoring sport differential is available as an option to improve performance and handling. The S4 debuted as a 2000 model powered by a 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 engine with quattro AWD, while the 2004–2009 S4 derived power via a 340-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 engine. The Audi S4 3.0T debuted for 2010. Containing one of the most prolific lineups of high-performance AWD vehicles, Audi also offers high-performance S versions of four other model lines: S5, S6, S7 and S8 — all with quattro AWD.
Audi RS 7
The Audi RS 7 is the most powerful Audi RS model ever offered in the U.S., featuring a 560-horsepower turbocharged 4.0-liter TFSI V8 engine combined with an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive with a sport differential. The RS 7 performance model boosts output to 605 horsepower and also has Audi Dynamic Ride Control suspension, a sport exhaust, a Carbon Optic design package and a top track speed of 190 mph.
Bentley Continental GT
Bentley’s 4-seat coupe and convertible, the Continental GT was redesigned for 2013 and has always featured a permanent all-wheel-drive system. Now offered with the choice of twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder or V8 engines, output ranges from 500 horsepower for the Continental GT V8 to 626 horsepower for the Continental GT Speed. The first new model from Bentley in many years when it joined the lineup, the original 2003 Bentley Continental GT had a 560-horsepower twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with standard AWD.
BMW X5 M
As the high-performance version of BMW’s popular X5 crossover, the new BMW X5 M features the most powerful engine developed by BMW for an all-wheel-drive model; the M TwinPower 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 produces 567 horsepower and 553 lb-ft or torque. The driving dynamics of the new X5 M are heavily influenced by the xDrive AWD system and Dynamic Performance Control, which continually vary the torque distribution between the front and rear axles, and side-to-side between the rear wheels. Under normal conditions most of the torque gets directed toward the rear axle, but up to 100 percent of the torque can be delivered to either axle. Dynamic Performance Control continually monitors torque distribution between the rear wheels to reduce the tendency to understeer inherent with AWD vehicles. BMW also offers the X6 M with the same drivetrain as the X5 M.
The FF name is short for Ferrari Four — the Italian automaker’s versatile vehicle with four seats and 4-wheel drive. A 4-seat 2-door hatchback, the Ferrari FF sports a 651-horsepower 6.3-liter V12 engine mounted in a front mid-engine position mated with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The patented Ferrari 4-wheel-drive system delivers power primarily to the rear wheels and includes a rear-mounted electronic differential, with the front wheels receiving torque only when required to maximize traction.
Jaguar F-Type R AWD
For 2016 Jaguar adds its new Instinctive All Wheel Drive as standard equipment for the F-Type R Coupe and Convertible models, both powered by a 550-horsepower supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine. Intelligent Driveline Dynamics controls the AWD system to retain the driving characteristics of a rear-wheel drive car. The AWD system is standard for the F-Type R and also available as an option for the F-Type S Coupe and Convertible, powered by a 380-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT AWD
An iconic vehicle from the brand synonymous with off-road capability, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has delivered superior off-road performance for more than 20 years, but the Grand Cherokee SRT brings the high-performance potential to the street. Powered by a 475-horsepower 6.4-liter HEMI V8 engine combined with an electronic 8-speed automatic transmission and Selec-Track all-wheel-drive system, the Grand Cherokee SRT accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and achieves a top track speed of 160 mph. The performance-tuned Selec-Track system offers a track mode that sends more torque to the rear axle, which creates handling characteristics similar to a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. Bonus: The SRT Track Experience offers new SRT owners one day of free professional driving instruction.
As the mid-engine supercar flagship of the Lamborghini lineup, the Aventador comes in four different versions — all with permanent all-wheel drive systems. The Aventador LP 700-4 and LP 700-4 Roadster are propelled by a 700-horsepower 6.5-liter V12, while the LP 750-4 Superveloce and LP 750-4 Superveloce Roadster receive motivation from a 750-horsepower 6.5-liter V12. That prodigious power gets delivered through a 7-speed ISR transmission coupled to a permanent AWD system with a Haldex differential. The first Lamborghini supercar to feature AWD was the Diablo VT in the 1990s, although the first Lamborghini 4-wheel-drive vehicle was the LM 002 SUV produced from the mid-1980s through the mid ‘90s, powered by a V12 engine sourced from the Italian automaker’s most well-known model, the Countach.
Lamborghini’s newest mid-engine sports car is the Huracan, offered in both rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions. The AWD Huracan LP 610-4 is offered as both a closed coupe and an open-top spyder, powered by a 610-horsepower 5.2-liter V10 engine. Power gets transmitted to all four wheels through a 7-speed LDF dual-clutch transmission and an AWD system with an electro-hydraulic multi-plate clutch. The Huracan LP 610-4 will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and reach a top track speed of 202 mph.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR
With a history spanning nearly seven decades, Land Rover has created a rich legacy of vehicles with extreme off-road capability. When the Range Rover Sport joined the lineup as a 2006 model, the marque’s focus turned to on-road performance while retaining off-road capability. A product of Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations team, the new Range Rover Sport SVR takes Land Rover’s on-road performance to a new level. Powered by a 550-horsepower supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine combined with an 8-speed automatic transmission and advanced 4-wheel-drive chassis technology, the Range Rover Sport SVR delivers impressive high-speed handling characteristics.
Maserati Ghibli S Q4
The newest addition to Maserati’s model line, the Ghibli adds a second sedan below the flagship Quattroporte. Smaller, lighter, and more dynamic than the Quattroporte, the Ghibli S Q4 is powered by a 404-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine combined with an 8-speed automatic transmission and an on-demand intelligent all-wheel-drive system that delivers all of the torque to the rear axle until grip is lost, and then can deliver up to 50 percent of the torque to the front axle as necessary. The Q4 AWD system utilizes an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch in a transfer case linked to the front axle.
Maserati Quattroporte S Q4
For the 2014 model year the Maserati Quattroporte added a 404-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine as the standard unit, combined with an 8-speed automatic transmission and the Q4 all-wheel-drive system. The on-demand intelligent all-wheel-drive system delivers all of the torque to the rear axle until additional traction is needed, and then it can deliver up to 50 percent of the torque to the front axle. Thus the Quattroporte S Q4 delivers the responsiveness and driving characteristics of a rear-wheel-drive car until driving conditions require more grip.
Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic
The new AMG version of the redesigned C-Class sedan is the C450 AMG 4Matic, powered by a 362-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine. Power gets delivered through the 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission and Performance 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive system with a 33/67 front/rear torque split. Standard equipment includes AMG Adaptive sport suspension, sport seats, sport pedals, a 3-spoke Nappa leather flat-bottom sport steering wheel, ESP with dynamic curve assist and ECO start/stop.
Mercedes-Benz AMG CLS63 S 4Matic
The Mercedes-Benz AMG CLS63 S 4Matic derives power from a 577-horsepower AMG bi-turbo 5.5-liter V8 engine with 590 lb-ft of torque, transmitted through an AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 7-speed transmission and performance-oriented AMG 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system with a 33/67 front/rear torque split. The AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT transmission offers four different drive programs: Controlled Efficiency, Sport, Sport Plus and Manual — ranging from smooth, comfortable shifts to faster shifts with automatic rev-matching on downshifts.
Mercedes-Benz AMG S63 4Matic
The AMG all-wheel-drive version of the S-Class sedan, the Mercedes-Benz AMG S63 4MATIC draws power from a 577-horse AMG bi-turbo 5.5-liter V8 engine with 664 lb-ft of torque, delivered via an AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 7-speed transmission and performance-oriented AMG 4MATIC AWD system with a 33/67 front/rear torque split. The AMG AWD helps the S63 4MATIC deliver astounding acceleration, from zero to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds — faster than the rear-wheel-drive V12-powered AMG S65 at 4.2 seconds.
When the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution finally debuted in the U.S. as a 2003 model, it was the closest thing to an off-road rally car that you could buy for the street. With a 271-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, 5-speed manual transmission, all-wheel drive, sophisticated suspension, precise steering and great brakes, the Mitsubishi Evo delivered handling and performance to challenge cars at two or three times the price. For the final year of production, 1,600 copies of the 2015 Mitsubishi Evolution Final Edition are available to the U.S. market, featuring 18-inch Enkei dark alloy wheels, 303 horsepower, a black interior with red stitching, black painted aluminum roof and Final Edition badge.
The Nissan Skyline and the Skyline GT-R were legendary vehicles in Japan, but were never offered in the U.S. market until the GT-R arrived stateside for the 2009 model year, powered by a 480-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine combined with an advanced 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The independent rear transaxle ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system places the transmission, transfer case and final drive at the rear of the vehicle to optimize weight distribution and improve handling. The fifth generation of the iconic Nissan supercar, the GT-R styling incorporates advanced aerodynamics and the body construction combines steel, carbon fiber and die-cast aluminum. The GT-R has received continuous updates and development since 2009, including a boost to 530 horsepower for 2012, 545 horsepower for 2013 and the addition of the 600-horsepower GT-R NISMO in 2015. For the 2016 model year the GT-R adds a new 20-spoke 20-inch wheel design and a 45th anniversary Gold Edition.
Porsche 911 Turbo
The first all-wheel-drive Porsche 911 was the 1989 Carrera 4. The 911 Turbo followed in 1996 with twin turbos and AWD. For the past 20 years, the Porsche 911 Turbo has been offered with both twin turbos and AWD. The 2015 Porsche 911 Turbo sports a 520-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter horizontally-opposed 6-cylinder engine, with a 560-horsepower version for the 911 Turbo S. Both have 7-speed PDK transmissions and active AWD. The redesigned 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo is scheduled to debut in Detroit at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in January.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Porsche joined the SUV segment with the 2003 Cayenne, an SUV that promised to deliver the performance and handling expected from a Porsche in a utilitarian package. After 14 years, Porsche is still producing the high-performance, all-wheel drive Cayenne, with the Cayenne Turbo S at the top of the model range. The Cayenne Turbo S draws power from a turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 engine that produces 570 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, combined with an 8-speed Tiptronic S transmission. Porsche Traction Management, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus, Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes with 10-piston front calipers and 21-inch 911 Turbo design wheels are all standard on Cayenne Turbo S. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and reach a top track speed of 176 mph.
Subaru WRX STI
All-wheel drive remains the cornerstone of Subaru’s value proposition, and the WRX STI is the brand’s high-performance flagship inspired by Subaru’s motorsports success, including winning the World Rally Championship three times. Based on the redesigned 2015 WRX, the STI is powered by a 305-horsepower turbocharged intercooled 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder Boxer engine combined with a reinforced 6-speed manual transmission. The STI receives firmer springs, faster steering and Active Torque Vectoring to improve handling and performance. The aerodynamic wide-body design gives the STI a bold look with its signature larger trunk spoiler. The Subaru Intelligent Drive powertrain management system allows the driver to tailor the drive characteristics by choosing between Intelligent, Sport and Sport Plus modes. The STI also includes the Multi-Mode Driver Controlled Center Differential, which has three modes for different degrees of center differential locking for varied driving conditions.
Tesla Model S P85D
Tesla offers all-wheel drive Dual Motor as an option for the Model S, with a separate electric motor for the front and rear axles. The Tesla system eliminates the need for a complicated mechanical system of drivelines in a traditional AWD system that delivers power from a single engine to both axles. The Dual Motor is standard for the Tesla Model S Performance P85D, which pairs the high-performance rear motor with a high-efficiency front motor. According to Tesla the P85D will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds.
Volkswagen Golf R
Based on the new seventh-generation Golf, the 2015 Golf R is the most powerful and fastest Golf ever produced. Motivated by a 292-horsepower turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter engine combined with either a 6-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, the Golf R delivers power to all four wheels through a permanent all-wheel-drive system — the latest version of 4MOTION with a fifth-generation Haldex coupling. The new Golf R features sport suspension, progressive variable-ratio steering and an ESC sport stability control system that can be deactivated for track driving. The DSG transmission offers launch control, which propels the Golf R from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds on the way to a top track speed of 155 mph.