Least Expensive All-Wheel-Drive Vehicles

© Mazda North American Operations, © Automotive Content Experience, © FCA US, © Mitsubishi MotorsPriced at $25,000 or Less
Both AWD and 4WD systems can transform the fun and function of your daily ride, but as sophisticated as they are, you don’t need to break the bank to reap the benefits. Kelley Blue Book reports the average transaction price of a new car in America is around $34,000. We went bargain hunting and uncovered 16 new vehicles that work all four wheels without overworking your wallet. The candidates have starting MSRPs of $25,000 or less and take their own approach to all-wheel drive.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll-Wheel Drive vs. 4-Wheel Drive
Both AWD and 4WD systems essentially do the same thing: turn all four wheels. All-wheel-drive systems use front, center, and rear differentials to spread the power. A 4WD setup uses a front differential, a transfer case and a rear differential, and often needs to be shifted (by stick shift or pushbutton) into 4WD for extra traction. (More sophisticated full-time 4WD systems have limited-slip differentials that handle wheels with different rotating speeds.) Since AWD systems have three differentials, they are better able to vary wheel speed and therefore operate full-time.

© Subaru of AmericaAll-Wheel Drive vs. All-Wheel Drive
Differences between AWD systems are subtle yet important. Some use a mechanical system to distribute power, while others are electronically controlled. The amount of torque split between front and rear axles varies by brand, with some going for an 80/20 front-drive bias, some 60/40, and others a neutral 50/50 split. Some AWD systems operate behind the scenes, while others are driver-controlled by selecting a mode for conditions, or a setting that produces a specific torque split.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSubaru Impreza 2.0i
Starting MSRP: $18,395
Subaru knows all-wheel drive. In fact, before the rear-wheel-drive 2013 BRZ hit the scene, the automaker would often boast that it had the only entire all-wheel-drive lineup on the road. The Impreza is an all-new proposition for 2017. Rest easy — Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is still on the job. The system uses a viscous-coupled center differential that mechanically transfers power from front to rear to keep the split 50/50.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSubaru Impreza 2.0i
The new Impreza enjoys a power bump: the 2.0-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine gets direct injection and other minor upgrades that push output from 148 horsepower to 152. The base Impreza is a sedan with a 5-speed manual. Adding a CVT gearbox costs $1,000. Opting for the five-door wagon increases the bottom line to $18,895 for a manual and $19,895 for a CVT-equipped version . . . all solidly at the top of our list. Perhaps the biggest gains for Impreza in recent years has been at the fuel pump. The sedan now registers an impressive 28 mpg city / 38 mpg highway / 32 mpg combined, making it the most fuel efficient of these 17 featured vehicles.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Renegade Sport
Starting MSRP: $19,995
At first glance, the Jeep Renegade Sport looks like a Kia Soul in silhouette with squared-off fenders and Jeep’s signature seven-slot grille molded to its retro-style nose. The base Renegade Sport is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir four cylinder rated at 160 peak horsepower. The MultiAir is backed by a 6-speed manual gearbox and Jeep’s Active Drive I 4×4 system enhances grip. The Renegade Sport’s base Active Drive I includes Selec-Terrain, a multi-mode system that allows the driver to choose from Auto, Snow, and Sand/Mud traction settings on the fly.

© FCA US LLCJeep Renegade Sport
Active Drive I disconnects the driveshaft in normal driving conditions so the vehicle behaves like a front-driver. In Auto mode the system adapts to road conditions, distributing power as it sees fit. When Snow mode is selected, Active Drive I splits power up to a 60/40 front-drive-biased ratio. Sport mode distributes power in a 40/60 rear-drive bias, while Mud/Snow mode is designed to maintain momentum, providing up to 100 percent rear power distribution. In bargain-basement trim, the Renegade Sport puts up excellent fuel-efficiency numbers, namely 21 mpg city / 29 mpg highway / 24 mpg combined.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda CX-3 Sport
Starting MSRP: $21,210
Looking like it was sculpted by wind and sand, the sleek Mazda CX-3 has a totally different vibe compared to the retro-inspired Jeep Renegade. The CX-3 features SKYACTIV, Mazda’s forward-thinking design philosophy that embraces efficiency, functionality, light weight and driver engagement. In the case of the CX-3’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, Mazda uses a higher compression ratio to maximize performance and generate 146 horsepower and 32 mpg highway fuel efficiency. SKYACTIV is also used in chassis construction, where Mazda uses lighter materials to improve rigidity, ride and driving dynamics.

© Mazda North American OperationsMazda CX-3 Sport
The least expensive version of the CX-3 to offer Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system is only available with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox does feature manual shift and sport modes to up the “Zoom-Zoom” factor. Mazda i-ACTIV’s wide array of sensors detect inputs such as steering angle, throttle position, and traction/wheelspin, as well as lesser factors such as ambient temperature and whether the windshield wipers are on to calculate how to distribute power through the driveline.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc.Honda HR-V LX
Starting MSRP: $21,565
This Honda could be nicknamed “CR-V Lite.” It has the same side profile as the popular crossover, but does everything a little downsized. At 1.8 liters, its 4-cylinder engine is smaller than the 2.4-liter four in the CR-V. The HR-V is rated at 141 horsepower and all-wheel-drive variants have a CVT. Honda’s Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System runs the show. It’s a front-wheel-drive biased system that uses a multi-plate clutch to funnel power to the rear wheels when the system senses a slip in traction. The HR-V impresses with 27 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 29 mpg combined.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc.Honda HR-V LX
Introduced last year, the HR-V gives Honda excellent footing in the entry-level crossover segment. Standard fare includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a pushbutton electric parking brake, a rearview camera with guidelines, Pandora radio and Bluetooth connectivity. We like how the Japanese automaker center-mounted the fuel tank so it could equip the HR-V with a second-row Magic Seat like the one in the Honda Fit. It is designed to fold completely flat into the floor, creating more useful space and nearly endless cargo hauling possibilities.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru Crosstrek 2.0i
Starting MSRP: $21,695
One of the more recent additions to the Subaru SUV portfolio, the Crosstrek is basically a lifted Impreza wagon with bulked-up body. Like the chart-topping Impreza, the Crosstrek 2.0i is powered by a 148-horse Boxer backed by a 5-speed manual transmission. It also has the same continuous all-wheel-drive system. When a loss of traction is sensed, a viscous-coupled center differential progressively transfers power from the slipping axle to the wheels or axle that has the most grip. This is a mechanical action.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru Crosstrek 2.0i
While the drivetrain is the same, the Crosstrek has some significant differences compared to the Impreza, including a confidence-instilling high-and-mighty SUV driving position, more passenger room and cargo capacity, and 8.7 inches of ground clearance. The Crosstrek performs admirably at the pump by delivering 23 mpg city / 30 mpg highway / 26 mpg combined.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru Legacy 2.5i
Starting MSRP: $21,995
The Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system in this Legacy is different, because the base Legacy 2.5i is offered with a Lineartronic CVT gearbox as standard equipment. Subaru teams CVT drivelines with an Active AWD version of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive that is electronic or computer controlled because the CVT is also computer controlled, and we all know how computers like to talk to one another. Variations in each wheel-speed sensor as well as other vehicle inputs such as throttle position help the computer make power distribution decisions.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru Legacy 2.5i
The power split in the Legacy 2.5i will vary between 80/20 front to rear and 50/50. This is a computerized action where the previously mentioned Subaru system distributes power in a more physical or mechanical manner. The Legacy is motivated by a 2.5-liter Boxer four rated at 175 horsepower and, as a more upscale product, it offers a more substantial, more refined sedan experience with better ride quality and more affluent interior appointments than its smaller sibling, the Impreza.

© Nissan North America, Inc.Nissan JUKE S
Starting MSRP: $22,100
For lovers of edgy, ninja-style looks, Nissan created the JUKE. Visuals are important to the JUKE, since it can be personalized to the extreme in Nissan’s JUKE V Studio, which offers a multitude of interior and exterior “color packs” that can align the vehicle’s aura with the most audacious owners. JUKE has a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that packs a 188-horse punch. The high-strung motor generates an impressive power density of 117.5 horsepower per liter. Nissan’s only gearbox offering is its Xtronic CVT, which features a Sport mode that simulates shifting to overcome the rubber-band feeling of some CVTs.

© Nissan North AmericaNissan JUKE S
This Nissan has one of the more advanced drivelines on our list. Its torque-vectoring AWD system splits power on a 50/50 bias but can also distribute power from one side to the other on the rear axle. Sophisticated sensors that monitor vehicle speed, wheel speed, gear selection, steering angle, lateral g-forces, and yaw rate make it all possible. The JUKE delivers 26 mpg city / 30 mpg highway / 28 mpg combined, but we’re into this vehicle for its agile, controllable yet rebellious demeanor.

© Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES 2.0 AWC
Starting MSRP: $22,495
Going by the numbers, the Outlander Sport seems to be channeling the famed Lancer Evolution. This svelte SUV has a 4B11 engine and torque vectoring all-wheel drive setup just like the Evo, but it comes up one letter short: a T. The Outlander Sport’s 4B11 does not have a turbo, so instead of 291 thundering horses it has 148 in its corral. Further, the SUV’s All-Wheel Control 4WD system lacks the active differentials and active yaw control of the sexy Evo X’s Super All-Wheel Control, but the SUV’s technological highlights are substantial.

© Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES 2.0 AWC
The Outlander Sport ES 2.0’s All-Wheel Control system is driver selectable with three modes. In 2WD mode the vehicle is a front-driver. Selecting 4WD Auto mode distributes the power front and rear based on sensor feedback, while the 4WD Lock setting gives the Outlander Sport a 60 percent rear-drive bias while distributing power to all wheels as needed. The ES 2.0 AWC is only available with a CVT and posts 23 mpg city / 29 mpg highway / 26 mpg combined fuel-economy figures. It has some hard-hitting standard features that make it a standout, namely 18-inch wheels, LED taillights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and a color LCD info display.

© FCA USJeep Compass Sport
Starting MSRP: $22,495
Another all-new offering on this list, the 2017 Jeep Compass Sport is powered by a 2.4-liter Tigershark 4-cylinder engine rated at 180 horsepower. It’s a bigger motor than the Jeep Renegade Sport and a better overall package, but if you’re a Jeep fan on a budget this rig comes at a $2,455 premium. Like the Renegade, the base transmission is a 6-speed manual and the Active Drive I powertrain are also on call.

© FCA USJeep Compass Sport
Even in the physically larger Compass, the 2.4-liter powertrain manages to best the Renegade at the fuel pump, where it realizes 22 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 25 mpg combined. The Compass is 6.4 inches longer than the Renegade, rides on a longer wheelbase (103 versus 101.2 inches), and has greater rear cargo area (59.8 cubic inches to 50.8) with the rear seats folded. The Compass Sport creates a very interesting comparison shopper for Jeep fans.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru Forester 2.5i
Starting MSRP: $22,595
The Forester transitioned from a wagon type vehicle (think Outback) to a traditional SUV in the 2009 model year, and it has been a hot commodity ever since. The base 2.5i features a 6-speed manual transmission as standard fare, so it gets the mechanically-actuated continuous version of Subaru’s Symmetrical All Wheel Drive that uses a viscous-coupled center differential to maintain a 50/50 front-to-rear split. Power comes courtesy of a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter Boxer four cylinder translating to 26 mpg city / 32 mpg highway / 28 mpg combined fuel-efficiency ratings.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru Forester 2.5i
The Forester gets a face-lift for 2017 with a revised front bumper, grille and headlights. Inside, the interior has been freshened and the Forester’s 74.7 cubic inches of maximum cargo room is the second most spacious on our list. A balance of value, functionality, and durability has made Forester a mainstay in the Subaru lineup, and we see little happening to change its circumstances.

© General MotorsChevrolet Trax
Starting MSRP: $23,395
General Motors’ lone entrant on this list is the freshly redesigned 2017 Chevy Trax, a model that has been on the road barely a year and has already been refined. A 1.4-liter ECOTEC four cylinder is at the heart of the matter. Its 138 horsepower is channeled through a Hydra-Matic 6-speed automatic transmission and fully automatic all-wheel-drive powertrain that has no buttons to fiddle with.

© General MotorsChevrolet Trax
The system On Chevrolet’s small SUV is front-wheel-drive biased until slip is detected, and then power gets transferred to one or both rear wheels. The Trax returns to front-wheel drive when traction becomes reestablished. This combination nets 24 mpg city / 30 mpg highway and provides a nimble ride in a clean and tidy package.

© FCA US LLCJeep Wrangler Sport
Starting MSRP: $23,995
From its stout ladder-type frame to its dominating, muscular 3.6-liter 285-horsepower Pentastar V6 engine, the Wrangler is the most serious, rough-and-tumble candidate on our list. Unlike the rest, the Wrangler is built like a truck; it does not rely on a unibody chassis like a car. . . there is no crossover going on here. The standard issue 6-speed manual is joined by Jeep’s Command-Trac transfer case which provides part-time 4-wheel drive in the typical 2WD High; 4WD High; Neutral; 4WD Low configuration.

© FCA US LLCJeep Wrangler Sport
The Wrangler Sport’s setup is much more rugged than any other 4-wheel system on the list, and has more than enough capability to make this Jeep the bruiser of the bunch. However, Jeep’s “mucho macho” persona comes at a cost — the powerful V6 and Wrangler’s 3,760-pound curb weight kill fuel efficiency to the tune of 17 mpg city / 21 mpg highway and a paltry 18 mpg combined. But let’s face it, this vehicle makes its statement by driving over fuel pumps — not by driving past them.

© Kia Motors AmericaKia Sportage LX
Starting MSRP: $24,700
As we approach the more expensive end of our list, the vehicles feature more technology, more amenities, and more refinement. Like five other candidates, the Sportage is an all-new proposition for 2017. Kia’s Magna Dynamax intelligent AWD uses a 50/50 locking center differential to distribute power when the system senses changes in traction. The highly-styled SUV gets power from a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 181 horsepower, and this combination delivers 21 mpg city / 25 mpg highway fuel efficiency — a little off pace compared to others on this list.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceKia Sportage LX
In keeping with most vehicle redesigns, Sportage features a stiffer chassis, more interior room, higher quality materials, and fresh looks inside and out. Style is important in this segment, and look no further than the 2011 model year to see where the Sportage and Kia as a company turned the corner from a design perspective. The proof is in the numbers . . . since 2011 the Korean automaker has been one of the fastest growing brands on the road.

© Mazda North American OperationsMazda CX-5 Sport
Starting MSRP: $24,895
Mazda’s SKYACTIV engineering philosophy and KODO design philosophy have converged once again in the CX-5, the automaker’s medium-sized SUV nestled between the CX-3 and CX-9. Another fully redesigned candidate, the CX-5 and its smooth lines certainly have nothing to fear from Kia and Hyundai offerings. The CX-5 also has a tech-savvy driveline. The base Sport AWD is motivated by a 2.5-liter SKYACTIV four cylinder backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel efficiency checks in at 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

© Mazda North American OperationsMazda CX-5 Sport
While Mazda’s proactive i-ACTIV AWD system keeps the front wheels from slipping when poor road conditions present themselves, it’s the company’s G-Vectoring Control that sets this crossover apart. A technological first from Mazda’s new SKYACTIV Vehicle Dynamics department, GVC regulates torque in response to steering input to counteract lateral and longitudinal g-forces on an individual-wheel basis. Heady stuff. Resistance of g-forces in this manner is especially effective in crossovers that are heavier and possess a higher center of gravity than most cars.

© Hyundai Motor AmericaHyundai Tucson SE
Starting MSRP: $24,995
The Tucson is another crossover with an eye for edgy design. A 2.0-liter direct-injected 4-cylinder engine brings 164 horsepower to the party and feeds a 6-speed automatic transmission with a SHIFTRONIC manual shifting mode for spirited acceleration. Tucson’s high-tech, all-wheel-drive system — co-developed by Hyundai and Magna Powertrain — features a driver-selectable Active On-Demand function that allows a differentiated torque split between front and rear wheels, which results in improved grip on trails and slippery roads.

© Hyundai Motor AmericaHyundai Tucson SE
The Tucson also employs Hyundai’s high-tech Active Cornering Control. During tight cornering, the system combats understeer and increases capability by pulsing the brakes on the inside rear wheel and upping torque delivery to the outside rear wheel, creating a torque-vectoring effect that helps pivot the vehicle around the corner, giving Tucson more grip than meets the eye.

© Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.Mitsubishi Outlander ES AWC
Starting MSRP: $24,995
The Outlander’s ride has very little in common with its smaller sibling, the Outlander Sport. The Outlander’s engine is bigger, its body is bigger and its price tag is bigger. The driveline, however, is the same. Under the hood, a 2.4-liter 4J12 generates 166 horsepower. The ES comes with a CVT and the same All-Wheel Control found in the Sport.

© Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.Mitsubishi Outlander ES AWC
The Outlander ES AWC manages front-to-rear torque split via electronically-controlled hydraulic clutches found in the system’s Active Center Differential, which also contains a helical Limited Slip Differential that sends power to the front wheel that has the most traction. A mechanical LSD performs that task for the rear wheels. Outlander features 63.3 cubic inches of cargo capacity and standard third-row seating. Some may shy away from its front-end styling — Outlander was redesigned for the 2016 model year, so a refresh might be a year or two away.

Luxury

Most Expensive New Cars in America

Feast your eyes on these high-priced rid…

Read more

SUV

Most Fuel-Efficient 4WD SUVs

These 25 4WD utility vehicles are miserl…

Read more

Enthusiast

2017 Frankfurt Motor Show: High-Performance Rides

Big power continues to command attention…

Read more