Most drivers only ever own one car at a time, so car buyers are often stuck in the eternal dilemma of choosing which specific model from which manufacturer meets every requirement necessary for the perfect daily driver. Commuters just need something cheap and efficient - a recipe satisfied by most of the small, turbocharged, front-wheel-drive cars on the market today.
The growing crop of crossovers just throws a bit better visibility and slightly more comfort into the mix, while typically retaining the same boring driving dynamics as cars about ten inches closer to the ground. Plenty of drivers, however, stick with big SUVs and trucks which allow for maximum utility thanks plenty of cargo capacity and four-wheel- drive or all-wheel drive.
But there's another kind of driver who needs to blend the distinction between utility, style, and daily-driveability while retaining a bit of sporty engagement with their car. For many of these drivers, average hatchbacks and rear-wheel-drive sports cars just can't quite check all the right boxes, and for them, a couple of automotive manufacturers have made some amazing, sporty, all-wheel-drive cars that can meet a variety of requirements on a daily basis.
Some all-wheel drive cars proudly display their rally-bred heritage, while others just quietly outperform average cars even in the worst conditions. But potential buyers should be aware that some models are just marketing ploys by manufacturers hoping to grab ahold of this niche segment, and fail to deliver either driver engagement or confidence when the going gets tough. Keep scrolling for the 11 best all-wheel-drive cars of all time, and 10 to avoid at all costs.
21 Worst: E46 BMW 330xi
After the E30-generation BMW 3 Series featured the 325ix and its all-wheel-drive system, BMW made the strange decision to forego the setup on the E36 generation. But all-wheel drive returned on the E46 3 Series, available now in 325xi, 328xi, and 330xi models. Both sedans and station wagons were offered with all-wheel drive, equipped with manual and automatic transmissions.
But the E46 generation utilized Electronic Stability Control, as well, and the majority of its traction stabilization came in the form of automated brake pulses - possibly the worst thing for maintaining grip in snow and mud.
Add in that the automatic transmission on xi models was prone to failure, and an E46 with all-wheel drive should definitely be avoided - especially the more powerful 330 variants.
20 Worst: Volkswagen Phaeton
The Volkswagen Phaeton made plenty of headlines when it debuted in 2003 thanks to its W12 engine, luxurious amenities, and partially thanks to its all-wheel drive. But many of those headlines justifiably questioned VW's wisdom, wondering why the Phaeton seemed perfectly poised to compete with VW's subsidiary product, the Audi A8. Though the two were closely related, the Phaeton proved to have worse acceleration, poorer fuel economy, and a design that required so many unique parts that maintenance approached stratospheric levels. While the all-wheel-drive system matched the Torsen-based system on the more respectable A8, the rest of the Phaeton makes it a car to avoid at all costs.
19 Worst: Audi R8
Audi's R8 combines stellar looks, plenty of power, and Quattro all-wheel drive to offer consumers what appears to be one of the most incredible sports cars on the market. Throw in the fact that a manual transmission was on offer until relatively recently, and even secondhand examples may seem attractive at a decent entry price.
But Audi designed the R8 at a breakneck pace, and most mechanics will smile any time one of their customers rolls up in a new one for the simple fact that the car is under-engineered, even for its non-forced aspiration setup.
Hopefully, in the future Audi can rectify the situation with a turbocharged, mid-mounted, Quattro design that can handle its own power without breaking down constantly.
18 Worst: Ford Fusion
Most drivers probably don't even realize that the Ford Fusion comes with all-wheel drive. Rest assured, Ford couldn't let its main mid-sized sedan come without a traction-enhanced iteration, just to satisfy customers in the Northeast and Midwest who see variable conditions for much of the year. But just like a normal Fusion, a Fusion with all-wheel drive is a car to avoid like the plague, as its standard front-wheel drive layout has simply been modified to send power to the rear wheels. As Ford cuts down its platforms, buyers should be wary of the underlying mechanicals for cars that share parts with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive products.
17 Worst: Subaru Crosstrek
For Subaru fans, the Crosstrek almost represents a similar heresy as the rear-wheel drive BRZ. The Crosstrek may seem to the average driver like a slightly more angular station wagon that's just a modern iteration of the Impreza Outback, but many features of the Crosstrek - not to mention all the strange wheels it comes with - are bound to leave buyers wondering why they didn't go with an Impreza or Legacy instead. Much like the BRZ doesn't ship with all-wheel drive, the Crosstrek doesn't use forced induction and most come equipped with a sluggish CVT transmission, resulting in a pitifully slow car that can barely make it up the hill for drivers on the way to the ski slopes it seems marketed towards.
16 Worst: Jaguar X-Type
It may seem completely counterintuitive to fans of Jaguar's current offerings, but the X-Type that debuted in 2001 was intended to compete with BMW's 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz's C-Class. Jaguar didn't have a chassis that could truly compete, however, so to compensate for shipping a much larger car, they threw in all-wheel drive.
But the X-Type was a plodding machine, with either a 2.5- or 3.0-liter V6 powering its four wheels, and with a curb weight well over 3,500 pounds it simply couldn't keep up with the BMWs and Mercedes it hoped to compete against.
Sales were indicative of buyer enthusiasm, with BMW selling fully twice as many cars, even though Jaguar resorted to switching to an electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system.
15 Worst: Ferrari GTC4Lusso
At first glance, the Ferrari GTC4Lusso might seem like the hottest hatch in the world. With a normally-aspirated V12 under its long hood, Ferrari's legendarily luxurious interior, and plenty of room for gear in the back, what could go wrong? Oh, how about that all-wheel-drive system, which also includes four-wheel steering. It uses two full separate gearboxes but its front axle can't handle the power and speed created by up to 681 horsepower, so Ferrari decided to simply disconnect the front axles once the car reaches a certain speed. Opt for the later model GTC4Lusso T instead, and the car only comes with rear-wheel drive and a twin-turbo V8. Sounds like Ferrari learned their lesson.
14 Worst: Acura TLX
Acura's SUV models have been growing in popularity over the last few years, but a long series of ill-conceived decisions have left their sedans in a strange market position.
Not quite as affordable as their Honda siblings, but not nearly as attractive as former models, cars like the TLX sit in a middle ground with little to differentiate themselves other than a lack of turbochargers, higher price tags, and optional all-wheel drive.
Both the inline-four and V6 TLX are available with all-wheel drive, but potential buyers would do better to turn to offerings from other brands that throw in a turbo to help compensate for the reduced efficiency of driving four wheels.
13 Worst: Fiat 500X
Fiat's hilarious commercial that preceded the 500X's release is probably the best thing about the model. Despite featuring a beefed-up exterior design, the 500X actually shares its platform with the more van-like 500L, and in the United States its all wheel drive system only ships paired to a normally-aspirated 2.4-liter inline four engine. The 500X maxes out at 180 horsepower and is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission despite coming with the option of a six-speed stick shift abroad. The sad fact is that the Fiat 500X could have been a great solution to the abysmal 500L, and might have been the perfect stablemate for the cute, city-going 500C, but its drivetrain can't live up to its design.
12 Worst: Mini Countryman
The decision to release a longer, taller, and wider Mini seems highly questionable given the meaning of the word Mini. But Mini's owners at BMW seemed to think it was a good idea, perhaps hoping to corner that part of the market that liked the styling of the two-door Mini but couldn't come to terms with its lack of actual daily-driveability. And with optional all-wheel drive, the Countryman does bring a bit more of a rugged package to the market, but in reality, the car sources a conglomeration of parts from BMW and Chrysler that are crammed into a tiny engine compartment, leading mechanics to refer to today's Minis as "Money Coopers" because the engine has to be dropped for just about every job.
11 Best: Audi Ur-Quattro
Arguably the car that brought all-wheel drive to the masses, the Audi Quattro began as a rally car, taking advantage of rule changes that allowed for four-wheel drive.
Known now as the Ur-Quattro, or original Quattro, the model reached the United States for the 1983 model year and offered classic 80s style, a turbocharged inline-five engine, and of course the confidence of knowing that in dirt or snow, no other car on the road could compete.
Today, Ur-Quattros still look great on the outside, though a serious commitment to maintenance is required to keep their interiors looking fresh and their mechanicals in working order.
10 Best: BMW 325ix
With the Audi Ur-Quattro establishing a market for all-wheel drive cars, fellow German manufacturer BMW responded by releasing an all-wheel drive variant of its E30-generation 3 Series. The 325ix may have lacked true rally heritage, but its subtle fender flares differentiate it from rear-wheel drive siblings.
Though it didn't receive the E30 M3's more powerful S14 engine, the 325ix nonetheless had a respectable, 168-horsepower straight-six featuring fuel injection under the hood with plenty of low-end torque.
To keep the model driving sporty, BMW also threw in a limited slip rear differential while offering the model in both two- and four-door layouts to maximize outright utility.
9 Best: Subaru WRX
Every generation of Subaru WRX has followed the same recipe that melds a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive, and a simple design both inside and out to keep weight to a minimum.
The package is so attractive, that although Subaru did not ship the first WRX stateside, enthusiasts will even modify non-turbo Imprezas to recreate the WRX and its higher-spec STI sibling in the older body style.
But the Bugeye WRX, the first to reach these shores, still stands out as a car that helped cement Subaru's reputation for reliable, affordable products with plenty of power, the confidence of all-wheel drive, and an engaging, driver-focused ride.
8 Best: Subaru Legacy GT
Subaru's Legacy GT, especially in wagon form for the 2005 model year (when it utilized a manual transmission), may be one of the ultimate factory sleepers of all time. The Legacy GT shares its drivetrain with the WRX STI, but with a more luxuriously trimmed interior, a sleeker exterior, and, as always with Subaru, the confidence of being able to drive anyplace, any time thanks to all-wheel drive. Today, finding a Legacy GT station wagon in stick shift can be fairly hard because owners are so rarely able to find a replacement that checks all the right boxes, so when one does hit the market, buyers need to be ready to jump immediately.
7 Best: B5 Audi S4
When Audi's B5-generation S4 hit domestic streets for model year 1999, it was the fastest four-door sedan on the market. With a 2.7-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine under the hood cranking out 261 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque and paired to Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive, nothing could hope to keep up. Throw a six-speed manual transmission, a comfortable interior, and a simple, quintessentially German-designed exterior, and the S4 is still an awesome car to this day - not to mention the fact that aftermarket tuners can confidently coax significant power increases out of the car's drivetrain without massive financial investment.
6 Best: Volkswagen Golf R32
The Volkswagen Golf has long been one of the world's best selling cars, but when the R32 variant hit the United States automotive market in 2004, it redefined the hot hatch segment. Sure, the GTI offered fun driving, a cute design, and a cheap price, but the R32 brought the heat with a tuned V6 engine, a six-speed manual transmission, and Haldex-based all-wheel drive. Available in two- or four-door form, the R32 only came in four colors, and the lucky few buyers who bought them new from the dealer have maintained a stranglehold on the market ever since - a secondhand R32 in good shape can today fetch as much, or more, than its original sticker price.
5 Best: Lancia Delta HF Integrale
Drivers in the United States have had to live most of their lives thinking that VW's Golf variants and Ford's Focus RS are the peak form for hot hatches, but thanks to the 25-year rule, there's another force starting to creep into the picture. And in reality, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale is probably the hottest hatch of all time. Even the average person probably connects Audi with all-wheel drive rally racing, but the Integrale holds the record for most rally championships for any car, ever. Available in a variety of versions thanks to homologation rules, the Integrale might resemble little more than a customized GTI to most drivers, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s, no hatchback could hope to keep up.
4 Best: Ford RS200
Ford's little-known RS200 may not be instantly recognizable to the average driver, but for people who might recognize the tiny, strange-looking car, seeing one on the streets would be a highlight of their week, or possibly their month.
The RS200 is the homologation version of Ford Europe's rally car, featuring a mid-mounted, turbocharged, 1.8-liter engine built in a team-up between Ford and Cosworth that cranked out 250 horsepower in street-legal form and up to 450 horses for competition racing.
The RS200 never quite managed to dominate the rally world, as Group B was ended only one year after its debut, leaving fans to wonder if the little car just might have broken the Lancia Integrale's record.
3 Best: Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI Tommi Makinen Edition
Subaru's true competitor in the last two decades of rally racing has come in the form of fellow Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi. And though the WRX, STI, and Subaru's other offerings in the states have established the brand as an all-wheel drive powerhouse, they do offer two-wheel drive cars abroad. Mitsubishi, on the other hand, offers mostly two-wheel drive cars, with the main exception being their homologation-inspired Lancer in Evo spec. Though it may not be a joy to drive on city streets, probably the most desirable Lancer Evo would be the sixth-gen Tommi Makinen Edition, which featured rally-specific options like a lowered ride height, upgraded turbo, close ratio transmission, Recaro seats, and those awesome white wheels.
2 Best: 996 Porsche 911 Turbo
Every generation of Porsche's 911 was designed to be a true driver's car, so when the German manufacturer flipped the script on their rabid fanbase in the late-1990s and started producing cars with rear-mounted, water-cooled engines, the more snobbish among owners turned up their noses.
But though the early 996 models may have struggled with some design flaws (those headlights and the IMS bearing scandal), the 996 Turbo is today recognized as perhaps one of the best deals on the entire used car market.
Its twin-turbocharged flat six engine routes 415 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a six-speed manual transmission, and its GT1-based, Hans Mezger design has a reputation for bulletproof performance.
1 Best: Bugatti Veyron
A list of the world's best-ever all-wheel-drive cars simply cannot be complete without including the world-beating Bugatti Veyron. Designed from the ground up to push the limits of performance, luxury, and design - all without truly taking cost into consideration - the Veyron is a monument to engineering, development, and automotive passion. Its quad-turbocharged W16 engine sends over 1,000 horsepower to all four wheels, allowing the massive car to set a former world-record speed of 267.856 miles per hour. The package comes at a steep price, however, costing over $1 million - that is, if you can get on the waiting list.