For some folks, a pre-winter checklist can be limited to things like coats, boots, hats and gloves. For others, a car with all-wheel drive (AWD) could be worth considering. Now, AWD is no cure-all for poor weather conditions, and it doesn’t affect braking performance, as many believe. But these systems can help provide extra traction in any slippery condition – from rain to ice to snow – by making sure engine power gets to the wheels with the best grip. And as AWD technology has become increasingly popular in new cars, it’s also becoming just as common on the used-vehicle market. As a result, gaining the benefits of all-wheel drive can be a relatively inexpensive proposition.
Buying a used vehicle can also be a way to purchase a premium car you may not otherwise have on your shopping list. For instance, Audi A4 sedans from 2005 to 2008, with the automaker’s available Quattro all-wheel drive system, can be stickered from $6,000 to $8,000. Most A4s at that price point would have the four-cylinder turbo engine, which combines 170 to 200 horsepower and original EPA grades as high as 20/28 mpg city/highway. The occasional V6 model will show up in this price range as well, featuring 255 horses and up to 17/25 mpg city/highway.
The bottom line here: For roughly the same price as a somewhat fresher Subaru Impreza, owners can enjoy the experience of driving a premium German sedan along with the confidence that comes from AWD.
The first-generation Ford Fusion, produced from 2006 to 2012, was a popular, well-regarded midsize sedan. It was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 2010, following updates it received that model year. Yet Fusions from before that point are much the same beneath the skin, and models from 2008-2009 were praised for their reliability in 2011-2012 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Studies. That makes all-wheel drive Fusions from that period a particularly strong value for used vehicle shoppers.
Indeed, up-level Fusion SEL trims from before 2010, driven fewer than 100,000 miles, are available at dealerships for less than $12,000. Moreover, those units all have standard V6 engines that can deliver 221 horsepower and 25 mpg highway. Many also complement that premium powertrain with luxury cues, such as heated leather seating, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power moonroof, and premium audio.
Five years can seem like forever in the auto industry, and with the Suzuki brand never being all that popular in the first place, you can be forgiven if you don’t remember the Suzuki SX4. Last sold in the U.S. for the 2012 model year, the SX4 was a compact hatchback that, at the time, was the least expensive all-wheel-drive car in the country. Today, examples from 2008 can be priced around $5,000. Original fuel-economy ratings for the car were 21/28 mpg city/highway with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, while later models were able to nudge that up to 23/29 mpg after a continuously variable transmission (CVT) was introduced.
The SX4 also stacks up well against current compact hatchbacks for interior versatility. For instance, with 54 cubic feet of total cargo space, the SX4 has more cargo space than a 2017 Honda Civic hatchback, and the Suzuki’s tall design gives it the edge in headroom, too.
The current least-expensive car with all-wheel drive – the Subaru Impreza – offers its own share of low-cost choices in the pre-owned marketplace. True, these won’t be quite as affordable as the Suzuki SX4, in part due to Subaru’s popularity. But another benefit you’re paying for with the Impreza is access to an active U.S. dealership presence and ongoing support for older vehicles. Those are important factors when you consider parts availability, which helps keep down ownership costs for pre-owned cars. Thus, a 2011 Impreza sedan with fewer than 90,000 miles can be priced below $10,000.
Like all Impreza models, cars from that year come standard with the brand’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, a four-cylinder engine, and EPA ratings of 20/27 mpg city/highway (with both five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions). Also particularly impressive for the Impreza are its safety ratings: Although specific criteria have changed over time, Impreza models have earned at least Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for every year since 2008.
The Impreza’s midsize sibling, the Subaru Legacy sedan, supplies many of the same benefits as the brand’s compact car, including Subaru’s standard all-wheel drive technology. The Legacy doesn’t officially match the Impreza with both sedan and hatchback body styles, but the Subaru Outback is available as a five-door Legacy alternative. Pre-owned Legacy models do tend to have lower prices than comparable Outbacks, however. Customers can find the former with starting prices around $10,000, and that’s for 2009-2010 models that have been driven less than 110,000 miles. It’s also worth noting that the Legacy has the same kind of IIHS history as the Impreza, highlighted by an even longer streak of Top Safety Pick recognitions.