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Get peace of mind with affordable all-wheel-drive vehicles


Subau Impreza
Subau Impreza - Contributed

TORONTO — While you don’t need all-wheel drive, it’s nice to have, especially if the price is right.

All-wheel drive is not a substitute for a good set of winter tires. All too often the first vehicles to end up in the ditch after a big snowfall are SUVs, victims of overly-confident drivers who figured their high-riding tanks can conquer any condition.

However, all-wheel drive — combined with good winter tires — does make it much easier to get out of a snow-covered driveway or manoeuvre into a parallel-parking spot in the foulest of weather.

Automakers are all too aware of the fact all-wheel drive is a must-have feature for many Canadian drivers.

As a result, AWD is almost always an optional extra that commands a considerable price premium, or exclusively available on more expensive trim levels.

If you’re after an all-wheel drive bargain, but don’t want to wade into the used car market, these are some of the cheapest AWD vehicles in showrooms now:

Subaru Impreza, Convenience 4-door

  • Price: $19,995
  • AWD: Standard on every model

Predictably, the ultimate AWD bargain comes from Subaru; the brand is synonymous with affordable all-wheel drive cars. The first one was the 1972 Leone, great-great-grandfather to the Impreza. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, while a CVT automatic model is available for $21,295. Be warned: it’s better on fuel than it used to be but the Impreza will burn through more gasoline than front-wheel drive rivals. With the manual gearbox, consumption is rated at 10.0 L/100 km in the city and 7.5 L/100 km highway.

Hyundai Kona, 2.0L Essential AWD

  • Price: $22,999
  • AWD: Optional on base models, standard on top trims

 Hyundai Kona
Hyundai Kona

Ironically named after Hawaii’s big Island, the Kona is sharper looking than its rivals, and newer too, having been introduced as a 2018 model. The 147-horsepower engine from the Hyundai Elantra comes standard, but spend $26,899 and you can have 175 turbocharged horsepower paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Those are impressive specifications for a micro-SUV.

Ford EcoSport, S

  • Price: $24,599
  • AWD: Optional on base models, standard on top trim

Ford EcoSport
Ford EcoSport

Adding all-wheel drive to Ford’s littlest cute-ute necessitates adding the larger 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in place of the 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder. All told, opting for all-wheel drive costs an extra $2,500 over the base model. The EcoSport is part of the wave of micro-SUVs flooding the market, making SUV ownership more affordable than ever. The EcoSport is a smart addition to the lineup for Ford, but not a class leader.

Nissan Qashqai, S AWD

  • Price: $24,898
  • AWD: Optional on base models, standard on top trim

Nissan Qashqai
Nissan Qashqai

The Qashqai is interesting because it’s slightly larger than its nearest rivals. Consider it a half-size between sub-compact and compact. Given that the Qashqai was a smash hit in the European market, Nissan correctly guessed it would sell well in North America too. The Qashqai’s extra size combined with low price makes it excellent value. It’s not exciting to drive, but it looks more like a “real” SUV than rivals.

Chevrolet Trax, AWD LS

  • Price: $25,000
  • AWD: Optional on every model

 Chevrolet Trax
Chevrolet Trax

As a rule, micro-SUVs like this are not great value. You do sit higher, but you’ll find these ‘utes are not as spacious as similarly-priced compact cars or hatchbacks. That said, if you want the absolute cheapest SUV with all-wheel drive, this is the sort of vehicle you’ll be looking at. Introduced as a 2013 model, the Trax is getting old and its 138-horsepower motor is outgunned by rivals, so look for discounts.

Mazda CX-3, GX

  • Price: $26,125
  • AWD: Optional on base models, standard on top trim

 Mazda CX-3
Mazda CX-3

At over $26,000, Mazda’s all-wheel drive CX-3 isn’t the cheapest micro-SUV option, but it still costs less than the similar Honda HR-V. (We’re ignoring Toyota’s C-HR because it isn’t currently available with AWD.) Like all recent Mazda vehicles, the CX-3’s handling is as sharp as its design. We only wish all-wheel drive was available in combination with the sporty six-speed manual gearbox, but alas, it is not.

Mitsubishi RVR, SE AWC

  • Price: $26,998
  • AWD: Not available on base model, optional on SE trim

Mitsubishi RVR
Mitsubishi RVR

 

Mitsubishi built its reputation, much like Subaru did, by winning the World Rally Championship. These point-to-point timed races across dirt, sand, gravel and snow are the ultimate test of a car’s real-world ability. Sadly, the brand entirely gave up on its motorsport heritage to focus on affordable vehicles like the RVR. Its main selling point is that the drivetrain can be switched between front- and all-wheel drive modes, which — in theory — should reduce fuel consumption. However, rated at 10.1 L/100 km city and 8.2 highway, the RVR isn’t a champion of the frugality.

Jeep Wrangler, JK Sport

  • Build price: $27,045
  • AWD: 4WD standard on all models

Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition
Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition

If you’re looking for a true body-on-frame truck with all-wheel drive, the old Wrangler offers the best value. Jeep is still selling the JK-generation Wrangler alongside the all-new (more expensive) JL-generation models. On pavement, the older Wrangler is lacking in comfort and refinement compared to the new one. However, comfort is relative — we’re talking about vehicles that have removable doors — so don’t let that dissuade you. Even if you buy the bare-bones Sport model, there are few places this affordable 4x4 won’t take you.

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