Skip to main content

All-wheel drive cars speak to a deliberate side of the market. Some drivers want a lightweight, small front-wheel-drive car with great gas mileage. Others want their car to spin in a circle with the slightest blip of the throttle. Then there are other drivers who want maximum grip, all the time no matter the terrain. All-wheel drive cars fill the void for the latter group in spades. For those who want maximum grip and a sporty ride, these cars might be some of the most interesting choices they could make.

Reliable all-wheel drive: 2010 BMW 328 Xi

E92 BMW 3 Series parked outside
The new BMW 3 Series CoupÈ | BMW

The 2006-2011 era represents one of the most reliable generations of BMW’s 3-series, and it’s all-wheel drive. The non-turbo inline-six holds up well to severe abuse, and while the rest of the car may fall apart, the engine soldiers on, dragging the drivetrain with it. The 2010 328xi used a 3.0-liter inline-six to send 230 horsepower to all four wheels. It could also have a manual transmission and only weighed 3,770 pounds at its heaviest. While the seats of this generation 3-series may not have been the comfiest, the acceleration, grip, and shifting were on point. Autotempest shows several on sale, at $10,000 or less.

Fun and practical: 2011 Mini Countryman S

2011 mini countryman s parked outside
2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman | Getty Images

Even with a front-wheel-drive layout, Mini cars handle surprisingly well. Light on their feet, they hop around mountain passes like a rabbit through the woods. Shifting feels a little rushed as if trying to keep up with the car’s acceleration. The 2011 Mini Countryman S uses a tiny 1.6-liter inline-four with a turbocharger and makes 181 horsepower. It might not sound like a lot of power, but considering the light curb weight of 3,208 pounds, with all-wheel drive, it should be more than plenty. The car also gets decent gas mileage but has a tendency to burn oil. As long as the oil level gets consistent attention, the engine should run for a while. Finding a cheap one shouldn’t be a problem.

Vicious and capable: 2006 Audi A3 S-Line Quattro

2006 audi a3 s line parked outside
2006 Audi A3 Sportback S-Line | Getty Images

All-Wheel-Drive SUVs for Under $15,000

It wouldn’t be a proper all-wheel drive list without an honorary Audi mention. The A3 S-line Quattro from 2006 used a 3.2-liter V6 with 250 horsepower and direct injection. The engine is naturally aspirated, which should do wonders for reliability. Audi cars accelerate like wild banshees and controlling them is like using reigns on a wild stallion. Once tame, however, the Audi becomes a grip factory, sticking to the tarmac as it was bred to do. At its core, the Audi is a Volkswagen, so reliability can be difficult to pin down.

The used all-wheel drive market is saturated with Audis and BMWs. It may be because their depreciation goes straight to the Earth’s core within a few years, and they offer many all-wheel drive options. Sometimes a less common car muscles its way through, but it’s not often. Regardless, Audis are fine choices for proper all-wheel drive performance, BMWs are solid for reliability (at least in this era), and the Mini provides good clean fun, just as long as it’s a short and spirited drive. If budget is not an option, consider a newer all-wheel drive sports car.