As drivers demand better fuel economy, ever-increasing comfortable rides and better handing from their SUVs, the crossover segment of the automotive market has been growing. There are a few qualities that define a crossover, like being built on chassis that are based on passenger cars instead of trucks, optional third-row seating and almost always an all-wheel-drive version.
Crossovers have become a great mix of functionality, style, power and comfort. Being smaller than pervious truck-based SUVs, they typically have better fuel economy than the SUVs of yesteryear, although some are pushing the envelope. The AWD capabilities of crossovers allow drivers the option to use their vehicle in ways that a car could never perform, while still maintaining the comfort and drivability that typically comes from car ownership.
All-wheel-drive capabilities can vary greatly between each crossover, just like their pricing, size, towing capabilities and cargo room. We've compiled a list of five all-wheel-drive crossovers that fall into almost every category of size, price, off-road capability and driving experience. Some are expensive and refined; others are a little more homely and utilitarian. At least one will knock your socks off with its sheer speed and power and another might be your go-to choice for getting through an Armageddon-sized crater.
There are plenty of AWD crossovers to choose from when building a list, but these five hit on a cross section of the AWD crossover market and should give you an idea of how much each one can vary.
Some automobile manufacturers are known for specific qualities and characteristics that their vehicles exude. Subaru vehicles have portrayed an adventurous and almost non-conformist persona for some time now. Their vehicle's intrepid personality comes partly from their standard all-wheel-drive systems on every model, the Outback being no exception.
The Outback was redesigned in 2010, making the current model one of the roomiest, tallest and biggest Outbacks to come off the Subaru assembly line. With improved ground clearance and over 71 cubic feet of cargo space, the Outback is ready to jump off-road and carry more camping equipment than some of the other crossovers in its class. Not to mention that it also won 2010 Motor Trend SUV of the Year as well.
The Outback is available in six different trim levels, which may seem too many options to choose from, but the variation in packages allows the base price to start at around $23,000 and builds up to $35,000 for all the fringe benefits. Buyers have a choice between a 2.4-liter four-cylinder boxer engine or a 3.5-liter flat six. The four-cylinder engine provides ample power when taking into account that the Outback is much lighter than the other crossover competition. Gone is the turbocharged version that some diehard Subaru fans may be used to seeing.
The Outback not only offers great cargo space and a lightweight build compared to its competition, but it also offers some of the best fuel efficiency as well [Source: Car Connection]. An optional continuously variable transmission, or CVT, 2.4-liter engine gets around 22 city and 29 highway miles per gallon (9.4 and 12.3 kilometers per liter). The 3.5-liter will see about 18 in the city and 25 highway miles per gallon (7.7 and 10.6 kilometers per liter) [source: Edmunds].
The Outback doesn't offer a third row seat like some other crossovers, so if you're looking to pile in more than a few kids, you may need to look at some of the other vehicles listed in this article. The Outback does come with a four-star crash-test safety rating for both front and side impact tests.
You can upgrade the Outback to include niceties like a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for your laptop or a 440-watt Harmon-Kardon stereo system. Or you can enjoy some of the standard features like stability and traction control, which will come in handy when putting the AWD system to the test.
The Outback may be a difficult AWD crossover to beat, but there are few more on our list that deserve some attention as well. Go on to the next page for the next AWD crossover.
If AWD is on your list of must-haves in a crossover, then you'll want to check out the newly redesigned Jeep Compass. It's AWD and optional off-road packages will leave other crossovers sitting at the edge of the pavement while it tears through the wilderness.
The Compass was updated for 2011 and shed some of its former unfortunate styling. The newest version looks more like a shrunken doppelganger of the Grand Cherokee, a purposeful achievement according to Jeep. The inside of the Compass remains relatively the same compared to the previous versions, and being a low-end Jeep you probably shouldn't expect too much compared to other crossovers in its class.
Where the Compass really starts to shine is with its available Trail Rated off-road package. The Trail Rated badge is given to Jeep vehicles that have met certain off-road standards that Jeep has set for itself. Trail Rated Jeeps need to meet specific approach and departure angles when performing off-road and have ample ground clearance as well. Approach and departure angles are the distance from the front or the rear of the vehicle to the ground as it climbs over an object. If the approach or departure angles are too short, then you'll scrape the bottom of your vehicles as you start to climb over it or as you leave. Or worse, you won't be able to go over it at all.
For those hesitant to accept a trail-rated badge from the same people who built the vehicle, consider the 8.4 inches of ground clearance, skid plates, tow hooks and a CVT engine that allows for a low range option when for off-roading. The Compass receives an improved AWD system for the new model, called the Freedom Drive II. The Trail Rated Compass also comes with features like a hill decent traction and brake traction system that add to its off-road capabilities.
The Jeep Compass starts at just over $19,000 and with the AWD Trail Rated version with the price will be closer to $25,000 [source: Jeep]. Although the Compass may be the most capable AWD off-roading crossovers, don't expect it to stick around for very long. With Fiat's partial ownership of Chrysler, the Compass is scheduled to be discontinued in 2012 or 2013 in favor of a Fiat-based vehicle. But if you're looking for an AWD system that'll let you play in the mud, then this is still the AWD crossover for you.
On the next page we'll look at another AWD crossover, but one that has a tad bit more personality than the Compass.
The Nissan Juke is a compact crossover that looks like it's in a class all by itself. Think of the Juke as the younger brother to the Rogue and Murano who wants to have more fun and go his own way. The offbeat styling may turn some potential crossover buyers away, but its sportiness and unique personality is a breath of fresh air in a crowded crossover market.
The Juke comes available with just one engine, a 1.6-liter turbocharged direct injection four-cylinder that produces 188 horsepower and 177 ft-lb. of torque to the all-wheel-drive's 3,200 pounds (1,451 kilograms) [source: Nissan]. The AWD model is only available with a continuously variable automatic transmission, so you'll have to sacrifice the six-speed manual for the all-wheel-drive capability.
The manual transmission doesn't stifle all of your performance options; Nissan offers three different performance modes: Normal, Sport and Eco. Each mode adjusts the throttle response, steering, and transmission shifting depending on your preference at the time.
Although the AWD system may not be built for climbing rocks, it does offer some impressive characteristics. Nissan equipped the Juke with a torque vectoring system that splits the torque between the front and rear wheels to provide the right amount of power to each wheel. For example, when starting the Juke uphill on a wet surface each wheel can receive 25 percent of the torque, but if you make a hard turn right after that then the torque can be distributed between the three wheels that need and leave one with no torque at all.
The torque vectoring distribution is decided by calculating the vehicle's speed, lateral G-force, wheel speed, gear position and yaw rate. Yaw is a term used to describe a vehicle's turning on its vertical axis, or simply when the vehicle is side skidding. The Juke vehicle to implement torque vectoring into a compact crossover and Nissan says that it's also the lightest vectoring system in the world.
The Juke starts at $19,500 and can be equipped with add-ons that will put you around $23,000. Nissan's little crossover not only offers a sophisticated AWD system but also comes with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest crash test rating in all four categories [source: Nissan].
Go on to the next page to find out about our next AWD crossover, the 2011 SUV of the Year.
Porsche stepped into the crossover scene with the Cayenne in 2003 and in 2011 their redesigned version won Motor Trend's SUV of the Year award. This was a big achievement for Porsche since many were skeptical that an SUV made by Porsche was a good idea. As far as AWD crossovers go, the Cayenne is not surprisingly one of the most luxurious you can find. The base MSPR starts at $48,000 and then jumps leaps and bounds from there. Order one of these with the best engine with all the available options and you're looking at a whopping $170,000 [source: Markus].
The Cayenne comes in four different, including a 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 300-horsepower and a gas/electric 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 that puts out 380-horsepower with 20 miles per gallon (8.5 kilometers per liter) city and 24 miles per gallon (10.2 kilometers per liter) on the highway [source: Porsche]. The crown jewel of the Cayenne's engine offerings is the 4.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 that spews 500-horsepower straight out of its mouth. That's an additional 100-horsepower from the standard 4.8-liter V-8 that's also available. The turbo version will kick this AWD crossover from 0 to 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 4.4 seconds [source: Porsche].
In the all-wheel-drive department the Cayenne comes with a torque vectoring system to deliver power to the wheels most in need. By default 60 percent of the engine's power goes to the rear wheels and 40 percent to the front. The off-road mode on the Cayenne changes the vehicles handling of the transmission, traction and chassis and optional air springs can bring the ground clearance up to 8.5 inches [source: Markus]. The previous generation Cayenne had a dual-range transfer case that allowed for more rugged off-roading, but was dropped in the 2011 redesign, saving about 400 pounds (181.4 kilograms) of weight [source: Edmunds].
Although the Cayenne is capable of going off-road, this crossover may be best left on level surfaces. It's kind of like using a priceless vase to prop open a door. Yes, it can serve that function, but it's probably not the best idea. If you're looking for luxury, speed and versatility, it's hard to find a better fusion of all three in an AWD crossover though.
Go on to the next page to see our last AWD crossover.
The Mazda CX-9 is a full-size crossover that offers seating for up to seven, a generous amount of power and great cargo space. The all-wheel-drive feature isn't standard but the CX-9 does come with a good amount of equipment for its starting price of about $29,000.
The CX-9 has won several awards and praises from multiple automotive sources for its overall quality and driving experience. The only engine available on the CX-9 is a 3.7-liter V-6 with 273 horsepower and 270 ft-lb. of torque, but it will get you to 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour) in about 7.3 seconds [source: Lago]. There are three versions of the CX-9 to choose from: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring, with the latter coming in at only four thousand more than the base Sport.
The optional AWD system has a torque-splitting feature similar to other crossovers and the eight inches of ground clearance will come in handy if you decide to rough it for a few miles. If you're thinking about using the CX-9 for towing, the AWD can handle 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms). and an optional towing package will add heavy-duty transmission oil cooler, radiator fan and a modified engine control module to manage the engine [source: Mazda].
With the second row up the CX-9 provides just over 48 cubic feet of cargo space, but if you fold the seat flat it expands to over 100 cubic feet [source: Lago]. The steering and handling respond well according to reviews, but the fuel economy is only 16 miles per gallon (6.8 kilometers per liter) for the city and 22 miles per gallon (9.4 kilometers per liter) on the highway in the AWD version [source: Mazda]. Another positive for the CX-9 is its 5-star government crash test rating for front and side impact crashes.
If you're looking for a fun-to-drive AWD crossover that comes with a significant amount of features for the price, then you may have found just what you're looking for in Mazda's CX-9.
For lots more information about AWD crossovers, follow the links on the next page.
What are the best reasons to buy a crossover vehicle? Read about 5 reasons to buy a crossover vehicle at HowStuffWorks.
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