Automotive manufacturers are constantly searching for the exclusive 'next big thing' they can use to sell their cars. Sometimes it's more of a sales gimmick, like the four-wheel steering systems that were briefly popular in the 80s and 90s, but others prove their worth and stand the test of time. With their adoption of Quattro all-wheel-drive across their model line, Audi has proved that their concept not only isn't a gimmick, but virtually all of their competitors had to step up and offer their own competing all-wheel-drive options due to customer demand.
To their credit, Audi took something everyone else had resigned to using on trucks and commercial vehicles and made it a must-have for the average driver. While Audi was the first European manufacturer to make widespread use of AWD throughout their model range, there are many great all-wheel-drive cars out there that don't have the four rings on the grill. Here are seven of our favorites.
Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic (Type W204, 2008-2014)
The W204 Mercedes C300 is one of the best from Mercedes-Benz of the past two decades. The Mercedes C300 4Matic takes that same robust design, reliable driveline components, and very capable W204 chassis of the standard C300 (as proved by our FCP Euro AER RWD C300 race car), and adds the Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. While the 3.0 L M272 V6 provides adequate if not thrilling performance, the full-time 4Matic AWD system gives the car outstanding all-weather capabilities.
With a standard 45/55 torque split, the Generation 3 Mercedes-Benz 4Matic features a multi-plate clutch that works in conjunction with the C300's Electronic Stability Programming and Mercedes 4ETS Electronic Traction System to manage traction and split torque between the front and rear axles. The 4Matic system is able to send up to 70% of available torque either front or rear, ensuring sure-footed acceleration and traction regardless of conditions. An excellent interior, simultaneously simple but elegant, is classic old-school Mercedes-Benz. Comfortable seating, clear instrumentation, and high-quality materials add to the sense that this car will last forever, which it probably will. While it may not be the most exciting car on our list and lacks the tunable turbo engine of an Audi A4 2.0t Quattro, the Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic is probably the best all-around, all-purpose German AWD sedan you can find for the price. If you can, grab a 2012+ face-lifted model, as it features a detuned M276 3.5 L V6 and a little more power, torque, and potential.
Volvo S60 AWD (Type P2, 2002-2009)
The Volvo S60 AWD is handsome and perhaps the most individualistic choice of our list of non-Audi all-wheel-drive cars. And it happens to be the only one on the list that isn't German. Unlike the Audi Quattro, Mercedes-Benz 4Matic, and BMW xDrive system, Volvo utilizes an on-demand Haldex all-wheel-drive system rather than a full-time AWD system. Teamed up with the low-pressure turbo 5-cylinder engine, the Volvo S60 Haldex AWD system distributes 100% of the engine's 197 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels up until the moment they slip. From there, the system kicks in and works to split torque between front and rear, up to a 50/50 split, but it remains front-biased throughout the process. Despite its bias, this AWD Volvo sedan has plenty of acumen when it comes to all-weather traction. Perhaps not a total surprise as Haldex Traction Systems was originally a Swedish company, before being acquired by BorgWarner in 2011.
If you're looking for a used Volvo S60 AWD, we'd go for the 2004-2009 model, which uses the more advanced Generation 3 Haldex system and thus is faster reacting to moments of slip on the front axle. Either way, the Volvo S60 AWD is distinct and truly Volvo-esque through and through, making it the perfect choice for anyone looking for an alternative to the more traditional offerings from Germany.
Porsche 911 Turbo (Type 996, 2002-2005)
Audi went racing to prove that their Quattro all-wheel-drive system was for more than just traction on snow and ice. If there's any company that already knew this, it was Porsche. At the time, they had utilized a four-wheel-drive traction system on one 911 model or another since the mid-1980s, after introducing the system on the 959 supercar.
Where Audi and others have mostly been content to make practical sedans, Porsche is all about practical performance on another level. There is no better buy and no better car to prove this point than the 996 Porsche 911 Turbo. And while not all Porsche 911s are AWD, the Turbos have been since the 1996 993 911 Turbo.
The 996 Turbo took your standard Porsche 911 AWD model, the Carrera 4, and dialed everything way up. It's wider, more aggressive-looking, and power from the turbocharged 3.6 L flat-six Mezger engine and traction from the viscous-coupling system give this AWD Porsche supercar performance. The performance nearly 20 years later is still impressive, with the 996 Turbo completing a 0-60 run in 4.1 seconds and the quarter-mile in 12.6 seconds at 112 mph. Having 415 horsepower and an identical 415 lb-ft of torque on tap, the remarkably simple system remains rear-biased unless it detects slip and then engages until the car has grip restored at the rear axle before it goes back to happily hiding in the background. The best part about the 996 Turbo is that they're an inexpensive buy for a Porsche for all that performance. You can still find decent, average to lower-mile examples for under $40,000. If you're looking for something just as adept at hauling people as it is just plain hauling, the Porsche Cayenne GTS AWD may be what you need.
Porsche Cayenne GTS AWD (Type 957, 2008-2010)
The era of modern Porsche AWD was ushered in with the introduction of the Porsche Cayenne in 2002. While it's a big SUV, something at the time that was a controversial product for Porsche, it's a big SUV that does a lot of things very well. While the standard Cayenne S with its 4.5 L or 4.8 L V8 is nice, and the Turbo is fast, it's the Cayenne GTS that does things a big SUV simply shouldn't be able to do. With 405 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque from the 4.8 L all-aluminum V8 engine, the Porsche Traction Management AWD system, along with shorter gearing and an optional manual transmission, is able to hustle the GTS Cayenne to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds.
Thanks to a baseline 38/62 torque split and electronically controlled active center differential with locking from the PTM AWD system, the GTS can deliver both on-road and off. Its handling can rival even some sports cars of the day. The GTS is also lighter than the Cayenne S, features a lowered sport suspension, and sharp-looking aerodynamic body kit. Despite all this, the Porsche Cayenne towing capacity remains an outstanding 7,716 lbs. If you're looking for a used Porsche Cayenne for sale, the GTS is harder to find than many other models, but will certainly be worth the extra effort it takes to locate one of these all-conquering beasts.
Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 4MOTION (Type Mk7, 2017-2020)
Volkswagen has been selling all-wheel-drive variants of their humble Golfs, Jettas, Passats, and other models for years. First, under the Syncro moniker and then under the 4MOTION branding, they've long been a staple of the Wolfsburg lineup. It's simply unfortunate for us that they never bothered to import many into the United States. What is 4MOTION, you ask? It's VW's name for the Haldex all-wheel-drive systems they've been using in the United States since the introduction of the Mk4 R32 in 2004. Although VW 4MOTION was previously relegated to the R-Line Golfs, Volkswagen eventually expanded the offering to the Golf SportWagen 4MOTION in 2017.
The Golf SportWagen 4MOTION makes our list because it combines supreme practicality with competent performance and a range of options for driving enthusiasts. Fuel-efficient, turbo engine? Check. Handsome good looks? Check. Manual and DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission options? Check and Check. Ultimately the SportWagen has a certain undeniable cool factor, made all the more appealing thanks to the tunable nature of the already great MQB Mk7 platform. Engine tuning, suspension, brake upgrades, and even bigger turbochargers are all easy to upgrade on the SportWagen, making it a potential sleeper car with performance to rival much more expensive, and more obvious, competition. Thanks to the active Haldex 4MOTION AWD sending as much as 50% of available torque to the rear wheels, you know it will also have the traction you need to get you on your way, no matter the weather.
BMW 325iX (Type E30, 1988-1991)
BMW was ahead of the curve when it came to introducing a full-time all-wheel-drive system on the BMW E30 325iX in 1988. Although their E30 M3 was a dominant force in the DTM, it's original destiny was supposed to be the World Rally Championship. Once Audi introduced the fire-breathing Audi Quattro in 1980 and began winning championships in 1982, the writing was on the wall for any two-wheel-drive rally cars currently in development. With Audi's success in translating AWD wins on the weekend into sales of AWD cars during the week, BMW's engineers set about to build an all-weather sedan of their own. Globally, this was done on both the 5-Series and 3-Series, but we only got the E30 here in the USA.
While the 325iX may look similar to the same base rear-wheel-drive 325i, in truth, it is a very different beast under the skin. Powered by the same 168 horsepower inline six-cylinder engine, the 325ix had a completely different front subframe, suspension, and driveline. A viscous-coupling system split power between the front and rear, with a 37%/63% power split as standard and up to 100% of torque available to either the front or rear axles depending on traction. The system itself is fairly simple and works remarkably well while still lending the E30 325iX the feel of a proper BMW. Fender flares and a model-specific body kit make the 325iX stand out in a way similar to the 318iS and other more highly optioned E30s sold at the time. If there is a downside, it's that it wasn't a very popular car. Because of this, BMW 325iX parts can be harder to come by than other E30 models. If you're looking for a BMW 325iX for sale, make sure it has a known service history and is in good general mechanical condition. When they're properly maintained, few cars are as fun to drive as a 325iX on a snowy back road.
BMW 328i xDrive (Type F30, 2012-2018)
Perhaps due to the relatively unsuccessful E30 325iX, BMW didn't venture back into all-wheel-drive sedans until the 2000s, with the introduction of the E46 325xi. With continued sales success and more and more customers demanding an all-wheel-drive option, BMW continued to expand its offerings via their BMW xDrive models. The F30 BMW 328i xDrive, sold from 2012 until 2018, offers owners a capable AWD system with excellent driving dynamics for a reasonable price, especially on the used market.
The F30 328i xDrive is notable for having switched from a naturally-aspirated straight-six to the 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder N20 engine. Developing 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the modern direct-injection engine pairs nicely with the F30 chassis and xDrive system. While lamented by some as not being as driver-focused as previous generations, the F30 is still a more than capable chassis, and the car provides more modern technologies and improved interior appointments over previous generations.
It is worth noting that there is a known timing chain guide issue on the N20 engine, so vehicle service records and frequent oil services are important. BMW does offer an extended warranty covering some cars and components, but the coverage varies from state to state. If you own or are looking to buy a used BMW 328i xDrive and wanted to tackle repairing your N20 timing chain problems yourself, we have a complete DIY that covers both the teardown of the N20 timing chain system, as well as the installation and reassembly. Teething problems of the N20 engine aside, the 328i xDrive remains one of the best bang-for-the-buck AWD BMWs around.
Ultimately we're not saying you should avoid Audi Quattro models if you're looking for a capable all-wheel-drive German car. After all, they're the benchmark of the industry for a reason. But while they may be the benchmark, the world is full of great AWD options thanks to the fierce competition among manufacturers that ultimately benefits us, the fans, and drivers of German cars worldwide. What's the best non-Audi all-wheel-drive model we forgot about or didn't list here?
FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55