The Best and Cheapest Small AWD Cars

The Best and Cheapest Small AWD Cars

Most passenger cars are of the two-wheel drive variety. The vehicle’s drivetrain applies torque to just two wheels (typically the front two, although it’s common for some performance cars to use a rear-wheel drive mechanism), which control the car’s momentum and direction. 

That’s fine if you live in a city, or somewhere that seldom sees harsh winter conditions. But if you live in a colder part of the country, or frequently take to country roads, you’ll want something more capable. 

The answer? An all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle. With torque applied to each wheel, the car is less liable to spin when negotiating an icy patch of road, and enjoys better stability and acceleration. AWD cars are typically better at handling steep hills, and enjoy better overall off-road performance. 

While most associate AWD vehicles with large trucks and SUVs, the reality couldn’t be more different. If you want the stability and reassurance that comes with an AWD, but prefer something smaller and more maneuverable, there are dozens of compelling options for you to consider. Here are some of the best.

Best and Cheapest Small AWD Cars

2017 Subaru Impreza Limited (from $19,700)

2017 Subaru Impreza Limited (from $19,700)

Subaru is the most enthusiastic proponent of AWD driving, having long made it standard equipment among its cars and SUVs. The capable 2017 Subaru Impreza is no exception, although it stands out for other reasons.

Although not the most powerful on the market, the Impreza’s 2L 4-cylinder engine offers sprightly acceleration paired with remarkable fuel economy. Owners can expect 28MPG in the city, and 37MPG on the highway. 

Despite its status as a regular-sized passenger vehicle, the Impreza offers generous levels of head- and leg-room, along with other interior comforts that make long stretches of driving  enjoyable. Think a high-end sound system, built-in navigation, and a capable infotainment system. And for those in cold climes, you’ll be glad to know the Impreza packs heated leather seats.

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2017 Subaru Impreza Limited (from $19,700)

Subaru is the most enthusiastic proponent of AWD driving, having long made it standard equipment among its cars and SUVs. The capable 2017 Subaru Impreza is no exception, although it stands out for other reasons.

Although not the most powerful on the market, the Impreza’s 2L 4-cylinder engine offers sprightly acceleration paired with remarkable fuel economy. Owners can expect 28MPG in the city, and 37MPG on the highway. 

Despite its status as a regular-sized passenger vehicle, the Impreza offers generous levels of head- and leg-room, along with other interior comforts that make long stretches of driving  enjoyable. Think a high-end sound system, built-in navigation, and a capable infotainment system. And for those in cold climes, you’ll be glad to know the Impreza packs heated leather seats.

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2017 MINI Clubman Cooper (from $17,450)

2017 MINI Clubman Cooper (from $17,450)

This iconic British motor has long strayed from the diminutive two-door design that propelled the original to cult status, but the larger five-door Clubman is still fairly practical for tight city driving.

And that’s almost all you’ll want to do with it. Its 1.5L three-cylinder engine isn’t especially brisk, and you’ll find it wanting on large stretches of the highway, where rapid acceleration comes in handy. We’d also expect fuel efficiency to be better, given its size. Owners can expect 22MPG on the city and 32MPG on the highway. 

Still, it’s an attractive beast. After all, it is a Mini. And despite its relatively small frame, there’s a lot to love about its interior, from the built-in Harmon Kardon sound system, to subtle touches like a hands-free liftgate on the trunk.  

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2017 MINI Clubman Cooper (from $17,450)

This iconic British motor has long strayed from the diminutive two-door design that propelled the original to cult status, but the larger five-door Clubman is still fairly practical for tight city driving.

And that’s almost all you’ll want to do with it. Its 1.5L three-cylinder engine isn’t especially brisk, and you’ll find it wanting on large stretches of the highway, where rapid acceleration comes in handy. We’d also expect fuel efficiency to be better, given its size. Owners can expect 22MPG on the city and 32MPG on the highway. 

Still, it’s an attractive beast. After all, it is a Mini. And despite its relatively small frame, there’s a lot to love about its interior, from the built-in Harmon Kardon sound system, to subtle touches like a hands-free liftgate on the trunk.  

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2014 Tesla Model S P85D (from $39,950)

2014 Tesla Model S P85D (from $39,950)

Faster than a bolt of lightning, the Tesla 2014 Tesla Model S is undeniably performance-driven. Although the Silicon Valley automaker continues to improve when it comes to range and speed, the 2014 P85D variant is no slouch, hitting 60MPH in just 4.2 seconds.

And yes, it’s a Tesla. So expect a luxurious interior with more tech than you’ll find at a branch of Best Buy. Stealing the show is a huge centrally-mounted 17-inch infotainment system which shows the car’s battery levels and the view from the rear-mounted parking camera, but can also access Google Maps and the wider internet through its built-in cellular connection.

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2014 Tesla Model S P85D (from $39,950)

Faster than a bolt of lightning, the Tesla 2014 Tesla Model S is undeniably performance-driven. Although the Silicon Valley automaker continues to improve when it comes to range and speed, the 2014 P85D variant is no slouch, hitting 60MPH in just 4.2 seconds.

And yes, it’s a Tesla. So expect a luxurious interior with more tech than you’ll find at a branch of Best Buy. Stealing the show is a huge centrally-mounted 17-inch infotainment system which shows the car’s battery levels and the view from the rear-mounted parking camera, but can also access Google Maps and the wider internet through its built-in cellular connection.

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2013 BMW 3 Series (from $15,000)

2013 BMW 3 Series (from $15,000)

With space for just four riders, the two-door 2013 BMW 3 Series is an undeniably compact vehicle. Ignoring the 18MPG city mileage, this car feels most at home when traversing maze-like urban streets and squeezing into improbably-tight parking spots.

And yet, it’s also a solid performer, with a 3L six-cylinder engine providing 300HP and 300lbs of torque. With solid acceleration, the 2013 BMW 3 Series promises to be a sporty ride. And while it lacks some modern fit-and-finishes due to its relative vintage, comfort and practicality aren’t sacrificed. 

Leather seats, a rear bench configuration, and a power-adjustable front passenger seat guarantee a luxurious ride, while it comes with a decent selection of entertainment options, including local media storage, USB input, and Bluetooth. 

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2013 BMW 3 Series (from $15,000)

With space for just four riders, the two-door 2013 BMW 3 Series is an undeniably compact vehicle. Ignoring the 18MPG city mileage, this car feels most at home when traversing maze-like urban streets and squeezing into improbably-tight parking spots.

And yet, it’s also a solid performer, with a 3L six-cylinder engine providing 300HP and 300lbs of torque. With solid acceleration, the 2013 BMW 3 Series promises to be a sporty ride. And while it lacks some modern fit-and-finishes due to its relative vintage, comfort and practicality aren’t sacrificed. 

Leather seats, a rear bench configuration, and a power-adjustable front passenger seat guarantee a luxurious ride, while it comes with a decent selection of entertainment options, including local media storage, USB input, and Bluetooth. 

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2010 Audi A5 2.0L Premium Plus (from $11,000)

2010 Audi A5 2.0L Premium Plus (from $11,000)

Among the cheapest on this list, the four-seater 2010 Audi A5 isn’t much of a people pleaser, thanks to its manual transmission and relatively dated infotainment options. Its 2L 4-cylinder engine doesn’t quite deliver the same level of performance you’d expect from the BMW 3 Series. And yet, it redeems itself in a few areas. 

First, price: At $11,600, the A5 is a bargain choice for anyone looking for an AWD experience without breaking the bank. And yet, it manages to feel decidedly luxurious, touting the same level of finesse that you’d expect from an Audi. Passenger comfort is improved with leather seats, with the rear two in a bench configuration. Long rides become even more enjoyable, thanks to its built-in high-end sound system.

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2010 Audi A5 2.0L Premium Plus (from $11,000)

Among the cheapest on this list, the four-seater 2010 Audi A5 isn’t much of a people pleaser, thanks to its manual transmission and relatively dated infotainment options. Its 2L 4-cylinder engine doesn’t quite deliver the same level of performance you’d expect from the BMW 3 Series. And yet, it redeems itself in a few areas. 

First, price: At $11,600, the A5 is a bargain choice for anyone looking for an AWD experience without breaking the bank. And yet, it manages to feel decidedly luxurious, touting the same level of finesse that you’d expect from an Audi. Passenger comfort is improved with leather seats, with the rear two in a bench configuration. Long rides become even more enjoyable, thanks to its built-in high-end sound system.

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Easy to handle

From the affordable Audi A5, to the Mini Clubman Cooper, we’ve rattled off some of the best small AWD cars for all price points. Some, like the gorgeous Tesla Model S, represent the height of driving bliss. If you’re concerned about how your vehicle handles in cold weather, or you simply want a ride that won’t splutter as you tackle a steep hill, these are the cars for you. 

Size matters, but so does where you buy your next car. Shift makes the whole process easy. With its transparent upfront pricing, there are no surprises and no haggling. Meanwhile, all vehicles are protected by a 150-point inspection and Shift’s certified cars come with a free 30-day warranty, so you can hit the road with total peace of mind.

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Author
Shift Editorial Team