2007 Subaru Legacy GT Spec.B by Bengt Halvorson (6/2/2006)One step closer to the ultimate driving machine.
Doug Warren is tired of feeding his big sport-utility vehicle, so when his lease is up, later this year, the
“When I’m heading out to court early on a cold,
The technology has been around for quite some time on the truck side, where it is often referred to as four-wheel drive, and outsells two-wheel-drive systems in most products. But all-wheel drive, or AWD, has only recently become a readily available option on the passenger car and crossover side of the showroom.
“It’s amazing, in the evolution of the automobile, how much impact the SUV has had,” says Dan Gorrell, head of automotive research for the Strategic Vision consultancy. “It has shown people they can have both fun and function. Now some of that functionality is starting to show up in sedans.”
Until recently, the few sedans, coupes, and sports cars with AWD were produced by a narrow niche of manufacturers, notably
“It is a real differentiator” for the brand, explains Johan de Nysschen, head of Audi of America, though the brand’s “quattro” technology is losing some of its uniqueness as other manufacturers come up with AWD systems of their own.
Ford Motor Co. long rejected the technology for anything other than trucks, such as its big F-Series pickup and Explorer SUV. Ford experimented with an AWD version o its compact Tempo sedan back in the 1980s and found few takers. But company officials now admit that in hindsight, they rigged the deck, since the Tempo was largely sold to fleet, where price, rather than traction, was the big selling point.
Ford has found that with more recent entries, geared to the retail market, demand for its AWD option has far exceeded expectations. So, to the current AWD-equipped products, such as the Five Hundred sedan, and Freestyle crossover, Ford will soon add its Fusion and Edge, as well as the Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ and MKX models.
With the exception of General Motors’ troubled Buick division, every mainstream automaker operating in the U.S. now offers at least one AWD entry. It accounts for 36 percent of Lexus offerings, and that number is expected to rise.
There’s no question that demand for AWD is strongest in the snowiest parts of the country, whether
Hossack sees growing availability, but remains skeptical that AWD will become a truly mainstream option beyond the light-truck market. Fuel economy is a big reason. The added gears and drivelines add weight and increase internal friction, which translates into lower mileage.
Whether AWD hinders or helps performance is a matter of debate. Subaru points to its World Rally Champion, the WRX. And Audi has made performance a big part of its sales pitch for quattro. Then there’s the ultra-exotic Lamborghini, which features AWD on all of its high-power products, including the $295,700 Murcielago. Proponents acknowledge the added friction and weight can drain some off-the-line acceleration on dry pavement, but they counter that it improves handling — read speed — on winding and wet roads.
The number of
High-line systems, such as the original Mercedes-Benz 4Matic, once carried premiums of $5000 or more. Today, AWD can be added to some vehicles for barely $1000 — and it is likely to become standard on more and more products, many analysts expect.