two SUV's driving over untouched snow with a backdrop of snowy mountains

Best AWD Cars Of 2021: Browse According To Your Budget

Hanna Kielar6-minute read
November 29, 2021


Vehicles equipped with an all-wheel-drive system (AWD system) deliver enhanced traction and safer cornering when traveling on snow, rain or mud-covered roads. Unlike four-wheel-drive systems that need to be manually activated by the driver, AWD systems are automatic, making AWD one of the most popular standard safety features on new and pre-owned vehicles.

To help you find your next all-wheel-drive vehicle, we've selected the best AWD cars, for every budget.

Table Of Contents

    What Matters Most For AWD Car Buyers

    In order to pick the best all-wheel-drive cars, we looked at several factors including fuel economy, horsepower and pricing. We also considered whether the all-wheel-drive-system was a true full-time AWD system or a front-wheel-drive system equipped with variable AWD. Variable AWD systems will automatically activate AWD technology when needed to improve traction in snow, ice or mud.

    We referenced industry-leading sources such as IIHS Safety, NHTSA, Kelley Blue Book and manufacturer data to inform these top AWD choices. Any runners-up listed would still win in the snow and off the beaten track but couldn’t beat the reliability or advanced technology that our winners boast.

    We broke down our picks for best AWD cars in the following budgets:

    • Overall Best AWD Cars
    • Best AWD Cars Under $15,000
    • Best AWD Cars Under $20,000
    • Best AWD Cars Under $25,000
    • Best AWD Cars Under $30,000
    • Best AWD Cars Under $40,000
    • Best AWD Cars Under $50,000
    • Best AWD Cars Under $75,000

    Overall Best AWD Cars

    Subaru has long been known for building some of the best AWD vehicles, and nearly all of the manufacturer’s 2021 model lineup comes equipped with Subaru's proprietary symmetrical full-time AWD system. So it’s not surprising that Subaru tops our list of best all-wheel drive cars.

    Winner: 2021 Subaru Outback

    Best For: Commuting in icy conditions and high resale value

    MPG: 23 City / 30 Highway

    We selected the Subaru Outback as the best AWD vehicle because it's truly a one-size-fits-all vehicle. With a four-cylinder engine that produces 182 horsepower and a combined fuel economy rating of 29 MPG, the Outback makes a great commuter car for anyone who deals with snowy, icy or wet driving conditions.

    The Outback also has an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which makes this car very capable in moderate off-road conditions involving muddy roads, loose rocks and uneven surfaces. While it's neither a luxury car nor a sports car, the Subaru Outback is known for delivering a smooth ride that's comparable to a luxury sedan.

    Browse the Rocket Auto 2021 Subaru Outback.

    Runner Up: 2019 Audi A4

    Best For: Luxury

    MPG: 23 City / 34 Highway

    Ranking just below the Subaru Outback is the 2019 Audi A4, an AWD luxury car equipped with premium features such as electronic stability control, auto-dimming side mirrors and a heated steering wheel. The rain-detecting automatic windshield wipers with heated jets help improve visibility in snow or rain, while the 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder turbo engine delivers an impressive 170 horsepower.

    Browse the Rocket Auto Audi A4 inventory.

    Best AWD Car Under $15,000: 2013 Subaru Legacy

    Best For: Road Trippers

    MPG: 24 city / 32 highway

    The Legacy’s 2.5L 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) makes this car a must for all-around driving and frequent trips onto the highway. If you desire cargo space, the Legacy’s trunk provides 15 cubic feet of storage, which you can increase by folding the rear seats down. In addition to its smooth driving, the Legacy is one of the most fuel-efficient cars on this list.

    Browse the Rocket Auto 2013 Subaru Legacy.

    Runner Ups

    1. 2014 Subaru Impreza
    2. 2013 Cadillac CTS
    3. 2013 Lincoln MKZ

    Best AWD Car Under $20,000: 2016 Dodge Charger

    Best For: Power

    MPG: 18 city / 27 highway

    The 2016 Dodge Charger boasts an impressive 3.6l V6, 292 horsepower engine. This sporty sedan is also more spacious than it first appears. The interior has 105.7 cubic feet you can stretch out in, and its 16.5 cubic feet of trunk space provides plenty of cargo room for your belongings.

    Browse the Rocket Auto 2016 Dodge Charger.

    Runner Ups

    1. 2019 Subaru Impreza
    2. 2016 Ford Taurus
    3. 2016 Ford Fusion

    Best AWD Car Under $25,000: 2021 Subaru Impreza Manual Sedan

    Best For: Commuters

    MPG: 23 city / 31 highway

    The 2021 Subaru Impreza with five-speed manual transmission is a peppy, four-cylinder AWD sedan that offers the look and feel of a sports car while delivering impressive fuel economy. The Impreza is a great option for drivers who like the Subaru WRX, but who also want the added traction and stability of a full-time all-wheel-drive system.

    Browse the Rocket Auto 2021 Subaru Impreza inventory near you.

    Runner Ups

    1. 2019 Ford Taurus
    2. 2016 Audi A4
    3. 2020 Subaru Impreza

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    Best AWD Car Under $30,000: 2020 Ford Fusion

    Best For: Comfort

    MPG: 20 city / 29 highway

    The Ford Fusion is a comfortable, midsize sedan with some surprisingly sporty characteristics. Its 4-cylinder turbocharged engine makes for a quick car that can merge between highway lanes safely and with ease, as the Fusion includes lane-keeping assistance and a lane departure warning system. Inside it can fit 4 – 5 adults in its heated seats and keep them entertained on long drives with its premium sound system.

    Browse the Rocket Auto 2020 Ford Fusion inventory near you.

    Runner Ups

    1. 2021 Kia K5
    2. 2021 Subaru WRX
    3. 2019 Audi A3

    Best AWD Car Under $40,000: 2021 Mazda Mazda3

    Best For: All-around driving

    MPG: 25 city / 33 highway

    The Mazda3 is a cozy car boasting impressive all-wheel drive. Available as a sedan or hatchback, this car’s sport handling makes it fun to drive down winding country roads. The 4-cylinder engine’s 186 horsepower is sent straight to the wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission, for when you need that extra traction. The Mazda3 also comes with a comfortable interior with leather seats, dual climate control and the newest version of Mazda’s infotainment feature.

    Browse the Rocket Auto 2021 Mazda Mazda3 inventory near you.

    Runner Ups

    1. 2021 Kia K5
    2. 2021 Subaru WRX
    3. 2019 Audi A3

    Best AWD Car Under $50,000: 2021 Kia Stinger

    Best For: Advanced Features

    MPG: 17 city / 25 highway

    Powered by a 3.3l Twin Turbo V6 engine, the 2021 Kia Stinger can deliver smooth and effective shifts through its 8-speed automatic transmission. This car boasts responsive suspension, precise steering and strong braking. The Stinger also has selectable driving modes, heated side mirror and a ​​12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with 4-way lumbar support.

    Browse the Rocket Auto 2021 Kia Stinger inventory near you.

    Runner Ups

    1. 2021 Toyota Prius
    2. 2021 Nissan Altima
    3. 2020 Chrysler 300

    Best AWD Car Under $75,000: 2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range

    Best For: Electric Technology

    MPGe: 141 city / 127 highway

    Tesla is the undisputed leader when it comes to building the best AWD electric vehicles, and the 2021 Model 3 Long Range doesn't disappoint. This electric car has a range of 353 miles and is equipped with plenty of driver assistance features, including a forward collision mitigation system and adaptive cruise control.

    Also standard is dual-zone air conditioning, heated front seats and a panoramic roof. With its full-time all-wheel-drive system, the Model 3 can achieve an impressive 0 – 60 miles-per-hour time of under 6 seconds.

    Browse the Rocket Auto 2021 Tesla Model 3 inventory near you.

    Runner Ups

    1. 2021 Acura TLX
    2. 2021 Toyota Avalon
    3. 2020 Lincoln MKZ

    The Bottom Line

    All-wheel-drive systems have quickly become a must-have for drivers who need to travel in snowy, icy or wet conditions. Not only do the best AWD vehicles help with traction on slippery roads, but many of today's all-wheel-drive-equipped vehicles also deliver exceptional driving experiences.

    When shopping for the best all-wheel-drive cars, consider whether you'd like a full-time AWD system or if you'd prefer a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Front-wheel-drive cars with AWD tend to get slightly better fuel economy than comparable full-time AWD cars, but a full-time all-wheel-drive system may help with acceleration and cornering.

    To find the best AWD cars for sale in your area, browse through Rocket Auto's used AWD car inventory today.

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    Hanna Kielar

    Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.