Winter is coming: Our favorite all-wheel drive SUVs

There’s a rough line that runs across the country from Portland, Oregon, to Washington D.C. Winters below this line are mostly survivable, while winters above this line are simply awful. Rain, snow, endless cold and darkness, ice, sleet, yetis  . . . why the founding fathers chose this bit of land instead of someplace nice like Mexico is beyond knowing.

 For vehicular motivation during the stretch, we insist on all-wheel drive. There are many variations on the system available, but every modern one uses sensors to continuously monitor each wheel and deliver torque exactly where needed. While nothing beats driver training and ample practice, having a car smart enough to keep itself pointed in the right direction is a near necessity to winter driving safety.

Starting MSRPs are for the model and do not necessarily reflect all-wheel drive pricing.

Subcompact: Ford EcoSport

Ford EcoSport

Starting MSRP: $19,995

Ford’s five-seat EcoSport comes standard with a 1.0-liter turbo three-cylinder driving the front wheels, but all-wheel drive (AWD) mated to a 166-horsepower 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four is available in all but the one trim level for $1,595; on the SES model AWD is standard. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission.

We like the bins, pockets, and hooks inside that make sure the small ute stays organized. Second row seats fold away to create a flat floor, making hauling large objects a breeze.

Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system is available, and offers enhanced voice command response, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and B&O Play

Subcompact: Jeep Renegade

Starting MSRP: $18,845

Jeep’s tiny Renegade blends city style with enough offroad substance to live up the Jeep name. All-wheel drive models start at $20,100 and are powered by a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo. A 2.4-liter engine with 180 horsepower is available for $1,330 more, and adds a 2,000-pound towing capacity.

We love the chiseled looks and beefy stance of the Renegade. Though small, it looks substantial. There are ten colors to choose from, including four brilliant electric shades that make a statement (green, orange, yellow, and red).

Actual adults can sit in the second row (we’ve been there), and the standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and navigation make Jeep’s littlest SUV even more attractive.

The Trailhawk model ($26,945) adds serious off road cred with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, 8.1 inches of wheel articulation, 19-inch fording ability, skid plates, tow hooks, and a 20:1 crawl ratio.

Subcompact: Hyundai Kona

Starting MSRP: $19,500

Hyundai’s standard Kona comes out of the box with standard front-wheel drive, but AWD is available at every level for $1,300. SE and SEL models get a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower, while Limited and Ultimate get a 175-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbo.

Seven inches of infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard fare, HD Radio and Sirius offered on all but the base SE trim level. The Ultimate model ($26,400) comes with an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, a head-up display, 4G Wi-Fi, and wireless charging.

An all-electric Kona is expected in early 2019.

Subcompact: Mazda CX-3

Starting MSRP: $20,390

The Mazda CX-3 is a critically acclaimed mini-ute in stock form because of its blissful handling and superb styling. The 2.0-liter engine delivers 146 horsepower and pairs perfectly with the chassis, encouraging drivers to take an extra lap around the block on the way home from the store.

Selecting all-wheel drive adds $1,400 to the bottom line across the trim range. Mazda’s unique torque vectoring system continuously monitors road conditions and wheel speed, looking for even a microscopic slip. Torque is sent to each wheel individually, improving grip and balance. In our testing, cornering is remarkably sharp and handling crisp overall, making for a truly fun-to-drive cute ute.

Compact: Hyundai Tucson

Starting MSRP: $22,550

We like the Hyundai Tucson for its blend of value for money, usability, and quality. Touchscreen infotainment and smartphone integration is standard on all models. Heated front seats, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are standard on all but the base SE model, as are eight-way power adjustable seats with power lumbar support.

Inside, the cargo space is intelligently designed without intrusions or odd corners that made packing difficult.

All-wheel drive is available across the range fro $1,400, paired with one of three engines, depending on trim: a 164-horsepower 2.0-liter, a 180-horsepower 2.4, or a 1.6-liter turbo good for 175.

Compact: Honda CR-V

Starting MSRP: $24,250

The Honda CR-V is delightfully spacious, with ample room for both people and their stuff. Full-size American adults can sit comfortably in either row without cramped feet or legs, with a full 39 cubic feet in the cargo area. Fold down the second row and the CR-V will swallow an impressive 76 cubic feet.

The base LX model comes equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 184 horsepower. EX models and above have Honda’s terrific 1.5-liter turbo with 190 horsepower. Both powerplants can be paired with AWD for $1,400 more.

Compact: Subaru Forester

Starting MSRP: $24,295

The Subaru Forester is all-new for 2019 and now offers more safety and capacity than ever. The wheelbase has been stretched to 105.1 inches from 103.9 on the outgoing model, benefitting legroom. Further gains in head, hip, and shoulder room have also add to passenger comfort.

The revised 2.5-liter boxer engine under the hood now makes 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, and is paired with a continuously-variable transmission. Torque vectoring all-wheel drive is still standard.

All Foresters now come with advanced safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and pre-collision braking and throttle management.

The fifth generation Forester will begin arriving at dealerships this fall.

Compact: Ford Escape

Starting MSRP: $23,940

The affable Ford Escape is offered with AWD on all but the entry-level S trim. SE and SEL models are powered by a 1.5-liter turbo with 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of user-friendly torque on tap. The top Titanium trim gets the 245-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo with a whopping 275 lb-ft. AWD is an additional $1,350 on all models.

We found the Escape one of the easiest small SUVs to live with in our tests. The seats, ergonomics, and airy cabin worked together as one to keep us relaxed and refreshed while driving, even on long road trips. Infotainment was modern and easy to use, with excellent navigation and voice recognition.

Midsize: Chevrolet Traverse

Starting MSRP: $29,930

Chevrolet’s popular Traverse SUV offers AWD on the LS trim and up, starting at $34,800. A 3.6-liter V6 with 310 horsepower on tap sits under the hood paired with a nine-speed automatic, returning 20 mpg in the combined cycle and offering up to 5,000 pound towing capacity.

Three rows offer seating for up to eight, and cargo area of 98.5 cubic feet. Thoughtful storage abounds, with bins, pockets, cubbies, and an under floor tray to keep everything tidy. There are a total of 10 cupholders, and the front doors even have a place for umbrellas.

A seven-inch touchscreen Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard on the LS, and two USB charging ports are found in each rows.

Midsize: Mazda CX-9

Starting MSRP: $32,280

We like the Mazda CX-9 for its artful blend of performance, handling, and utility. LIke its smaller CX-3 sibling, the 9’s AWD system uses Mazda’s unique torque vectoring to improve chassis dynamics, providing extra grip when cornering, braking, and accelerating. AWD adds $1,800 to the vehicle in all but top Signature trim, where it’s included in the $45,365 price.

Power is provided by a 2.5-liter turbo four making an impressive 250 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is 23 mpg on the combined cycle, only a mpg less than the front-wheel drive model.

The three-row CX-9 has an elegant interior, with thoughtful attention to touch surfaces and trim pieces. Mazda announced at the New York Auto Show in March that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be available in 2019 models.

Midsize: Subaru Ascent

Starting MSRP: $31,995

The Subaru Ascent is an all-new three-row SUV and the biggest in the company’s lineup. Standard motivation comes in the form of a turbocharged 260-horsepower boxer engine paired with a high-torque continuously-variable transmission driving all four wheels. Fuel economy is 24 mpg combined in lower trims, 23 mpg combine in upper.

The second row can be configured with either captain’s chairs or a bench, for a total capacity of eight. The seats have a wide sliding range of motion for legroom, access to children in car seats, or balancing passenger and cargo room. 

The Ascent comes with dual USB ports in the first two rows on standard trims; upper get an additional two in the third row. Apple CarPLay and Android Auto are played through six speakers in all but the top model, which gets a 14 speakers powered by 792 watts of Harman Kardon premium sound.

Midsize: Jeep Grand Cherokee

Starting MSRP: $30,895

For decades, one of America’s favorite family trucksters has been the Jeep Grand Cherokee. For 2019, the model offers something for everyone.

The base Laredo model in 4×4 spec starts at $33,195 and is powered by a 3.6-liter V6, standard in all models but the performance-oriented SRT and Trackhawk models. A 3.0-liter diesel is offered in mid and upper trims.

Amenities range from a family-friendly cloth interior with modern 7.0-inch infotainment to a leather-lined luxo-ute with a 19-speaker sound system many symphonies would envy.

Models wearing Jeep’s “Trail Rated” badge are ready for offroad adventure with increased approach, breakover, and departure angles, improved wheel articulation, and a 44:1 crawl ratio.

For fans of ultimate street performance, Jeep has added the Trackhawk to the lineup, powered by a 707-horsepower supercharged V8.

Full-size: Nissan Armada

Starting MSRP: $46,090

Nissan’s eight-passenger Armada is built with body-on-frame construction, creating a study base for some serious capability. WIth a 5.6-liter V8 under the hood steaming out 390 horsepower and 394 lb-ft of torque, it’ll carry 1,724 pounds and tow 8,500.

Prices start at $48,990 for four-wheel drive (4WD), but even base models have leather-trimmed seats, navigation, and a 13-speaker Bose sound system. Stepping up to the mid-range Platinum ($62,090, 4WD) adds climate-controlled front seats, entertainment for all three rows, and a power liftgate.

The Armada uses an intelligent drive system to automatically switch between two- and four-wheel drive depending on traction. With 4WD engaged, off road capability is increased with high and low gearing ranges, two forward crawl speeds, and one reverse crawl speed.

Full-size: Lincoln Navigator

Starting MSRP: $72,555

The twin-turbocharged V6 under the hood of the seven-seat Lincoln Navigator boils out 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque. In all-wheel drive form ($76,505), towing capacity is a prodigious 8,300 pounds. Even with all the grunt and a curb weight of almost three tons, fuel economy is still 18 mpg on the combined cycle thanks to a 10-speed transmission making the most every ounce of power. Electronic traction assist is available on Select ($76,555) and Reserve ($81,705) models. 

Of course, the story with the Navigator isn’t mindless strength, but luxury. In base Premiere trim, leather seats are heated, captain;s chairs adorn the third row, and there’s no pesky manual effort involved in manipulating the third row. Wi-Fi connectivity for up to ten device is standard, as is a 10-inch touchscreen controlling 14-speaker Revel premium audio and Apple CarPlay.

For those who need a bit more room, an extended-length Navigator L is offered.

Full-size: Ford Expedition

Starting MSRP: $51,790

Ford’s eight-seat Expedition is powered by a 3.5-liter turbo V6, pumping out 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque in XLT and Limited trims, and 400 and 480 respectively in at Platinum model. A ten-speed automatic mated to either both delivers smooth power and enables 9,200 pounds of towing capacity when paired with all-wheel drive (about $3,100, depending on model).

Available options packages can elevate the Expedition to corporate sibling Lincoln levels. The unpoetically named 202A group ($5,605) adds heated and ventilated front seats, leather first and second rows, power third row, power liftgate, heated steering wheel, connectivity with Wi-Fi hotspotting, and blind spot information.

Shoppers needing extra cargo area can look at the extended-length Expedition Max.

Full-size: Chevrolet Tahoe

Starting MSRP: $48,395

With seating for up to nine and a choice of two naturally-aspirated V8 engines, the Chevrolet Tahoe is a breath of old-school fresh air in a segment increasingly crowded with luxury vehicles. That’s not to say it’s not modern—it is—but GM already has two offerings in the luxury SUV field, the GMC Yukon Denali and Cadillac Escalade, and keeps the Tahoe delightfully simple.

A four-cylinder turbo has been announced for the 2019 Silverado pickup and will undoubtedly appear in the Tahoe, but for now power comes as god intended: from displacement. A aluminum block 5.3-liter V8 produces 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft, while the optional 6.2-liter makes 420 horses and 460 lb-ft. Four-wheel drive adds $3,000 to the bottom line.

The Tahoe comes with modern amenities, even in base trim. Three-zone climate control is standard, along with remote start and a rear vision camera. Chevy’s 8.0-inch infotainment system offers voice control, HD radio, Wi-Fi hotspotting, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Heated leather seating, Bose premium audio, and active safety features are available.

Buyers wanting a bit more space behind the third row can look at the Tahoe’s longer but otherwise identical twin, the Chevrolet Suburban.

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