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18 Influential All-Wheel Drive Cars

Vukasin HerbezMay 21, 2019

Even though all-wheel drive systems are quite common among today’s models, this wasn’t always the case. The highly capable AWD cars were almost unheard of a few decades ago. In fact, they were just a technical novelty they reserved only for off-road SUVs and special models.

For years, buyers could only find all-wheel drivetrains in Jeeps and heavy-duty trucks. In fact, the idea of a passenger car or even a sports car with power going to all four wheels was simply crazy. Although they produced several cars with this system and invented the AWD drivetrain in the early 20th century, nobody wanted to invest in regular production.

The reason for it’s delay was that installing the all-wheel-drive into a regular car used to be a complicated, expensive and demanding process requiring heavy duty components. But, even so, a few maverick companies managed to produce AWD cars to kickstart the trend drivers enjoy today.

So, keep reading to learn about 18 of the most influential and memorable all-wheel-drive cars. They range from the start of the 20th century, all the way up to modern supercars with computer controlled and electronically monitored all-wheel-drive systems. The AWD drivetrain helps improve traction and performance, so soon regular front and rear-wheel-only drive cars will be a thing of past.

  1. 1900 Lohner-Porsche

This obscure car was immensely important for automotive history since it was the first all-wheel-drive vehicle. But also, it was the first hybrid car to combine electric power with a gasoline engine. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, it was complicated and not exactly a sales hit, but it showed the way.

The Lochner-Porsche displayed fantastic traction and road holding. However, its big weight and a lot of unsorted mechanical problems caused its demise. Sadly, it took over a century for mainstream manufacturers to recognize the concept and introduce the all-wheel-drive hybrids of today.

  1. Jeep Willys

The Jeep Willys was the first mass-produced all-wheel drive vehicle they conceived just before World War II as a light military vehicle. It was capable of going over any terrain and durable enough to withstand bullets, explosions and harsh conditions. But, one of its most important features was its simple but robust all-wheel-drive system, which made it extremely capable on any terrain.

The production of the original Jeep started in 1942 as the U.S. entered the war. And they ended it in 1946 after building more than 600,000, exporting them to all parts of the world. The original Jeep proved that AWD systems don’t need to be heavy, fragile or complicated, too. Even after the war, the demand for those capable machines was strong.

Despite being a military vehicle, Jeep proved its worth after the war as a practical machine. Versatile, you could equip it to do numerous things, from towing to plowing. The unique concept of a rugged, compact and extremely capable off-road machine evolved to the Jeep brand. Today, they are the biggest producer of off-road vehicles and SUVs and a true legend of the segment.

  1. Jeep Willys Pickup

When the war ended, Willys found it hard to transfer to passenger car production. In fact they were left with a big amount of Jeep engines, chassis, and components. The logical decision was to produce Jeeps for civilian use, mostly as farm and utility vehicles.

However, the company wanted to go further, so they introduced a line of pickup trucks with Jeep mechanics, engines and design, but with a twist. The Willys Jeep pickups they introduced in 1947 were four-wheel drive and much more capable than any regular pickup truck available at the moment.

Today, four-wheel drive trucks are nothing special and most new models are equipped with 4×4 drive train as standard. But back then, it was revolutionary. Even though Willys Jeep trucks were powered with small 2.3-liter four-cylinder engines with 63 HP, they were tough, capable trucks with great traction, pulling power and durability.

  1. Jensen Interceptor FF

The Jensen Interceptor FF was a British Gran Turismo coupe with a twist. With its Italian styling by Vignale, massive size, comfort and powerful Chrysler 383 or 440 V8 engine, this four-seater coupe was one of the fastest, most comfortable cars in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But in 1966, Jensen introduced an advanced all-wheel-drive version they called the Interceptor FF they sold in just 320 copies.

The FF featured a heavy all-wheel-drive system they borrowed from the tractor manufacturer, Ferguson. It gave the Interceptor more usability in difficult conditions as well as superb road holding. However, it also made this coupe heavy and expensive. And that is why they discontinued the Interceptor FF after just a few years but the car left a strong impression on the market as a revolutionary vehicle.

  1. Subaru Leone Sedan 4WD

Today, Subaru is famous for two things: flat four engines and intelligent all-wheel drivetrains. But in the early ‘70s, the company was unknown in the U.S. but gained recognition with the Leone Sedan 4WD. The Leone was a compact economy car available in several body styles.

But for the 1975 model year, Subaru offered the four-wheel drive system as an option on the sedan. And that transformed this little four-door into an extremely capable machine. The power from the 1.6-liter engine wasn’t great, but the car was light and compact. So, the all-wheel-drive system helped with traction and road holding. It was an unusual feature, but it paved the way for future Subaru models and AWD systems.

  1. AMC Eagle

Conceived in the late ’70s, the Eagle was AMC`s answer to the rising popularity of AWD vehicles and SUVs. They decided to combine their compact sedan and wagon lineup with the tough and proven Jeep AWD system. The result was a surprisingly good and capable vehicle with the comfort and luxury of a sedan.

It came with compact dimensions, relatively low weight and extremely good off-road characteristics. The Eagle was one of the first, if not the first crossover model in the world and only today can people see how important and influential this car was. As expected, the Eagle was a relatively popular car, especially in areas with harsh climate and long winters.

AMC even produced a coupe, wagon, compact, and convertible version of the Eagle, all with AWD systems as standard. Unfortunately, AMC was losing money elsewhere and was forced out of the business in 1987, which meant the death of the Eagle, as well.

 

  1. Audi Sport Quattro

Back in the early ‘80s, Audi was just an upgraded Volkswagen with not much to offer. Then, the motorsport department proposed entering the rally championships with an innovative all-wheel-drive model they named the Quattro. All of a sudden, Audi had a championship-winning car at the forefront of two new technologies: all-wheel-drive systems and turbocharging.

This result was a rising interest in the company and Audi as people know it today had started. The Quattro Sport featured a 2.1-liter straight five-cylinder engine with a turbocharger and 306 HP in street trim. With a short wheelbase, light body panels, short ratio gearbox and 306 horses, the road-going Quattro Sport was capable of achieving 0 to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds. And those numbers made it one of quickest cars of its era, showing how capable the Quattro all-wheel-drive system and turbos are.

  1. Porsche 959

The Porsche 959 is one of the fastest, most advanced and technologically complex supercars of the ‘80s. The 959 was a super Porsche in every way, and not only by design but also by performance and price. It was the perfect blend of racing experience, and the latest technology along with turbocharging.

Porsche put everything in one car: the 959. They presented it in 1987 with a 3.0-liter turbocharged flat-six engine delivering a whopping 450 HP. And all that power went to all four wheels over an intelligent AWD system, the first of its kind.

They equipped the car was with traction control, ABS and a host of electronic systems, which helped the driver. Despite the fact all this is standard in most new cars today, it was space age technology in the late ‘80s. The performance of this technological tour de force was also astonishing. In fact, a 0 to 60 mph sprint was possible in just 3.7 seconds.

  1. Audi V8

After an immense success on and off the track with their Quattro Sport model, Audi decided to pursue the all-wheel drive layout as a top of the range option. So, in the late ‘80s, Audi introduced the V8. It was a premium sedan they designed to attack similar cars from Mercedes and BMW. They used a newly designed chassis, powerful V8 engine and permanent Quattro drivetrain.

Audi introduced the Quattro in 1988, selling it throughout 1994. However, the Audi V8 wasn’t the sales success they hoped for, but it was an accomplished model. The V8 was an extremely capable machine with superb road holding and driving dynamics better than similar Mercedes or BMWs. It proved the Quattro concept was solid and up to this day, almost all Audis have all-wheel drive systems.

  1. Porsche 964 Carrera 4

In 1989, the Porsche 911 received the first major revision since the early ‘60s and a new chassis code: 964. The Turbo and convertible models continued, but there was an interesting addition to the mainline offer in the form of the Carrera 4. The Carrera 4 was the first 911 they equipped with all-wheel drive as standard.

The AWD system cured some of the handling problems all 911 experienced, but it added weight and affected the performance. Anyway, this was a big step forward and a big achievement of Porsche’s engineers, because the Carrera 4 turned out to be an influential, important model in 911 history.

In fact, the Carrera 4 was the first mass-produced sports car with four-wheel drive that opened doors to modern models and introduced customers to next level driving dynamics.

  1. Nissan Skyline GT-R R32

Japanese manufacturers were reluctant to introduce all-wheel drive systems into passenger cars on a larger scale. But by the end of the ‘80s, Nissan decided to install this advanced system into its legendary Skyline. They revealed this model in 1989. However, they presented the best versions in the early ‘90s, which makes the GT-R version the quintessential ‘90s car.

For those who want the facts, the Skyline GT-R R32 is a two-door coupe with intelligent all-wheel drive. It’s powerplant is a 2.6-liter turbocharged engine with 276 HP stock and a ton of tuning potential. The R32 had big racing success, as well. As soon as it hit the track, it proved to be an extremely capable and victorious car. Unfortunately, all R32s are right-hand drive.

  1. Lancia Delta HF Integrale

Lancia was always big in rallying. So, after the banning of their Group B model, the S4, they wanted something that could work well on the street and on the track. And that’s how the HF Integrale was born. The main features of this model were the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with, at first, 185 HP, and later up to 220 HP.

Also, it had a permanent and well balanced all-wheel-drive system. The Delta HF Integrale is an important hot hatch because it was the first with AWD. That marked the beginning of the transition from front wheel drive, simple hot hatches, to the high-tech, all-wheel drive performance monsters of today.

The combination of a powerful engine, sharp handling, great traction and low weight was intoxicating for magazine testers of the day. In fact, the Delta HF Integrale received nothing but praises. Over the years, the Delta HF Integrale proved to be a successful concept, and not only on the rally stages but all over the world.

  1. Subaru Impreza STI

The Subaru Impreza made its name in the ‘90s thanks to an interesting, highly capable combo. First, it had a turbocharged flat engine, and the second was the all-wheel drive. And finally, the third was the fantastic power and torque. So, in 2008, they debuted the Impreza as a five-door hatchback.

And immediately, it set the hot hatch world on fire. This was a smart move from Subaru with the invading hot hatch class to attract more buyers to the Impreza. Yet they still managed to keep the performance and mechanical layout intact. Also, with 305 HP and intelligent AWD traction, the Impreza was one of the best and fastest hot hatches money could buy.

  1. Mitsubishi Evo X

Despite being discontinued, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X is still a big legend among performance car enthusiasts. Surely, the automotive world misses the long-lasting series of four-door sedans with four-wheel drive and powerful four-cylinder turbocharged engines. But the success on the rally stages and brutally quick acceleration times didn’t translate to the general market despite the cult following.

The latest version they named the Evo X came with a 2.0-liter turbo engine with 291 HP. Experts say that the engine’s output was more likely around the 320 HP mark. However, Mitsubishi chose to market it with 291 HP. And the performance figures were astonishing. The 0 to 60 mph time was 4.5 seconds and the Evo X could almost top 160 mph.

  1. Audi RS6

When you see the RS badge on an Audi, you know that a special car is in front of you. For decades, since the legendary RS2 from the early ‘90s, Audi has been producing crazy fast wagons in the A4 and A6 range. They equipped them with the most powerful engines the company has at the moment.

Next, they add the renewed Quattro all-wheel drive for enhanced traction and performance. The RS6 wagon is important AWD car since it provides its owners with a unique blend of brutal performance, enormous power at 609 HP in the current model and superb road holding from its Quattro system.

  1. Dodge Challenger AWD

What is the definition of a true muscle car? It’s a two-door coupe with a big V8 engine and rear wheel drive, right? Well, Dodge has a different vision. For decades, muscle cars were rear-wheel drive only vehicles. But in 2016, Dodge introduced a special model in its Challenger lineup they called the GT AWD.

For a start, it is a Challenger with recognizable coupe styling, retro charm and aggressive stance. However, underneath the cool-looking body, there is a V6 and intelligent all-wheel-drive system. There are no more smoky burnouts and rear wheels on fire. Instead, now there is tons of traction, even in the toughest conditions.

At this moment, the Dodge Challenger AWD is the only all-wheel drive production muscle car ever built. In fact, Ford and Chevrolet don’t have anything similar for the Mustang or Camaro. Unfortunately, Dodge offers the GT AWD with just the V6 engine. But despite the fact the V6 is fairly powerful with 305 HP, most fans would like to see it with a proper Hemi V8.

  1. BMW M5 F90

For decades, the BMW performance division, M Power, was all about the perfectly balanced chassis and rear wheel drive. But modern times and a whole lot more power demanded innovative solutions. So they presented the newest generation of its legendary muscle sedan in the form of the M5 with the special all-wheel-drive system as standard.

The purists will attack BMW for abandoning its rear-wheel-drive roots but frankly, the new M5 needs this kind of system. With 600 HP coming from its twin turbo 4.4-liter V8, the rear-wheel drive system can’t cope. Simply, with so much power and torque, going four-wheel drive is the only way if BMW wants to remain on top of the performance sedan world.

  1. Tesla Model S

The Model S is not the first car that Tesla produced but it is by far the most globally popular and influential. It is the first fully electric sedan they produced in significant numbers. In fact, this car singlehandedly created the electric car market. They introduced it in 2012. But since then, the Tesla Model S production has passed the 200,000-example mark.

And that makes it the most advanced and successful electric vehicle in the world. The Model S is not only famous for its pioneering construction, but also for its unusual features, many of the industry’s first. With its unbelievable performance, it was a controversial vehicle when they released it.

Also, the Model S is a symbol of progress and forward thinking. One of its most important features is its AWD system, which is totally different from its gasoline-powered competitors. Tesla’s AWD consists of four electric motors that independently power each wheel. Interestingly, they are controlled by a highly advanced system for perfect traction and road holding.

You now know about 18 of the most influential all-wheel-drive cars they ever made. Which one of these spoke to you? The best news is, the AWD will continue to evolve and become mainstream in modern cars.

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