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VOL. 43 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 25, 2019

Top selections for fuel-efficient, all-wheel-drive cars

By Mark Takahashi | Edmunds

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As ice and snow envelop many of America’s roads this winter, all-wheel-drive vehicles become more desirable than their two-wheel-drive counterparts. And all-wheel drive’s extra traction makes it easier to accelerate, especially on icy hills.

However, traditional downsides to all-wheel drive include added cost, complexity and reduced fuel economy.

Some new 2019 vehicles offer shoppers a way to get both all-wheel drive and great fuel economy. We’ve highlighted a range of vehicles that get an EPA-estimated 30 mpg or higher in combined city/highway driving, with the mileage leaders topping the lists. Prices are the starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination fee.

Hybrids and diesels

The Toyota Prius has been the fuel-sipping leader for almost two decades, but its front-wheel-drive layout limited its appeal in wet or icy regions. That changes with the new 2019 Prius AWD-e, which arrives at dealerships early this year.

With a starting MSRP of $27,310, it gains an electric motor that drives the rear wheels and provides extra traction from a standstill. The Prius AWD-e gets an impressive 50 mpg, too.

The similarly priced 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid ($28,865) is redesigned for 2019 and arrives at dealerships in the spring. It returns an EPA-estimated 39 mpg combined, which is excellent for a five-passenger crossover SUV. Considering the RAV4 is America’s best-selling non-pickup, we expect this new hybrid version to help keep demand high.

Subaru is well-known for its all-wheel-drive vehicles, and the new 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid ($35,970) is the company’s most efficient. It’s estimated to return 35 mpg combined. It’s also a plug-in hybrid, which means you can drive it on electric-only power for a distance of 17 miles or so.

Nissan’s 2019 Rogue Hybrid crossover SUV is another option that’s versatile and fuel-efficient. It isn’t terribly fast but gets a favorable 33 mpg combined. It starts at $29,995 and benefits from a useful amount of interior space and plenty of standard safety features.

Diesel has gotten a bad reputation in recent years, but it remains an efficient alternative to gasoline.

The 2019 Chevrolet Equinox can be ordered with an optional turbocharged diesel engine. With it, the all-wheel-drive Equinox starts at $32,195 and achieves a 32-mpg estimate. The related 2019 GMC Terrain, which can be had with the same engine and AWD, costs $34,595.

Sedans and hatchbacks

The Nissan Altima has been redesigned for 2019 and can be equipped with all-wheel drive for the first time. This $25,995 sedan sneaks onto our list with its 30 mpg EPA estimate. Nissan only offers all-wheel drive with the Altima’s less powerful base engine, but the rest of the new Altima is appealing thanks to comfortable seating and sharp looks.

Subaru makes another appearance on our list with its affordable Impreza. It’s available as a sedan ($19,480) or hatchback ($19,980) and has EPA estimates that range from 30 mpg to 32 mpg combined. As with most other Subarus, all-wheel drive comes standard. We also like the Impreza’s roomy interior and cargo area.

All-wheel-drive luxury

Among luxury-branded vehicles, diesel continues to reap rewards. Diesel versions of the 2019 Jaguar XF ($55,460) and 2019 Jaguar XE ($42,020) sedans return 34 mpg combined. With gobs of torque at their disposal, these sedans will deliver more performance than you’d expect.

Lexus is a pioneer for luxury hybrid SUVs, and its all-new entry, the subcompact UX 250h ($35,025), is expected to get 39 mpg combined. Meanwhile, the latest RX 450h ($47,020) remains an excellent choice for an all-wheel-drive SUV with high fuel economy. It gets an estimated 30 mpg. Lexus also offers the smaller 2019 NX 300h ($39,860), which gets 31 mpg.

Electrics

Of course, there are ways not to burn any gas. Luxury automakers are coming out with an array of new electric vehicles, many with all-wheel drive. These include the entire Tesla lineup (Model 3, Model S and Model X) and the Jaguar I-Pace, all on sale now. Just as the weather begins to warm, the Audi e-Tron SUV will begin arriving in showrooms. The Mercedes-Benz EQC SUV follows in winter 2020.

Since the promise of a $35,000 Tesla Model 3 is still unfulfilled, the main drawback to these EVs is their luxury-grade pricing: $56,000 and way up. Another thing to keep in mind is that extreme cold adversely affects battery range. But given that all these vehicles typically provide at least 200 miles of range, there should still be enough in cold weather for most driving needs.

Edmunds says

New-vehicle shoppers looking for all-wheel drive and fuel efficiency can choose from a wide variety of body styles and prices. At the moment, the new Toyota Prius AWD-e rises to the top in mileage and relative affordability.

Mark Takahashi is a senior reviews editor at Edmunds. Twitter: @mark_takahashi

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