Winter’s just around the bend, and like many Canadians, you might very well be checking out the used car marketplace in search of a new-to-you all-wheel-drive (AWD) car to help add confidence and peace of mind to travels in inclement weather.
Below, we’ll look at five models that fit the bill, and are worthy of consideration by shoppers after an affordable big-traction sedan from a mainstream brand. Each of the following machines is a worthy pick when reasonable purchase costs, relatively generous availability, and plenty of traction are priorities.
2013+ Ford Fusion
The second-generation Fusion represented a complete overhaul of Ford’s popular mid-size car, with numerous engine options, trim grades, and powertrains adding plenty of selection. Virtually all models from this still-available generation are powered by a four-cylinder engine, with a 2.0-litre EcoBoost unit generating a maximum of 240 horsepower. Look for AWD on various model grades. All units were four-door sedans, and all AWD-equipped Fusions came with an automatic transmission. Notable feature content included the Ford Sync infotainment system, push-button start, a premium Sony stereo system and ambient cabin mood lighting.
Have the used AWD-equipped Fusion you’re considering subjected to a few pre-purchase inspection points before agreeing to purchase.
First, have a Ford technician at a dealer scan the vehicle’s entire powertrain computer system, looking for signs of bad or wonky sensors, which may or may not cause a Check Engine light to illuminate. You’ll also want to work with the dealer to ensure all available software updates for the Fusion’s powertrain systems are up to date. Ensuring that all electronics related to the driveline are up to par can help reduce headaches and issues after your purchase, and may help fend off rough shifting or other transmission-related issues, in some cases.
Next, have the technician inspect the mechanical side of the AWD system for signs of fluid leaks, particularly around the Power Take-Off Unit (PTU). Be sure the technician confirms that this component isn’t leaking from a seal, or from its vent tube, which could indicate that the unit has been overfilled with fluid. A check to confirm that the PTU vent tube is intact and not damaged is ideal, too.
Other checks should include confirming that all on-board electronics are in proper working order, and that the tires and brakes have sufficient life remaining. Budget to have any near-due or overdue servicing performed, and if the unit you’re considering is still under warranty, be sure to report any detected issues to your dealer, as early as possible, to help speed any applicable warranty claims.
Some vehicles have “full for life” fluid in their all-wheel drive componentry, which claim to never require servicing. Still, many owners change the fluid regularly, perhaps every two years, as added protection against wear and trouble. We’d suggest considering it – an AWD system fluid change is cheap insurance against potentially pricey problems.
2010–2014 Subaru Legacy
When the new-for-2010 Subaru Legacy launched, it attempted to put Subaru firmly on the mental radar of family sedan shoppers who were also considering a Camry, Accord, or Malibu. Unlike most competitors, Legacy was one of just a handful of AWD sedans in its segment – and being a Subaru, it means all used copies of this machine run the brand’s standard-equipment Symmetrical AWD.
Look for a back-up camera, navigation, premium audio, multimedia connectivity, Bluetooth, and a sunroof. Higher-end models got heated leather and a punchier stereo. Subaru’s high-tech EyeSight safety system was available, too.
Engines included a 2.5-litre four-cylinder, a turbocharged version of that engine, and a 3.6-litre flat-six. Top-line models packed horsepower well into the mid-200 range, though most used units will run the base 2.5-litre engine. Depending on the model selected, transmission options included a CVT, a paddle-shift automatic, or a six-speed manual.
Confirm proper operation of the automatic lighting system, and taillamps, as many owners have reported premature bulb failure, which may be the result of a bad light sensor circuit, or a bad alternator. Confirm that the trunk works from all releases, including the trunk release on the dash, the trunk-mounted button, and the remote. Triple-check all seat adjustments, paying close attention to the lumbar adjustment on the driver’s seat.
Any unwanted vibrations, shimmies, clunks, or thumps from beneath the car are cause for closer investigation of the suspension, axles, and driveshafts by a qualified technician at a Subaru dealership.
Considering the turbocharged Legacy GT? Make extra sure the model has been treated to regular, high-quality oil changes, which are vital to long-term turbocharger health. Confirm that the model has never had the factory computer system re-tuned to run higher-than-stock boost levels, which can adversely affect the lifespan of all affected components and void any remaining warranty.
Finally, noting that various Subaru models from this generation have had documented issues with head gasket failure, shoppers are advised to have a technician check, professionally, for any warning signs of this potentially pricey problem. These may include visible fluid leaks from the engine.
Subaru drivetrains and sub-systems are shared closely between various models, so the information and checks above can also be useful if you’re considering a Forester or Outback from a similar range of model years, too.
2005–2015 Volkswagen Passat
VW’s top-line Passat was available in various versions through the years, including the Passat CC four-door coupe, the traditional Passat Sedan, and the Passat Wagon. Just one version of each Passat was available with AWD, and that was the Passat 4Motion. If you’re searching out a used Passat of any variant from about the past 10 years or so, you’ll find some used models designated with the 4Motion moniker, indicating the presence of AWD. Sedan, wagon, and CC variants were all available with this shared powertrain, which came just one way: with a six-cylinder, 280 horsepower engine and an automatic transmission.
Discreetly upscale, feature content on the top-line Passat 4Motion models included items like climate-controlled leather, a sunroof, premium audio, xenon lighting, push-button start, and more. Note that Passat 4Motion models will be trickier to find than more mainstream Passat models in the used marketplace.
Have any Passat 4Motion you’re considering subjected to a full electronic diagnostic scan at a dealer, and especially if there’s a Check Engine light illuminated, or any detected trouble maintaining a steady idle. Various issues reported with this powertrain can be detected by a pre-purchase scan, helping to prevent unwelcomed surprises. Wonky coil packs and bad sensors are likely culprits if any issues are detected.
Run the Passat’s air conditioner, confirming it works properly, and doesn’t pump any yucky smells into the cabin. If any issues are detected, have them addressed before you purchase. Note that an odour when the A/C is turned on may indicate the need to clean the system ducts or other components. Some owners recommend running the A/C system each day for a few minutes, to keep moisture from building up within.
Have all AWD system components checked for leaks and confirmed for proper fluid levels, and be aware that very early Passat 4Motion units had some well-documented problems with engine failure, apparently caused by a bad oil-pump bolt. Translation? Opt for as new a unit as your budget allows.
Have a close look at service records, and confirm that the seller was fond of on-time fluid changes, spark-plug changes, and that they only fed the Passat you’re considering high-quality fuel at all times. Because the Passat’s V6 engine is an early-design direct injection engine, note that use of low-quality fuel, or any stretching or skipping of spark plug changes or oil changes can contribute to the excessive formation of problematic valve-gunk deposits within the engine. Proper, on-time servicing and use of a high-end fuel at all times helps keep these deposits at bay.
All-wheel drive (AWD) is not a replacement for winter tires, since it does not create traction – it simply makes better use of available traction in some situations. The following is a fact: only the use of appropriate winter tires actually gives your vehicle more physical traction in winter conditions. Provide your AWD system with more traction to work with, by installing appropriate winter tires, and you’ll experience more safety, grip and confidence on every trip. If your budget only allows for one or the other, running a two-wheel drive vehicle with winter tires is far safer than running an AWD vehicle on all-season tires when the going gets slippery.
2011+ Chrysler 300
Handsome, stately and comfortable, the second-generation Chrysler 300 hit the road for model year 2011, with selection and options galore. This is one of the larger AWD sedans in our feature. Look for goodies like adaptive xenon lights with automatic high-beams, climate controlled seats, full multimedia and cellular connectivity, heated and chilled cupholders, a heated steering wheel, a rear window sunshade, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, and more.
The 300 was available with AWD teamed up with either its 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine, or the punchy Hemi 5.7-litre V8, the latter pushing output well into the mid-300 horsepower range for a winter-ready rocket sedan.
Think “electronics” first, noting that a weak battery or a bad alternator can cause numerous niggling electronic issues with various vehicle systems. Try everything that runs on electricity in the 300 you’re considering, several times, to confirm proper operation. If any issues are detected, the battery and charging system are likely culprits. If not, further investigation is required. Run the Uconnect touchscreen interface (if equipped) through its paces, too.
Check all lighting provisions for signs of internal condensation, which can cause problems and reduce visibility. Other checks should include a good listen to the rear differential as you drive at low to moderate speeds while steering sharply. Find an empty parking lot and drive the 300 slowly in a tight circle, windows down, listening for unwanted noises. If you detect any, have the differential investigated. Often, switching to a revised rear differential fluid is the fix.
The second-generation Chrysler 300 AWD looks to be fairly solid from a reliability standpoint, with most reported driveline problems centering around transmission issues, evidenced by clumsy shifting or unwanted vibrations, that are often fixed with a software update. Though problems relating specifically to the 300’s AWD system seem unlikely, shoppers are advised to be on the lookout for unwanted sounds and vibrations, and to have the system inspected by a dealer technician for maximum peace of mind.
When buying any used vehicle, and especially one with AWD, assume the vehicle is overdue for all maintenance, servicing and, fluid changes, until you see receipts and service records that prove otherwise. Check the owner’s manual for a full service schedule, and budget to have any servicing performed that you can’t confirm has been completed.
2010–2016 Buick LaCrosse / Allure
The name-shifting LaCrosse and Allure were big comfy Buick models, the last full generation of which were available from model years 2010–2016. Feature content for this value-based American luxury model included magnetic dampers, a head-up display (HUD), adaptive headlights, climate-controlled seats, OnStar, in-car Wi-Fi, and plenty more. From 2014 and on, a facelift improved LaCrosse’s look, inside and out. Models equipped with all-wheel drive will run a 3.0- or 3.6-litre V6 engine and automatic transmission. Consider the LaCrosse AWD if you’re after a well-priced sedan that’s big on space, comfort, tech and traction.
Given numerous reports of engine trouble with the 3.6-litre V6 engine used in the LaCrosse, and other GM models, shoppers are advised to exercise caution – and to note that opting for a 2012 or newer unit is likely a safer bet, as an update to the engine for this model year seems to have addressed numerous issues. Reported problems with the big V6 drop off steeply after 2012, though extended powertrain warranty coverage, if available, is worth consideration.
Note that messages in the instrument cluster referencing an error with the ESP, ABS or StabiliTrak systems may be caused by a bad wheel-speed sensor. Many owners have had luck getting this issue addressed under warranty.
Next, confirm LaCrosse’s steering feel by turning the wheel fully through its range of motion while the vehicle is stopped, and at low speeds in an empty space. Any detected clunks, or a notchy feel to the steering action, warrant further investigation by a GM technician ahead of your purchase.
Check the Adaptive Front Lighting (AFL) system for signs of flickering, failure to steer the headlight illumination into corners, or any warning messages in the instrument cluster. A weak battery or a bad electrical ground can cause numerous problems with this system, which may be difficult to detect on a daytime test drive.
Further, have the vehicle inspected for signs of impending water pump failure, including visible fluid leaks under the hood, poor heater performance, or puddles of coolant beneath the vehicle. As this part can cost several hundred dollars to replace, shoppers are advised to confirm that it’s not failing before they agree to buy.
Finally, note that a vibration or shudder on acceleration from a stop may be evidence of a potential issue, in which a front axle is not properly seated into the PTU, a component of the AWD system. Have a technician investigate.
If you’ll buy a used vehicle that’s running out of remaining factory powertrain warranty, be sure to report any detected issues to your dealer service department, as soon as possible, and be sure they’re documented. This can help speed and ease future warranty claims, should they be needed. A full mechanical and electronic inspection of the vehicle as it approaches the end of its warranty period is also a good idea, to maximize value from its expiring warranty.