Looking for the best, bargain AWD car? Well look no further as we check out some great cheap AWD cars to suit every budget!
Debate has raged for generations over which configuration of driven wheels is preferable in a car. Hot hatch enthusiasts evangelise about how FWD is essential to their cars’ character; others feel that the front wheels are doing enough already with all the steering and braking and stuff, and it makes more sense to channel the horses to the tail end (which then, of course, gets a bit lively). There’s no right or wrong answer really, you like what you like. But if you want to sidestep this debating quagmire, why not consider the best-of-both-worlds scenario of AWD? With power going to every wheel, you can feel the benefits of both concepts while also having impeccable grip.
All-wheel drive systems have come on a lot in recent years. It’s no longer the case that AWD necessarily means agricultural setups with locking diffs and high- and low-range gearboxes like you get in an old Land Rover. This drivetrain layout has actually long been associated with performance motoring (look at the Jensen FF of the 1960s, for example), and nowadays there are all kinds of clever four-paw layouts to help deliver your power effectively and get you gripping tenaciously through the curves. Some permanently deliver equal drive to each axle, others are rear-biased and shuffle a bit of power forward when it’s needed; in the case of the Ferrari FF, you get two separate gearboxes to make the AWD system work!
There’s a world of choice out there, and we’ve pulled together the top 10 AWD bargains to consider when dipping a toe in these deep and enticing waters. We haven’t set a particular budget here; instead we’ve found cars which make us say ‘Ooh, that looks like great value for money,’ as opposed to ‘Holy crap, that Range Rover is ninety grand’…
Audi TT 225 Quattro (Mk1)
It’s not often that the public gets to buy a concept car. These styling exercises are usually wheeled out to wow the crowds at motor shows, and the subsequent model that eventually makes it to production ends up being toned down quite a lot. But with the case of the Mk1 Audi TT, the car that hit the showrooms in 1998 was really quite similar to the 1995 concept, which a lot of people were very happy about. It sold in massive numbers, meaning the market’s flooded with them today, and that’s great news for people like us who like to hoover up a performance bargain.
There were quite a lot of spec variants; you could get a FWD setup with the lower-powered engines or the full-fat quattro system with the sportier ones. Engine-wise, you had a choice of either a 1.8T or a 3.2 VR6, although it wasn’t quite that simple – the 1.8T could be had with 150bhp, 180bhp, or the brawny 225bhp in the aptly-named TT 225. The 3.2 came with a DSG box and improved aero, although many argue that its 247bhp figure isn’t enough of a gain over the lighter and more easily tunable 225-spec 1.8T. And it’s the 225 we’re recommending as the bargain Mk1 TT of choice: as well as the quattro AWD system, you also got the BAM engine, which is basically the 1.8T on steroids: it had uprated pistons and rods, juicier fuelling and bigger intercoolers, and was perfectly matched to that sweet little chassis. And while the drivetrain does make the TT quite heavy for its size, you wouldn’t know it in the corners – these things stick to the road like Velcro, you can essentially take any corner at any speed and never run out of grip. (Disclaimer: do so at your own risk, we don’t want any lawsuits if you end up going through a hedge…)
You get all kinds of toys with the 225 too – see if you can find one with the Bose audio option, that’s great, and the heated leather seats are lovely. You can pick up a decent 225 for under £4,000 these days – you will see chancers pricing them at £8,000+, but it’s really only the rare Quattro Sport that justifies that sort of money. The only thing to bear in mind is that, as these cars are slightly aged now, they might be a bit baggy in terms of bushes, hoses, brakes, suspension – budget an extra couple of grand to get it tip-top and you’ll have one of the most entertaining cars you’ll ever own.
Price today: £4,000
Top 3 mods: Milltek exhaust, Bilstein B14 coilovers, Revo remap
You’re going to have to bear with us on this one. We haven’t gone mad. We really are suggesting that you consider a junior off-roader with 100bhp. But there is a logic to it… you see, the automotive world is seeing a massive shift toward the SUV sector, along with the various crossover, soft-roader, luxury off-roader and rugged mud-plugger variants that go hand-in-hand with it. While we (and, we presume, you) are all dyed-in-the-wool performance car enthusiasts, it’s hard to deny the easy practicality of a tall, fat car for load-lugging and family duties and whatnot. Let’s face it, a lot of you probably have a sensible daily parked alongside your nuisance project car. So if we’re going to have to get involved with this sort of thing, we might as well do it properly.
Now, SUVs and off-roaders tend to command some pretty spicy price tags either because they’re luxurious or they just want to give the impression of being so – the cheapest Range Rovers start at £83k, a Volvo XC90 is £52k before options, even the Ford Edge will set you back £37k. But look at the new Suzuki Jimny – these cost £15,499 brand new, and that’s a bargain in anyone’s books.
OK, it’s a bit cheap-and-cheerful – you’d expect it to be, at this price – but it’s actually a brilliant little car that drives like a dream on the road and can do genuine off-road rough stuff, and it’s the potential that you really need to consider. See, retro is king right now and these cute little soft-roaders look super-old-school. They also come with chunky bolt-on arches, which is what got us thinking about the Jimny in the first place: what if you were to bolt on some even wider arches, throw some nice wide wheels under there, then take out a whole bunch of altitude with a custom air-ride setup? You’d probably be the first in the world to do it, which would make you a modding hero, and you’d get a lot more respect than your neighbour with the XC90 who paid four times as much for a less interesting car…
Price today: £15,499
Top 3 mods: Wide arches, wide wheels, air-ride
Volvo V70 R
Fast estates are cool, that’s just a fact. And the V70 R is a bit of a stealth weapon too – it may look like a sensible mumwagon, but hiding beneath those boxy lines is a Haldex AWD system and a 2.5-litre turbo 5-pot rocking 296bhp. You can have it with a six-speed manual (or an auto, but that’s boring), and performance figures are impressive: 0-62mph is despatched in just 5.9 seconds, with the top speed electronically limited to 155mph. The clever FOUR-C suspension setup was developed by Öhlins, and post-2005 facelift cars got sodding great Brembo brakes too.
These things are ridiculously good value right now. Being a Volvo, you know it’s built solid and tough, because they’re designed to survive Arctic winters and endless abuse – there’s a reason the police and paramedics use Volvos, they’re unburstable. Add in the fact that it’s a proper sleeper, and the cherry on the top is that they’re pretty tunable too – if you fancy a 400bhp+ grocery-getter, you’re just a bigger turbo and a few engine tweaks away.
Price today: £5,000
Top 3 mods: 3” downpipe and race cat, bigger intercooler, IPD anti-roll bars
Subaru Forester STI
There were a number of different Imprezas we thought about putting in this top ten, but then we decided to stick a Forester in instead. Why? Because it’s a cultish quirky alternative to the more obvious saloon, and their offbeat nature means they’re relatively good value. The Forester has always had a sense of fun, as Subaru know what their customers are about and are keenly aware that petrol-engined high-power variants need to share showroom space with the more sensible diesel runabouts.
So there have always been factory hot-rod Foresters, the most exciting being the JDM Forester STI, which had an Impreza WRX engine and a chunky bodykit; it helps enormously that the model’s based on the Impreza platform, so there’s a lot of mechanical interchangeability. The 2.5-litre flat-four gives you 265bhp, and it’s easy enough to get an extra 70bhp-odd extra just from a remap and a couple of bolt-ons. What’s not to like? And it’s also worth noting that you can get off-the-shelf air-ride kits for Foresters now too…
Price today: £9,000
Top 3 mods: Scoobyclinic remap, Hayward & Scott exhaust, AirREX air-ride
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 (996)
The 996-generation Porsche 911 has become a bona fide youngtimer classic. It received a bit of abuse at launch, thanks to the fact that it shared its nose with the cheaper Boxster, plus its fried-egg headlights looked a bit weird. The thing that really pissed everyone off was that it was water-cooled – the first 911 generation not to have an air-cooled flat-six, which irritated the pipe-smokers no end. More recently, people got a bit scared of buying used 996s because of the infamous IMS issue, whereby the engine’s intermediate main shaft could fail unexpectedly and lunch the engine. But most cars have had this sorted now, and the 996 today looks like a relatively affordable and properly usable sports car.
The best part for cheapskates like us is that, while values of the halo Turbo, GT3, GT2 and RS models are going stratospheric, the Carrera models are surprisingly cheap. The Carrera 4 has all-wheel-drive, hence why you’re seeing it here: it’s got clever differential braking so it’s as safe as it is sure-footed, and you get 300bhp from the 3.4-litre flat-six. And it’s a usable 911, for about fifteen grand. No-brainer, really.
Price today: £15,000
Top 3 mods: OE Porsche aerokit, GT3 spoiler, DesignTek exhaust
The S1 was a completely brilliant idea on Audi’s part. The A1 upon which it’s based is a dinky little supermini first launched onto the market in 2010, with compact proportions, a taut little chassis and a really nicely put together interior. In 2014 the S1 version arrived, which packed in frankly far too much power for such a little car; it’s got the Volkswagen group’s EA888 2.0-litre turbo motor, producing 228bhp, along with quattro AWD. This is good for 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds and a top speed that has to be physically restrained at 155mph, which is bonkers in a car like this. Almost unbelievable, in fact.
What’s really appealing about these psychotic tearaways is that they appear to be depreciating like a stone dropped through a wet paper bag. Brand new, one of these cars will cost you over £25,000, but we’re seeing 2014 model-year examples appearing for as little as £12,500. That’s a lot of performance for the cash, and it probably still has that new car smell.
Price today: £12,500
Top 3 mods: Scorpion exhaust, Revo remap, Wagner Tuning intercooler
Subaru Legacy 3.0R Spec B
Yep, we’ve managed to put together a list of ten AWD cars that features two Subarus, and neither one of them is an Impreza! The fact of the matter is that the hot Legacy is actually better value, as well as offering maximum nerd points – the Legacy 3.0R Spec B is a bit of a hidden gem. Most people wouldn’t give it a second glance, but to those in the know this is something really special indeed. For one thing, instead of having the traditional Scooby flat-four, it’s got a brawny flat-six, which the company saw fit to mate to the peachy gearbox from the Impreza STI.
In addition to all this, you get absolutely massive brakes, Bilstein suspension, an LSD, and a 0-62mph figure of 6.6 seconds. Look at the Porsche 996 elsewhere in this list – the Legacy essentially takes the flat-six out of the boot, puts it in the front, then adds a vastly bigger interior; with similar-ish performance, the Spec B is basically a back-to-front 911 with room for a double mattress in the boot. Kind of.
Price today: £6,000
Top 3 mods: Twin-scroll turbo, Whiteline ARBs, Milltek exhaust
Nissan Skyline GT-R (R33)
On the face of it, spending the thick end of £17,000 on a 1990s coupé doesn’t sound like a bargain at all. But Skyline logic isn’t the same as regular logic, and the way the market’s going at the moment, it’s the R33 GT-R that’s offering the best kind of affordability. Well, in relative terms, at least. The R32’s passed into full-blown modern-classic territory, and you’re not going to find a good one for under £25k. (Cheaper ones exist, but you’ll end up spending the difference making it good.) The later R34 has been going similarly nuts, with £45k seeming to be the entry point and stretching anywhere up to six figures. But the R33, that’s the generation you can still buy for a price beginning with a one.
The R33 GT-R is no poor relation though, it’s an incredible machine – it carried over the RB26DETT from the R32, but strengthened and refined, and the chassis was unbelievable. Its combination of Brembo brakes, ATTESA-ETS AWD system and Super-HICAS, and extensive weight-saving throughout the car meant that the R33 was a full 21 seconds quicker around the Nürburgring than the R32. So you’re getting more car for less money, see?
Price today: £17,000
Top 3 mods: MeisterR coilovers, GReddy oil cooler, JDM Garage shotgun exhaust
Alfa Romeo Brera 3.2 Q4
The Alfa Romeo Brera is a confusing car. Look at it – it’s a hatchback, right? So why does it never figure in round-ups of iconic hot hatches, given the stunning looks and outstanding spec? How come Alfa Romeo just shrug and smirk when people point out that the stupid-shaped tailgate and tiny boot means that it’s really impractical as a hatchback? Aha, that’s because it’s not actually a hatchback at all. It’s a 2+2 coupé that just happens to look a bit hatchbacky.
Still, we can forgive it that, because it looks drop-dead gorgeous, doesn’t it? And the top-of-the-range one came with Alfa’s intelligent Q4 all-wheel drive chassis, as well as a 260bhp 3.2-litre V6 which just sounds bloody brilliant. The interior’s ace too, all ruched leather and recessed dials angled toward the driver. It’s a hell of a stylish way to get about, plus it’s got the grunt and the grip to entertain you on every journey – and you can have it all for £6k. You need this in your life. Just look at it. We’ve gone all heart-eyes emoji.
Price today: £6,000
Top 3 mods: Quaife LSD, KW coilovers, Qtronic Rotrex supercharger
Mitsubishi Evo III
The Mitsubishi Evo series held enthusiasts in its thrall for a surprisingly long time, from the launch of the original Lancer Evo (retrospectively nicknamed Evo I) back in 1992 to the Evo X’s eventual demise in 2016. These cars represented a revolution in everyday performance, being sensible and practical four-door saloons that were also ballistically fast with incredible handling, and the fact that they’re so amazingly tunable found them a firm place in the motoring world’s hearts.
So, which generation to go for? Well, values of the last-of-the-line Evo X remain strong, and the VII, VIII and IX are all hovering around the £15-24k mark too; the brutal Evo VI’s values are soaring thanks to the halo effect of the Tommi Makinen Edition (which has become a particular favourite), but the earlier cars – that’s where you find the bargains. Our pick would be the Evo III – this is the one made from early 1995 to late ’96; it was the first properly mental Evo, with the huge boot spoiler that would become the signature look of later models, and 270bhp in stock form. You can pick up a really tidy Evo III for under eight grand, which sounds like a great idea to us.
Price today: £8,000
Top 3 mods: AEM Infinity ECU, boost controller, GReddy exhaust
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