Which SUVs or crossovers have on-demand all-wheel drive?

I’m looking for vehicles with all-wheel drive that goes on when weather conditions dictate, but otherwise remain in front-wheel drive.

Charles N., Willowbrook, Ill.

Because crossovers are car-based, most of them are built on front-wheel-drive platforms and operate either entirely in a front-drive mode or with most power going to the front wheels when cruising on smooth, dry roads.

Generally, all-wheel drive is an “on-demand” system that will automatically send some power to the rear wheels when the front wheels start to slip and then revert to front-wheel drive once traction has stabilized. These systems require no input from the driver and operate based on driving and traction conditions. Among the crossovers that operate in this manner are the Toyota RAV4 and Highlander, Honda CR-V and Pilot, Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse, and Ford Escape and Edge.


Some systems operate differently and with more sophistication. For example, Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) on the MDX and RDX is front-wheel-drive based, with 90 percent of the power going to the front wheels in straight-line cruising. It can direct up to 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels in hard acceleration and apply 100 percent of the power going to the rear to the outside wheel in a turn.

Subaru takes a different approach, using all-wheel drive all the time, but the systems vary by transmission. On Foresters with a five-speed manual transmission, power is normally split 50/50 front to rear, and when there is wheel slip at one end, more power is sent to the other.  On Outback and Tribeca models with a five-speed automatic, power is normally split 45 percent front/55 percent rear and changes when one or more wheels slip. For Subarus with a four-speed automatic or a continuously variable automatic transmission, the power split is continuously variable depending on acceleration, deceleration and road conditions.

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Answered by Rick Popely on January 29, 2011 | Permalink

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