The first luxury car manufacturer to employ all-wheel drive was Audi back in 1980. Today, Quattro (all-wheel drive in Audi-speak) is available across the board in every model. And, every other luxury maker has seen fit to offer all-wheel drive as well.
Believe it or not, there was a time when powering all four wheels of a vehicle was applied only to trucks and off road vehicles. If you’re wondering what the difference is between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, it’s this: All-wheel drive vehicles have power fed to all four wheels all the time. It may vary in proportion between front and back, or even side-to-side, but all four wheels are always powered. With four-wheel drive, generally found only on trucks and SUVs, the system can be switched between two- and four-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive is now seen as just as much of a necessity for the luxury car market as plush interiors and powerful engines. Nearly 50 percent of luxury cars sold today in areas that get snow are equipped with the technology, and even in relatively temperate regions all-wheel drive is showing up in approximately 15 percent of the luxury cars sold.
What follows is our list of the best 2012 all-wheel drive luxury cars.
Brilliant though it is, the 2012 Acura RL is perfect example of what can happen when a wonderful car is allowed to stagnate. That said, the big Acura is still something of a technological wonder and given a new model is finally about to be introduced some remarkable deals can be had on 2012 models.
As standard equipment, the base model 2012 Acura RL features alloy wheels, automatic xenon headlights, and a sunroof, along with keyless ignition and entry. On the tech front, you’ll find Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice command audio and climate systems, a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio input jack and a USB/iPod audio interface.
Powering the RL is a 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 that produces 271 ft.-lbs. of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift paddles is standard equipment.
The acknowledged leaders in AWD luxury cars, the flagship Audi is outstanding. From its powerful but understated exterior styling to its incomparable interior treatments, the Audi A8 is the consummate luxury sedan.
Crafted of aluminum (the Audi A8 was the first luxury car to be so constructed) the big Audi manages to provide all of the luxury features of its competitors (and then some) while still being one of the lightest cars in its class.
The base model A8 features a smart air suspension system, Audi Drive Select offering adjustment of suspension, steering, engine and transmission responsiveness and Audi's Multi Media Interface system incorporating a touchpad capable of interpreting fingertip gestures. Naturally you’ll find a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth audio and telephony, and a Bose surround-sound audio system featuring HD and satellite radio, iPod connectivity, a 20GB music server and a CD changer.
The12-cylinder model features 22-way power front seats, four-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, rear seat entertainment, and Wi-Fi capability.
A 372-horsepower, 4.2-liter V8 that makes 328 ft.-lbs. of torque is the base engine for 2012. There’s also a 500 horsepower, 6.3-liter W12 making 463 ft.-lbs. An eight-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels is the sole transmission offering.
Bristling with an imposing, yet understated presence, zero to 60 capability in under five seconds, 200 miles per hour top speed, sports sedan handling, luxury car ride, outstanding craftsmanship, the finest interior materials extant, and more than adequate room for four, the Bentley Continental is outstanding in every regard. Every superlative that can be applied to a contemporary luxury automobile fits the all-wheel drive Bentley Continental Flying Spur and its “higher” performance variant, the Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed.
Standard equipment includes an adjustable air suspension system, four-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity, wool carpeting, and the most sumptuous leather you’ll find anywhere. And while that list of features may look somewhat common among luxury cars, how it all fits together is what makes the difference.
Powered by a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W12 engine attached to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Flying Spur has 552 horsepower and 479 ft.-lbs. of torque. The Flying Spur Speed ups those output figures to 600 horsepower and 553 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Crafting a deft combination of luxury car appurtenances with performance car attributes, the builders of the ultimate driving machine quite naturally offer an otherworldly sedan gracing the top of their range. When you factor all-wheel drive into the equation, you get one of the best-handling cars in its segment too.
Standard equipment for the BMW 750i xDrive includes a power trunk lid, keyless start and entry, and soft-closing automatic doors. Other features include a smart suspension system, parking sensors, a rearview camera, auto-dimming mirrors, smart xenon headlights, and the iDrive multimedia interface. The 750 BMW also features a hard-drive based navigation system with real-time traffic information, Bluetooth telephony and streaming audio, a 12-speaker surround-sound audio system with a CD player, HD Radio, digital music storage, iPod and USB audio inputs, and an auxiliary audio input jack.
A 400-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 producing 450 ft.-lbs. of torque is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission to motivate the AWD luxury car.
Solidly carrying the ball for Cadillac for the past 10 years, the CTS is finally due some relief for 2013 as a couple of other models (one larger and one smaller) sharing its dynamic attributes will finally be offered by the storied luxury manufacturer.
Until then though, in our eyes, the CTS remains the most desirable Cadillac model.
Standard features for the base model 3.0 CTS 4 include automatic headlights, heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, OnStar, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, and an eight-speaker Bose sound system with a CD player and satellite radio.
The 3.6 CTS 4 models also get remote start, heated eight-way power front seats, driver memory functions, and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a CD player, digital music storage and an iPod/USB audio interface.
As their model designations imply, two engines are offered with the AWD powertrain and a six-speed automatic transmission. The 3.0-liter V6 produces 265 horsepower and 220 ft.-lbs. of torque. The 3.6-liter V6 produces 318 horsepower and 275 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Another high-end Japanese car pushing past its expiration date is the Lexus LS460. However, if you base its desirability on its sales numbers, you’d be hard-pressed to prove it’s a bit aged at this point.
Either way, an all-new model is ready for 2013, so perhaps that’s a moot point. A more cogent point is that the big Lexus is one of the most popular luxury cars on the planet.
The all-wheel drive Lexus LS is outfitted with power-folding and heated exterior mirrors, fog lights, automatic smart xenon headlamps, smart windshield wipers, keyless start/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, wood trim, auto-dimming mirrors, a rearview camera, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, and a heated steering wheel.
AWD powertrain choices for this member of the best 2012 AWD luxury car lineup include a 380-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 producing 367 ft.-lbs. of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The full hybrid AWD system is made up of two electric motor/generators and a 5.0-liter, 389-horsepower V8. Peak output is 438 horsepower when both electric motors and the gasoline engine are combined.
The hybrid powertrain uses a continuously variable transmission with three driver-selectable driving modes -- Normal, Power and Snow. It also offers a manual shift control function.
As Lincoln struggles to find a niche in the luxury car market to call its own, the brand’s MKS flagship is a spacious all-wheel drive luxury car with appealing styling, a huge trunk and a handsome interior.
Standard equipment on the AWD version of the Lincoln flagship includes parking sensors, foglights, rain-sensing wipers, heated outside mirrors, smart xenon headlights keyless entry and start, and Ford's touchpad entry system.
The audio entertainment package consists of a THX-certified sound system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer, satellite radio, and an auxiliary audio input jack.
You’ll also find a power rear sunshade, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Ford’s Microsoft-developed Sync voice-activation system with a turn-turn navigation and directions functionality.
A 273 horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The engine makes 270 ft.-lbs. of torque on regular unleaded—feed it premium and you’ll get 275 horsepower and 276 ft.-lbs. of torque.
The best all-wheel drive luxury car of all is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan. Without question, the big Benz is one of the most desirable cars the world has ever known. In terms of engineering, craftsmanship, dynamics, accommodations, performance, and technology, the S Class Mercedes is the benchmark by which all others judge their products.
Mating all-wheel drive with either a diesel powertrain or a gasoline-fired engine, the Mercedes offers such standard features as a smart air suspension system, smart bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, a power-actuated trunk lid (for opening and closing), the COMAND telematics system, Bluetooth audio streaming and telephony, navigation, voice controls, and a 15-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system. This is, of course, in addition to all of the typical features you’ll find in a luxury sedan.
The S 550 4Matic uses a 429-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 producing 516 ft.-lbs. of torque and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Meanwhile, the S 350 Bluetec employs a 240-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6. Before you pass judgment though on that V6 though, be apprised it makes 455 ft.-lbs. of torque.
When a company with a high performance reputation like Porsche’s enters the luxury sedan arena, you know the dynamics are going to be right before it does anything else. Thus, in terms of handling and speed, no other luxury sedan comes close to the Porsche at its price point.
All-wheel drive versions of the Panamera feature, as standard equipment; dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, a cooled glovebox, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a 60/40-split rear seatback and rear bucket seats. Also standard are a hard-drive-based navigation system, and an 11-speaker sound system with a USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
A 300-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 with 295 ft.-lbs. of torque moves the Panamera 4. The 4S gets a 4.8-liter V8 good for 400 horsepower and 369 ft.-lbs. of torque. Panamera Turbo gets the 4.8 with two turbos for 500 horsepower and 516 ft.-lbs. of torque. The Turbo S gets 550 horsepower and 553 ft.-lbs. out of the 4.8.
If you want to drive a handsome and well-crafted AWD luxury car with highly coveted contemporary features, but you also want nobody to pay attention, get Volvo’s S80.
Nearly invisible outside, the Volvo flagship pampers its occupants inside with features like power front seats with driver memory settings, a split-folding rear seat with trunk pass-through, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer, power windows, mirrors and door locks, and a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel in addition to Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming.
Adaptive cruise control, collision warning, and pedestrian-detection with automatic braking, plus lane-departure warning and Driver Alert are also offered as part of an optional package.
Speaking of options, to get the Volvo’s all-wheel drive powertrain, you’ll need to opt for the 2012 Volvo S80 T6’s turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six cylinder engine producing 300 horsepower and 325 ft.-lbs. of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment.