All-wheel-drive sedans used to be a niche market limited to park rangers and uptight snow-belt drivers. These days, they’re becoming a more popular choice for decidedly mainstream models.
The latest entrants to the all-wheel stable include the Mazda6, Nissan Altima and Toyota Prius. As sales of crossovers, sport utility vehicles and pickups have grown, automakers are equipping more of their sedans with all-wheel drive to hang onto buyers wanting more SUV-like features.
All-wheel or four-wheel drive is standard on most SUVs and trucks, helping to boost its availability to a record 63.4 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States last year, up from 56.4 percent a decade ago, according to data from Edmunds. Automakers are betting that by passing these powertrain variants on to passenger cars, they’ll be able to prop up their sagging sales.
“The recent increase in cars offering awd is an attempt to level the playing field between cars and SUVs,” said Jeremy Acevedo, Edmunds’ manager of industry analysis.
Nissan Motor Co. recently began offering all-wheel drive on its latest Altima sedan in Canada and the United States. Since then, the company says more than 20 per cent of buyers in the United States have opted for the US$1,350 package, and close to half of all Altima sales in wintry markets such as the U.S. Northeast have all-wheel drive.