With the average selling price of a new vehicle in Canada rising faster than the homemade bread everybody was baking in the early days of the pandemic, the shopping experience can seem daunting these days.
Balancing wants and needs is easy. Doing it against decent value complicates matters just a bit. Now add all-wheel drive to the mix of must-haves and it’s all the more challenging – though it’s far from impossible. In fact, there’s a wide array of options that remain within reach of even a moderate budget. Like, say, $35,000.
Beware the sticker price, though. The age-old practice of separating the freight fee – that’s the cost to get a vehicle to the dealership in the first place – from the cost of the vehicle in advertised pricing can be a $2,000 surprise waiting to derail your plans in the first place.
That’s where this comes in. To make the process as easy as possible, the team at AutoTrader.ca racked our brains to come up with the five best all-wheel-drive cars on the market that cost less than $35,000. But the best part is that our imaginary budget is the pre-tax price including freight fees or destination charges.
We did our best to include vehicles that offered at least a couple trims to choose from for the money, but one in particular was just too good to pass up despite only its cheapest version ringing in at a sub-$35,000 pre-tax price.
1. Kia Seltos ($27,700–$34,490)
This list really begins and ends with the subcompact Seltos, a crossover that won our hearts – and our awards – with ease thanks to its inherent practicality and character. It also made AutoTrader.ca’s list of the best family haulers under $50,000 for the same reasons, but in case you missed that one here’s what you need to know.
No, all-wheel traction isn’t standard; the base trim skips it in favour of front-wheel drive, but it can be added for $2,000, bringing the price to a still reasonable $27,700. That nets good stuff like heated front seats, touchscreen infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, tinted windows, roof rails, and 17-inch alloy wheels. It’s a solid selection, but what’s most commendable is this little crossover’s ability to deliver versatility in ways most others can’t. To take it a step further, this easily counts among the most impressively practical entries out there, with spacious seating and impressive cargo capacity.
The Seltos is even a bit of fun to drive, though it’s the top SX trim that’s best in that regard thanks to its peppy little turbo motor – though even that stays on the good side of $35,000. It also includes items that simply can’t be found elsewhere in the segment like front seats that are heated and ventilated, heated rear seats, and a head-up display. Kia is no stranger to over-delivering on features that upstage its rivals, and the Seltos simply carries on that legacy.
To get advanced safety equipment beyond blind-spot monitoring requires side-stepping the base trim but doing so is still affordable, with the EX and EX Premium models ringing the register at $29,490 and $32,490, respectively.
2. Toyota RAV4 Hybrid ($34,450)
This is the one – the lone vehicle on this list that has a single trim that falls within that magic number of $35,000, and it barely does that. It’s also available in a colour palette that’s barely worthy of the word, with paint choice limited to white, grey, silver, or black. But the Canadian-made Toyota RAV4 Hybrid burns less gas than that Seltos while delivering more space than the majority of the slightly larger sport utilities like it, and all that (and more) is enough to earn it a well-deserved spot on this list.
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While we’re still on the subject of fuel savings, this gas-electric RAV4 actually burns less gas than the Toyota Corolla (hybrid model notwithstanding, of course), which makes its combination of all-wheel drive and outsized space even more impressive. Surprising exactly no one, the secret is the powertrain, with a four-cylinder gas engine under the hood paired with a couple of electric motor-generators – one that can drive the wheels, and another that pushes electrons into the battery pack. But what makes it especially slick is that the rear wheels have their own dedicated electric motor that’s separate from the rest of the powertrain, so providing extra traction doesn’t burn any extra gas.
Creature comforts are fairly straightforward in this base trim though it’s far from a stripped-down affair, with touchscreen infotainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections, dual-zone automatic climate control, and alloy wheels. More impressive, though, is the advanced safety suite.
Equipment like lane-keep assist, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic assist, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic is all included for $34,450 before tax.
3. Subaru Crosstrek ($25,595–$33,195)
Of all the vehicles on this list, the Subaru Crosstrek is the only one that has full-time all-wheel drive – the kind that’s constantly sending torque to all four wheels rather than only under acceleration or should the ones up front lose traction. That makes it all the more impressive that it’s among the most efficient, with official ratings that ring in right around 8.0 L/100 km combined, depending on transmission choice.
That part is also what makes the Crosstrek so inherently cool: it’s one of the only crossovers left that’s offered with a manual transmission. Granted, the base engine it’s available with is mostly gutless, but at least the six-speed makes this crossover a little more engaging and fun. For those who don’t care for the manual, Subaru addressed the Crosstrek’s output shortcomings by dropping the slightly larger Outback’s base engine under the hood, making it powerful enough while still burning just 8.0 L/100 km combined.
Regardless of the engine, opting for a model equipped with an automatic transmission also adds advanced safety stuff like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking up front. Now consider that every trim but the most expensive one is priced between $25,595 and $33,195 before tax.
For those who don’t care for the Crosstrek’s ride height, the Impreza hatchback shares the exact same body – and it’s a bit cheaper. There’s also the Impreza sedan that bears the distinction as the cheapest all-wheel-drive car in Canada, with a pre-tax price of $21,670. That’s properly cheap, though it comes with a five-speed manual transmission and skips the safety stuff.
4. Chevrolet Trailblazer ($27,998–$32,698)
The Chevrolet Trailblazer used to be a midsize SUV built on a pickup truck frame and with a handful of V8 engine options. This resurrected version couldn’t be any further from those roots if it tried, with a subcompact size and the choice of two three-cylinder motors. It’s also better than it’s ever been.
The Trailblazer is similar to the Seltos both dimensionally and in design, with an upright shape and a surprising amount of space inside for people and stuff. It makes great use of its footprint, and it might even be a little roomier than its rival from Kia.
Just like the Seltos, all-wheel drive isn’t standard, but four different all-wheel-drive trims to choose from including the base, which rings in at $27,998 before tax. It seems like there’s always a catch with General Motors (GM) products, though, and here it is: even the most expensive one needs add-ons to get stuff that comes in other crossovers like this, including the Seltos. The base trim skips heated front seats and even conventional cruise control, the former unavailable altogether and the latter only available with an upgrade package.
Even the top Activ and RS trims, which look adventurous or sporty, respectively, require expensive add-ons for stuff like automatic climate control, wireless charging, and adaptive cruise, while features like ventilated front seats and heated rear seats aren’t even offered. Those are disappointments but they’re not deal-breakers, and the Trailblazer is still among the most stylish and spacious little crossovers out there that’s even kind of fun to drive – and it stays this side of that $35,000 threshold with careful options selection.
5. Toyota Camry ($32,380–$32,840)
Keen readers may have noticed to this point a serious lack of cars on a list of affordable all-wheel-drive cars. Fingers and thumbs, as AutoTrader.ca Editor-in-Chief Jodi Lai likes to remind certain team members with their hearts set on maintaining a distinction, and that catch-all term really covers everything this side of pickup trucks these days – particularly given the popularity of car-based crossovers. There also aren’t many conventional passenger cars on the market that offer all-wheel drive in the first place. There’s the Subaru Impreza, which we already covered alongside the Crosstrek (and it’s the lesser of the two anyway), the larger Legacy sedan, or the Nissan Altima and Kia K5 that are coming for its lunch money.
But when it comes to midsize sedans, the answer has to be the Toyota Camry. It’s not an exciting car, but that’s never been this Toyota’s mission. Instead, it’s always been about predictable, reliable transportation at a reasonable price. Adding all-wheel drive to the mix only makes it more appealing – and all for less than $33,000 before tax.
A little less than $500 separates the two trims available with all-wheel traction: the LE and SE, which look standard or sporty, respectively. Otherwise, what they offer is mostly the same. Power comes from a fairly efficient four-cylinder engine that sends power to all four wheels, and similar advanced safety stuff to the RAV4 Hybrid (though a slightly scaled-back suite).
There’s lane-departure warning with some steering assistance, automatic high-beams, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control, though the latter doesn’t work in stop-and-go traffic like the RAV4’s, nor is blind-spot monitoring offered. However, as far as amenities go there’s touchscreen infotainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front seats, and alloy wheels.
There are at least a few other options out there that deliver the same qualities as these five for about the same money. But as far as bang for buck goes, it doesn’t get much better.