Mainstream buyers may be shunning cars in favor of SUVs and trucks, but luxury sedans that offer a compelling blend of technology, performance, and design never seem to go out of style.
That’s no surprise.
Not when you consider the engineering excellence behind sedans such as the Acura TLX or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Indeed, from power and performance to comfort and safety, these all-wheel drive (AWD) sedans are built to provide an immersive driving experience.
In this segment of the market, AWD isn’t just about safety and improved traction during inclement weather or in poor driving conditions. It’s also about creating grip during performance driving – something that almost every model on this list is quite capable of providing.
To help you pick the right luxury AWD car for under $50,000, we’ve compiled this list of our top choices just in time for winter.
How we rated the list
In addition to offering AWD for $50K or less, our selected cars had to meet three criteria:
Choice: Selected cars had to offer luxury buyers choice at the $50K threshold. We wanted you to have some wiggle room to add options or choose a more potent powertrain.
Quality: Just because a vehicle checked the box on “AWD” didn’t put it on the list. We researched vehicles that offered decent reliability, solid safety ratings, and overall performance and value.
Relevance: People must be interested in purchasing the vehicle for reasons of performance, value, practicality, or luxury. If the vehicle isn’t desirable, what’s the point?
All recommended vehicles are listed with 2019 pricing for the lowest-cost model with AWD, including destination fees, and automatic transmission. In the case of Audi models, 2019 prices weren’t available. In this case, we applied an increase of 1.1% to the 2018 starting price to arrive at a 2019 “estimated” base price.
2019 Acura TLX
Freshly updated for the 2018 model year, the Acura TLX is a luxury sedan known for its quality, value, and, when properly specified, performance. Indeed, for shoppers who want something different than the typical Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz choices – or who simply can’t resist a good deal – the TLX is appealing thanks to a stylish and upscale design, comfortable interior, and sporty driving character.
If AWD is on your list of must-haves, note that Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) is available on the TLX with the V6 engine. It’s worth the upgrade: Acura’s SH-AWD features torque vectoring that can put as much as 70 percent of engine power to a single rear wheel. That’s useful on dry roads for performance, and during inclement weather that front-to-rear and side-to-side power delivery maximizes traction.
Performance fans should also consider adding the A-Spec treatment ($2,900) – which itself requires the Technology Package ($3,700) – for a more dynamic and stylish version of the car. True, it’ll cost around $6,600 more, but even with those upgrades the Acura TLX remains well under $50K.
Safety Ratings: IIHS “Acceptable” rating for small overlap front driver-side test, “Good” rating for remaining crashworthiness tests; NHTSA 5-star overall safety rating (out of five)
Base price with AWD: $39,195
2019 Audi A4
When it comes to luxury AWD sedans, it’s tough to beat Audi’s mix of timeless, conservative styling, rock-solid performance, and bedrock value.
And nothing better represents that approach than the Audi A4 – especially with the automaker’s Quattro AWD system. Like Acura’s SH-AWD, Quattro varies power distribution to help keep the car planted while cornering, and the driver in command of the road during poor weather conditions. Optionally, it can direct power to a specific rear wheel for torque-vectoring performance.
Test drivers take note: the A4 may be a little boring to look at (at first glance), but don’t judge it until you get behind the wheel. This is a sedan that was built for driving pleasure, from its acceleration to its ride and handling. Add a modern Audi’s renowned interior quality and durability, and it makes sense to both hemispheres of your brain.
Performance fans that want more can stretch the budget and get the Audi S4 for around $53,000. And if the S4 is a bit too rich, consider moving down to the smaller but excellent Audi S3 model with standard Quattro AWD and plenty of performance for around $45K.
Safety Ratings: IIHS 2018 “Top Safety Pick”; NHTSA 5-star overall safety rating (out of five)
Estimated base price with AWD: $41,930
2019 Audi A5 Sportback
If you’re thinking that Audi makes homely cars, take a gander at the Audi A5 Sportback and think again.
Arguably one of the more beautiful vehicles available under $50K (or at any price), this blend of sedan and hatchback infuses classic Audi styling with a healthy serving of sex appeal, courtesy of sharp lines and an aggressive profile.
On the road, the A5 Sportback lives up to the promise of its styling, especially with the standard Quattro AWD system. This is one Audi that performs with graceful balance, capability, acceleration and, of course, well-placed control. Almost as a bonus, the Sportback is practical, with ample cargo room courtesy of its hatchback body style.
Safety Ratings: “Good” in all IIHS crash-tests; NHTSA 5-star overall safety rating (out of five)
Estimated base price with AWD: $44,075
2019 BMW 3 Series
Winner and still champion of the performance sedan class, or the fading relic of an era when BMW’s signature style and performance character shone above all others?
Ultimately, buyers will be the judges, but we think the redesigned 2019 BMW 3 Series sedan will impress most with a blend of brute power and sophistication. One thing is clear: the redesigned 2019 BMW 3 Series is larger and more technologically advanced, and is likely to deliver impressive performance wrapped in familiar styling.
The optional xDrive AWD is also improved and lighter for 2019, boasting fully variable power distribution and a rear-wheel-drive bias. When AWD isn’t needed, the system can send all power to the rear wheels.
Overall, this redesigned 3 Series is arguably the most advanced one ever, a point that may leave purists pouting. After all, whoever heard of selling a 3 Series without a stick shift, or adding autonomous driving technology into the sedan?
And if you just don’t like the new one, BMW is still offering the old 3 Series Sport Wagon and Gran Turismo models for 2019.
Safety Ratings: Sedan not rated as this article was published; Gran Turismo and Sport Wagon get 5 stars from NHTSA
Estimated base price with AWD: $43,445
2019 Genesis G80
The Genesis G80 was once called the Hyundai Genesis. Since the name change, the sedan has grown more luxurious and advanced, to the point where it’s among the larger and more appealing luxury sedans that offer AWD.
Unlike most of the vehicles on this list, the G80 is less about performance and more about comfort and serenity. It’s also about value, thanks to a long list of standard features such as a 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment center, wireless phone charging, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, and more.
Performance-wise, our reviewers found the G80 to indeed be a serene and controlled environment. It’s not so much about fire-breathing performance as it is a capable, quiet, and composed ride.
Hyundai’s AWD system helps with that, controlling traction and modulating between AWD and rear-wheel drive depending on selected mode and driving conditions.
Safety Ratings: IIHS 2018 “Top Safety Pick+”; NHTSA 5-star overall safety rating (out of five)
Base price with AWD: $45,545
2019 Infiniti Q50
Attractive, modern, and aggressive, the Infiniti Q50 is a refreshing alternative to the “same old” German luxury sedan choices. Indeed, ever since the “Q” replaced the G37 in 2014, Infiniti has been hard at work refining and updating the model to better compete with its peers.
The result is a popular recasting of Infiniti’s best-selling sedan, in part due to its styling, premium sound system, comfortable interior, and fun-to-drive performance character. It’s also thanks to technology, including the available Infiniti Intelligent AWD.
As with many luxury performance vehicles, Infiniti’s system leans into rear-wheel drive, but provides power to all four wheels as needed to keep traction under control. It’s a nice complement to a sedan intended to be an exhilarating performance machine.
Safety Ratings: IIHS “Good” ratings for crashworthiness; NHTSA not rated
Base price with AWD: $38,545
2019 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
As the 2018 New York Daily News Autos Award winner for premium cars, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is virtually all things to all luxury shoppers: sexy, sporty, tech-savvy, and opulent in its approach to creature comforts.
Indeed, no matter what version you choose, the C-Class offers superb handling, value, comfort, and styling as the baseline for what the three-pointed star has come to mean in the luxury market.
To that end, buyers looking for an affordable luxury AWD sedan would do well to consider the C 300 4Matic trim. As an AWD system, 4Matic routes power to all four wheels through a traction system that optimizes the delivery of torque to each wheel based on input and conditions.
Safety Ratings: IIHS “Good” rating for crashworthiness tests; NHTSA 5-star overall safety rating (out of five)
Base price with AWD: $44,395
2019 Volvo S60
Through stylish design, advanced technology, and performance excellence, Volvo is slowly but surely changing perceptions about its brand and vehicles.
In fact, the redesigned 2019 Volvo S60 is a perfect example of Volvo’s re-made renaissance.
Completely revised and on a new architecture for the 2019 model year, the S60 is longer, lower, and sportier, and as such has taken on a newly aggressive look our reviewers found to be reminiscent of premium European sedans.
That’s not all that’s similar. Overall, the S60 competes well with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class; it’s enjoyable to drive and worth cross-shopping, thanks to more comfort amenities, convenience features, and safety equipment.
This is a luxury sedan based on value and safety, including an AWD system that routes power away from its front-wheel orientation, and toward all four corners in order to improve traction and safety.
After all, there are a few things about Volvo that will never change, and safety is one of them.
Safety Ratings: Not rated as this article was published
Base price with AWD: $41,295