loading Loading please wait....

Best 4x4 performance cars: Top 10

Four-wheel drive performance cars are some of the fastest, and also accessible, ever produced. Here are ten of the best and most influential

Upon hearing the term 4x4, most people generally form a mental image of mud plugging SUVs, hunting dogs and off road excursions into the forest. While the traditional four-wheel drive off roader is still very much with us – morphing into something far more extreme over the years – providing power to all four wheels has long been the sports car manufacturers’ choice to tame their most powerful road cars, using the extra traction and surefootedness in wet weather to provide a new level of all-round usability. Over the years, the extra weight, complexity and handling challenges of this configuration have been constantly improved upon and now the best four-wheel drive performance cars offer the kind of driving enjoyment that was once the sole preserve of its rear-wheel drive counterparts. 

With high torque electric hybrids and turbocharging becoming commonplace, four-wheel drive systems are being widely adopted to take advantage of the additional power on offer. Here are some of the best, and most influential cars to make use of the layout.

Audi Quattro

The original four-wheel drive Audi quattro A1 rally car first arrived on the gravel stages in 1980, and it proved to be such a devastating weapon against its rear-wheel drive opposition that the WRC would never look the same again. The road car was just as effective, featuring an advanced drivetrain and almost foolproof high-performance handling. It was the first in a long line of powerful Audis that have continued using four-wheel drive to provide devastatingly quick pace in inclement weather while clothed in a typically understated body shell. The charismatic offbeat five-cylinder engine note of the original quattro can now be replicated, in massively updated form, in the new four-wheel drive RS3

>Take a look at classic Audi quattros for sale, and read the buying guide here

The Impreza is another road car that rose to fame off the back of some impressive rally performances. A testament to the car’s toughness and popularity means that very few Imprezas remained in standard trim for long. Whether modified to 500bhp, in standard form or one of the many factory built special editions, they are a great example of how four-wheel drive can provide driving thrills, regardless of the road conditions. Early Imprezas with massive bonnet scoops, bright blue paintwork and gold wheels get the oldies all nostalgic but the newer cars provide additional power while still retaining that raw charm of the originals.

>Take a look at the Subaru Impreza Turbo buying guide, and browse the classifieds here
Audi and Subaru may have enjoyed success in rallying but none dominated the sport in quite the fashion that Lancia did. With ten WRC wins, it reigns supreme and six of those are thanks to our third entrant, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. In road going form this boxy little hatchback was a revelation, in run-out Evo 2 guise it could accelerate to 60 in 5.5 seconds. An advanced 4x4 system with three differentials put every one of its 215bhp to good use and gave it supercar trouncing cross country pace. 

>Tempted by a rallying legend? Read all about buying an Integrale here, and browse the cars for sale
It may be surprising to learn that the first performance four-wheel drive car was not German or American made, but in fact British. The Jensen FF (which stood for Ferguson Formula) released in 1966 was based on the Interceptor grand tourer, and included advanced features like ABS braking. A massive 6.2-litre V8 made short work of the added weight over the standard car, however all this complexity added significantly to the price tag and due to design restrictions, no left hand drive models were built, further limiting its appeal. With only around 320 FFs built they are extremely rare today.

Nissan GT-R
The Nissan GT-R has had almost as much internet space dedicated to it as Kim Kardashian’s bum, although in the GT-R’s case it is wholly warranted. Its giant-slaying ability is thanks in no small measure to the advanced four-wheel drive system, which regularly sees the GT-R come out on top in real world comparisons. Continuous development since its 2007 launch means that it is still the best bang for buck supercar out there, and the bomb proof mechanicals have see tuners realise upwards of 700bhp with no problem. The GT-R’s launch from standstill is also one of the quickest in the business.

>Take a look at Nissan GT-Rs for sale, and read the buying guide here

Ferrari FF
Ferrari’s first four-wheel drive road car, called FF, was released to an unsuspecting public in 2011. No Ferrari had ever ventured from its rear wheel drive layout before, however this being a Ferrari, the four-wheel drive system was no standard setup. Optimised for handling, a separate gearbox and clutch system transfer power to the front wheels in the lower gears switching out altogether as speeds rise. It provides the best of both worlds and the shooting brake body style and all weather traction make it the ideal mode of transport for those European skiing holidays.

>Find the ultimate Ferrari FF family wagon for sale in the classifieds here
The company that did so much to bring all-wheel traction to the performance car sector deserves a second entrant in our list. Where the UR quattro was designed to be an all-conquering rally weapon, the R8 was designed from the outset as a road-going supercar. Borrowing its V8 engine from another modern four-wheel drive classic, the B7 RS4, Audi’s R8 provided supercar performance with the driving manners of a family hatchback. Balanced handling thanks to the sophisticated four-wheel drive system meant that this performance was genuinely accessible too. Now in its second generation, and with V10 power, the R8 continues to punch well above its price tag.
Starting out as a tractor manufacturer it is perhaps no surprise that Lamborghini have long been proponents of four-wheel drive for its supercars. The company’s engineers saw the traction advantages such a system could provide when power outputs started surpassing the 450bhp mark, and nowadays save for a few special models, its entire range is four-wheel drive. The latest Aventador SV demonstrates why this philosophy works, as its 750bhp would be very difficult to deploy on anything but a smooth dry road without power going to all four wheels. 

>Browse the classifieds for a used Lamborghini Aventador for sale

Porsche 918
At a time when hypercars seem to be experiencing a golden age, the Porsche 918 rises above the lot to claim the fastest 0-60 time of under 2.5seconds. Of course it is no one trick pony, the 918 combines the massive power from its petrol engine and electric motors to give it incredible performance both on and off the track too. The 4x4 system that Porsche employs has been the result of decades of development and makes this kind of performance accessible to mere mortals instead of just racing drivers.

>Find a Porsche 918 Spyder for sale in the classifieds

Bugatti Veyron SS
The Chiron may be on horizon but the Bugatti Veyron, especially in SS form remains one of the most extreme four-wheel drive supercars produced. The massive curb weight may cost it a few tenths off the line, but once past the quarter mile marker and especially at higher velocities the Veyron still reigns supreme. This sort of power in a rear wheel drive car would be impossible to put down but the Veyron manages it with almost contemptuous ease. If ever there was an endorsement for the four-wheel drive super car, then this must be it.

>Take a look at Bugatti Veyrons for sale in the classifieds

Words: John Tallodi // Images: evo Magazine

Audi Quattro Classifieds

more on this car

Related content