4 wheel drive questions/reliability of vehicles

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I currently have both an S420 (for sale) and a Ford Explorer lease car. I'd like to consolidate to one vehicle since my only use for the 4 wheel drive is a once per month ski excursion in the snow during the winter.
And I'm at the point where I'd like to get dead bang great reliability from a vehicle over a 10 year ownership (which is about 140,000 miles for me)
I've been reading each of these newsgroups, as well as a few others for a while, and in each newsgroup there are ongoing complaints about the reliability of each marque. I'm ALMOST willing to go Japanese, but not quite yet.
What are your recommendations for the most reliable 4 wheel drive car that will comfortably seat four adults, and why?
Thanks very much, Larry snipped-for-privacy@btcommercial.com
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I'd like a standard sedan. Should have mentioned that. I'm done with the SUV platform.
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Done? Having driven your Explorer as an example? Come on!
I don't think RX is built like good ol' SUVs. RX is not a truck underneath. It's more like a car.
Nowadays there are more and more what we knew as SUVs built on their own "platform". Take Infiniti FX (Nissan Murano), Lexus RX, Porsche Cayenne, VW Touareg...
If you really need to get in the snow and not get stuck, a simple AWD sedan is not going to work. You will need something with a bit more clearance, like a Volvo XC or a Subaru Outback (am I allowed to mention Subaru here?). Check out Chrysler Pacifica, maybe. After all, they are Daimler now...
Victor
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Ever hear of the Audi All-Road? It's a direct competitor to the Cross-Country, and it isn't a piece of shit. Chrysler Pacifica? Jesus, Chrysler hasn't built a decent car since the Hemi 'Cuda, and even that thing had flimsy gearbox and only went straight. The RX300 is now the RX330, but it's still boring. Lexus makes a great, boring product. Hell, they make Honda reliability look bad. I just can't get past the boring. One car for all purposes? That's a tough one. For me, it's an old Audi. Strength, reliability, safety. Wrap my family in high strength German (galvanized, undercoated) steel and hope for the best. I can tolerate the bullshit in leau of the benefits. Then again, I can fix anything that would ever fail. I highly doubt I'd have two V8 winter cars if I had to pay the repair bills. There is, however, nothing better in the snow than and old V8 on four studded Hakka's. Audi still has the best AWD system. I own a million miles worth of quattro systems without one quattro failure. They were building AWD automobiles long before the rest of the marques were even paying attention to marketing. Audi single handedly created the AWD fad of today. Do you think BMW or MB would have bothered with AWD models if they were not losing sales to Audi? MB wouldn't even gives us a damn cup holder until the late 90's! Screw German law, you're losing sales to Asia over a cupholder! Audi uses direct mechanical differential lockup when needed, and also use the brakes as "traction control." Other makers do not. 4-Matic comes closest, but its frequent and costly fuckups make it less admirable in my book. The Asian trash can't hold a candle to quattro's function. They rely on brakes alone to handle power distribution. Open diffs are cheap. Brakes are reactive, not proactive. As for the 420, Mercedes quality is nothing like the old days. I worked for MB back in the late 80's, and they had some excellent vehicles. The 126 sedans were excellent, strong, and crashed like nobody's business. Now they seem to be over-complicated, slapped together budles of woe. And that's just the German made ones. The US built one has turned out to be a joke.
On Sat, 17 Jan 2004 22:14:56 GMT, "Victor Bazarov"

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excellent car. S6 Avant is of course even nicer, but costs twice as much and isn't exported to US.
..

it's like a SUV for the ladies IMO :)
..

I still fail to understand why the cupholders are such a major headache in the US...
..

4-matic is nearly RWD in 'normal' conditions. when rear wheels start slipping, front wheels get more torque. The implementation is much better than the typical part-time 4WD SUV things, but still not that convincing at least to me.
BMW had an excellent AWD in 325/525ix, quite close to Audi with two viscous couplings and no overly complicated crap (a la MB ProbleMatic). The best part: power distribution is between rear and front is 63/37 (because when accelerating, rear axle gets more weight & traction). This is IMO nicer than Quattro which I find annoyingly FWD due to tendency to understeer. I have no experience on the newer BMW xi models though.
-- harri -95 525ixTA
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I would recommend a Range Rover. They have an outstanding rep, and have the luxury needed. I had a 2.5 diesel, it was great. Mind you if your in the US, I would go for the 4.HSE. Here in the UK, fuel prices are crippling :(
Bhoona

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Here in the US, we get the 4.4 BMW driveline only. At 72K - 84K, that would be about my last choice. While the new Range may be an overinflated X5, and a wonderful truck, there's plenty of British left in it to make it anything but reliable....
wrote:

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If you insist on "most reliable", avoid German cars then.
Possible alternatives. - Lexus RX330 - Acura MDX - Infiniti G35X.
I'd still take an E-Class. :o)))) Or an Acura TL for 20K$ less.

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That new Infiniti G35x looks intriguing, nice engine and sounds like a really good AWD system. Should be reliable and a great value all-around. As you're looking to keep it for 10+ years re-sale value isn't really an issue (which would be my one minor concern with getting an Infiniti).

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I had a 98 Range Rover HSE 4.6 that got about 9-10 mpg in the city about 14 hwy. (with the wind). I loved the way it rode, drove, and handled, and the seats were as comfortable as the w-140....BUT....it made my trouble prone S500 seem like the most economical and reliable vehicle EVER!!!! The air suspension is very trouble prone, it failed and fell to the ground twice, and when it falls it takes at least $2 grand to get it back up (luckily once was under warranty). The dual climate control had a mind of its own and was replaced three times. Unlike my S500, the Range Rover left me stranded too many times. Had to replace various sensors, more than once, before it would even start. Maybe the are more reliable in the UK, but in the US they aren't. Mercedes doesn't seem to make a very reliable AWD vehicle either, just reading post on this news group made me look elsewhere. I drive a 4wd Suburban now and its been a decent vehicle, but it I were looking for a smaller vehicle I too would look at the G35x, its very sexy looking, is reliable and has an awesome warranty.
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Hi Larry.
About two Months ago I was in the exact same boat as you. I wanted four wheel drive combined with quality and reliability. I started out looking at the Japanese brands, and found them to be a nice product for the price, but not built nearly as sturdy as the German cars I test drove soon after. I ended up narrowing my choice down to these three: Audi A6, Mercedes E-320 and BMW 5 series. Let me quick give you a quick synopsis of each one.
A6 2.7T Quattro:
I was impressed with this car. I test drove a 2000 with only 31,000 miles and it was an Audi certified vehicle which meant it came with a two year extended bumper to bumper warranty after the manufactures warranty ran out. It was loaded with all the bells and whistles, GPS navigation systems, Quattro AWD, power everything, 12 airbags, and more creature comforts than I can fit in an essay. The twin turbo 2.7 liter six cylinder engine made great power, with the torque peak at only 1800 rpm the car was very tractable and passing was a breeze with the silky smooth power delivery....but at the same time I've never felt a engine so willing to soar right up to the redline, and it felt very at home at the higher engine speeds. The ride was very good, offering a fine balance between sport and touring. I found the handling with the Quattro to be very reassuring, predictable, and responsive. I was so impressed with the car I almost made a deal that day.
BMW 528i:
I know this isn't AWD, or even offered with it, so I'll make it brief. Very much a drivers car: crisp handling, smooth power, harder suspension, and excellent breaks. It fit like a glove from the first second I sat it in. Build quality felt very solid but didn't have the goodies like the Audi. The absence of an AWD system made me pass on this one, but a masterpiece nonetheless.
Mercedes E320 4MATIC:
Funny enough the car that I thought I would like the least was the one I ended up buying. Everything about this car felt right from the start. You have A Mercedes so I'm sure you'll be able to relate with a lot of the stuff I am going to say about it. Just don't confuse the E-CLASS with your much larger S-Class. The E-Class can hold its own right up there with the best from BMW and Audi. I also drove a E430 with the hotrod 4.3 V8 shoehorned in, and the power combined with smoothness is something I've never experienced in another car before, it was also as quiet as a snowflake (same can be said for the 3.2 I-6). I'm simply amazed that Mercedes can make the E320 ride so smooth, yet handle so well. It looks huge from the outside, yet when your driving it, you would never guess the car weighs 3500lbs and is 10 feet long. I've driven it through a pretty severe snowstorm already and the 4MATIC system worked wonders, that along with the 40 other kinds of traction control systems that aid the 4MATIC. I seriously think it would be almost impossible to slide off the road with the 4MATIC. When the road was clear, I tried my best to get the car sideways or to slide unfavorably and I couldn't phase it. To top it all off, the E320 is built like a band vault, has industry leading quality/reliability, its fun to drive, safe and offers more accessories than you could ever need.
So please...before you make a decision, give the A6 and E-CLASS the once over...I think you will prefer them over any Japanese or domestic brand for not only the quality, but the superior engineering and creature comforts. If you plan to keep the car for a long time (which you said you did) than again, German cars are built for the long haul. I have owned 20+ year old Porsches and BMWs and even at that age they were still looking and driving like new, likewise I've never been able to keep a Japanese car for longer than +- 10-12 years because any older than that and they really begin to start showing their age with rust and interiors that literally disintegrate. Either way you go, good luck with your next car. Let us know what you decide.
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Thanks, Dan. This was exactly the type of comparisons I was hoping to get from owners of the different marques. Very informative. I'll be test riding both of them, but that doesn't answer the question of reliability. That's where real world experience is appreciated.

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I have a friend who has completed 180,000 trouble free miles within two years in a diesel Audi Allroad [yes really]. I once had an Audi 90 quattro and didn't like it much and the parts were expensive. Also the depreciation was horrendous here in the UK at that time. I have owned a ML270 which was fine over two years with only poorly aligned trim to worry about. Presently own a BMW X5 which has done 15000 miles trouble free apart from sluggish driver seat belt retraction. Plenty of Volvo XC90's around here, which are well liked. I would not imagine that they are the most reliable or hassle free cars though.
Huw
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---- lots of good info snipped---

Some of the vehicles mentioned previously and below are AWD rather than 4wd. Some vehicles listed as AWD are actually "on-demand" AWD rather than full time AWD. Volvo and Mercedes have on-demand AWD systems, where the "other" two wheels get power only when the default drive wheels begin to slip. Audi and Volkswagen (and Subaru) have full-time AWD systems. Not sure about the other Japanese marques.
Japanese cars are known as being generally more reliable than Europeans or Americans. Problem is, that the Japanese have just recently discovered AWD in sedans, with one exception, that nobody mentioned. That is Subaru. However, noone mentioned them probably because even the largest Subarus will not comfortably seat an adult in the back seat.
The recent "discoveries" of AWD for Japanese sedans include those by Infiniti and Lexus. I have seen various surveys placing Infiniti or Lexus as the most reliable marque in general. Even Ford and Chrysler will reportedly offer large AWD sedans in 2004 or 2005. I wouldn't trust their reliability as far as I could throw them. For all of these, there are always the caveats about buying a model in its first year of existence.
That leaves you with Audi A6 class and A8 class, and Mercedes E and S-classes and the VW Phaeton, also not mentioned above. Volvo has AWD in the S80 sedan, which should fit adults in the back seat. The Audis are probably slightly more reliable than the Mercedes, but neither Audi nor Mercedes is very reliable in the entire spectrum of cars out there. Volvo has had AWD in the S60 for a few years, and in wagons for longer, but there are so few out there that I really don't know much about reliability. The VW Phaeton is an unknown quantity, but it will likely be similar to the Audis as for reliability. But I think that $65-80k for a VW will be a psychological stretch for most folks.
I own 2 Audis, a '99 A4 Quattro and a 2000 A6 Quattro. I got the A4 at 43k, now has 76k. Got the A6 at 43k, now has 60k. Both with Assured warranty. Had to replace a bearing in the A4, covered under warranty. Had to replace a control arm in the A6, covered under warranty. Not sure if that means they are "reliable" or not. Both cars are rock solid, and of course, great in the snow. The cars with AWD, of course weigh more than their 2wd counterparts. I figure, if you're carrying that weight around, you'd might as well use it. Mercedes and Volvo are default 2wd systems, with the 2nd axle only activating "as needed." I like awd in summer & winter. If you only hit the snow once per year, then that distinction btw full-time and on-demand AWD probably doesn't matter to you.
Many folks out there drive audis for 150k-200k-250k miles and love them. In general, they have their problems, but the Quattro system has 23 years of history and development behind it. The word "bulletproof" is often used, at leat for the Quattro systems, and for some of the engines. I am 6 feet tall, and with the front seat adjusted for me, I can sit comfortably 'behind myself' in the A6. The A8 has several more inches of room than the A6. If you want the most reliable marque out there, go for Lexus or Infiniti. If you want the most reliable AWD *sedan* that fits 4 adults comfortably, then go for an Audi Quattro.
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I am also 6'0" tall, and recently "sat behind myself" in a 2004 Subaru Impreza, and it was fine. A lot better than my iX. Headroom in the front was as good or better than any of the bimmers (E24, E30, E32, E34, E36) I've spent time in, the controls were great, the interior was functional and attractive.
The Impreza is probably the closest thing on today's market to my trusty 325iX -- 200 pounds heavier, 3 horsepower less, full time AWD with viscous couplings, 2.5L motor, 5spd manual, 4-door, etc.
In nasty weather, the iX is utterly unflappable and unstoppable. At 316,000km it does take some maintenance, but I can't bear to part with it, so I'll give it what it needs. It's never stranded me. It's a blast in the dry, the wet, and the snow. It's got character and great road manners.
If I was forced to replace it I think I'd get an Impreza TS. About $23k CDN vs the 325xi at $43k CDN. Subaru has been doing AWD in a logical way for 30 years. The cheapest used Xi on the market right now is around $25k CDN and is saddled with all manner of electronic gagetry and driving "aids".
I'll lament the passing of my iX if and when the day comes. There aren't many cars out there to replace it with.
-Russ.
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I did plenty of research on both the cars. The Mercedes was constantly ranked "tops in the industry" as far as reliability, and all the E-CLASS owners I spoke with said their cars never broke and that they were the best vehicle they've ever owned. The Audi also did well, their quality and reliability has come a long way since the 'dark days'. I talked to one owner who said "All I have to do is change the oil and drive" and another said it was simply a fantastic car that gave him no trouble. This may not be the answer your looking for, but there are also plenty of sources out there for reliability/quality ratings. Another factor which swayed me to the German brands is safety. BMW, Mercedes and Audi are notorious for building the safest cars with the best innovative safety features that could save your life or keep you from getting seriously injured in a crash. That means a lot to me, especially when I have my kids in the car. Let us know what you drive and what you think. Good Luck.

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<snip>
Hint: try and find a German taxi that isn't a Merc. You certainly /can/ find them, but you have to look. Quite hard.
That said (and in no way intended as an insult), according to some German friends, that reputation has taken quite a bashing since the DC merger - some of the US-derived designs and manufacturing processes don't seem to be quite a bullet-proof as Merc drivers were used to.
One, I know, was planning to go down the Audi route unless his pet salesman could lease him an AMG for the price of a diesel.
Don't know what happened in the end, though. He's driven Mercs for at least 10 years and finds BMWs too "common" around Frankfurt. A bit snobbish, methinks, but he doesn't "do" corners.. just scary speeds in scary conditions on the Autobahn. When I get a lift, I prefer to sit in the back.. can't see the road that way :o\
And just in case I'm about to be accused of marque bias.. the BMW MINI sources a GM-derived engine from (IIRC) Brazil, my TT is really built in Hungary and the (2WD) Nissan 350Z has the heart of a Renault Vel Satis.. yes, /that/ one.
HTH
Hairy One Kenobi
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this opinion do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the highly-opinionated person expressing the opinion in the first place. So there!
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My girlfriend has a 99 Audi A4 Quatro. It is the best car i've ever driven in winter conditions, its ride is more comfortable than any ford explorer. I've never driven or even riden in a Sabb but they are manufactured in Northern Europe and everytime i see them advertised they are going through some arctic environment.
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A base-equipted Mercedes E-class 4-Matic without the unecessary and trouble laden bell's and whistles is as good a car as you are likely to find!
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