This is the soggy period for big portions of the country, and fuel efficiency takes a bit of a backseat to safety during the rainy season.
Automakers are already questioning whether or not an SUV- and crossover-mad buyer base can help it reach the 54.5 miles per gallon of combined efficiency that the Environmental Protection Agency has mandated by 2025, but right now the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute puts average mileage at little more than 25 mpg. There are multiple all-wheel drive vehicles can reach that mileage, but very few that can top 30 combined. Considering the added safety that an all-wheel drive vehicle with stability control can provide amid terrible road conditions, it's a sacrifice that folks in the Northeast, around the Great Lakes and in the Pacific Northwest have few qualms about making.
According to the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, wet roads cause roughly 1.13 million crashes each year. They're responsible for 75% of all weather-related crashes and 18% of vehicle crashes overall. Rain alone is responsible for 707,000 crashes, 47% of weather-related crashes and 11% of all crashes.
Those rainy crashes injure more than 330,000 people each year and kill 3,300. That adds up to more than 50% of all weather-related injuries and deaths. That makes rain more dangerous to U.S. drivers than snow, ice and fog combined. Even light right rain has an effect, reducing traffic flow 2% to 13% while heavier rain slows things down 6% to 17%.
Luxury automakers have caught on to drivers' concerns and have made a sizable dent in the all-weather vehicle market. The following ten vehicles show both how much of a luxury weather-specific safety features have become, but also the premium that drivers place on them:
Starting price: $53,035
Miles per gallon: 31 city, 29 highway, 30 combined
Even without the all-wheel drive, this elephant of a vehicle is performing a small miracle by getting this kind of mileage. Despite a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates a whopping 308 horsepower, this still, somehow, manages to get 31 miles per gallon in the city.
The Active Torque Control all-wheel drive automatically shifting engine power between front and rear axles, while 100% of the power goes to the front wheels during normal driving conditions for improved efficiency. It comes standard on the 450h and features a rear electric motor that powers the rear wheels when needed without dragging overall performance. A $315 cold-weather package features a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-leveling headlamps and headlamp washers, fast-response interior heater and rain-sensing wipers.
It's 11 miles per gallon more efficient than a base, gas-only RX 350, it puts out 20 horsepower more, and it has the same 80.3 cubic inches of cargo space with the seats folded. Yes, it's roughly $7,500 more, but the mileage and features including a power rear door, parking sensors, rear camera, heated seats, rear entertainment system and Lexus Enform app system more than make up for it.
Starting price: $49.800 and $68,800
Miles per gallon: 25 city, 38 highway, 29.5 combined
They're just different sizes of the same turbo-driven car, but each has sport-program all-wheel drive for hugging corners. Both vehicles also get the access to the same features, including the Style package (xenon headlights and 18-inch wheels), the Innovation package (includes head-up display and night vision assistant), the all-important Cold Weather package (heated front and rear seats and heated steering wheel), the Sport package (adds a sport-tuned suspension, a sport steering wheel, shift paddles and either 19-inch wheels with all-season tires or 20-inch wheels with summer tires), the Driver Assistance package (top-view camera system with front and rear corner views, adaptive cruise control, active lane assist and the Audi Pre-Sense Plus collision mitigation system) and the Black Optic package (available with the Sport package, and adds 20-inch wheels, summer tires and high-gloss black trim).
Rain-sensing wipers on both the windshield and headlights and heated windshield washer nozzles also come in handy, especially when rain yields to freezing rain.
Starting price: $59,950
Miles per gallon: 28 city, 32 highway, 30 combined
The all-wheel drive is extra, but the stability control and collision-mitigation braking system come standard on this surprisingly safe, yet sporty offering.
At a whopping 377 horsepower, this is the commuter version of Acura's NSX. That sedan frame puts lots of legroom in the back seats, while the AcuraLink app provides navigation and diagnostic information, GPS linked climate control (so the car knows which side is in the sun and, thus, which side to cool), a 14-speaker sound system, voice controls, voice texting, Bluetooth, leather heated and ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control and lane assistance. It'll manage those slick roads just fine, but it'll also provide just enough of a rumble beneath the hood to provide a little excitement that the local highway cops would never suspect.
Starting price: $59,650
Miles per gallon: 29 city, 34 highway, 31.5 combined
The 240 horsepower isn't much, but considering that BMW has loaded this vehicle with standard navigation system, leather upholstery, adjustable driving settings (which alter suspension, steering, throttle and automatic transmission response), adaptive bi-xenon headlights, automatic wipers, heated mirrors, a sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors and keyless ignition/entry, it's enough.
That doesn't even include the all-weather features like Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Dynamic and Cornering brake control Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, Brake Stand-by, LED fog lights, heated side mirrors, run-flat all-season tires and rain-sensing wipers with automatic headlight control.
Along with features including dual-zone automatic climate control, dark wood trim, ambient lighting, 10-way power front seats, driver memory functions, split-folding rear seats, BMW Assist emergency communications system and the iDrive electronics interface (with smartphone app integration), that xDrive all-wheel drive just adds to the 535's cocoon of comfort and safety.
Starting price: $76,565
Mileage: 15 city, 21 highway, 18 combined
Forget efficiency for a second and accept the fact that you may need some actual four-wheel drive -- not all-wheel drive masquerading as four-wheel drive -- at some point during a rainy season.
Though demand for this vehicle in the U.S. has dropped from a peak of more than 62,000 in 2006 to little more than 35,000 last year, the refreshed-in-2015 Escalade still comes with 94.2 cubic inches of cargo space, a General Motors 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine with 420 horsepower, the Cadillac CUE infotainment system with navigation, wireless phone chargers, heated and cooled front seats, lane assistance and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
However, its features like surround-vision cameras, OnStar emergency assistance (and Wi-Fi), rain-sensing wipers, heated rearview mirrors and stability control that come in handy during the worst times of year. Oh, and that four-wheel drive? It helps when there's enough rain out there to produce one of its most pesky side-effects: mud.
Starting price: $97,200
Mileage: 16 city, 23 highway, 19.5 combined
Yes, the first thing that catches the eye is the 440 horsepower and the 4.9-second 0-to-60. Fine, it's a Porsche, and it's a beast.
What should be of greater concern in this context is the traction and stability control, 8 inches of ground clearance and 18 inches of wading depth (flooding happens), heated rearview mirrors, rain-sensing wipers with heated washers, heated windshield and a communication system with navigation. All that is going to keep you going in rough weather that renders Wi-Fi access, Burmester or Bose surround sound systems, suite of apps and dual entertainment screens for the rear seats with wireless Bluetooth headsets a lot less valuable.
Starting price: $58,195
Mileage: 20 city, 25 highway, 22.5 combined
With 316 horsepower out of a four-cylinder supercharged engine, seating for seven and 85.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity, there's a lot to love about the XC90 already. However, stability control, run-off road mitigation, collision warning and daytime running lights with the name "Thor's Hammer."
Heated washer nozzles and rain-sensing wipers are kind of a given for a brand built on safety, but the all-wheel drive in this model also comes with leather seats, four-zone climate control, ventilated heated/air conditioned seats, wood trim, an optional Bower & Wilkins sound system and clean, a voice-activated, Bluetooth connected Sensus information and entertainment system, a subwoofer built into the the car's frame and a speaker system modeled after the acoustics of the Gothenburg Concert Hall.
Starting price: $229,100
Mileage: 12 city, 19 highway, 15.5 combined
The "big" Bentley SUV -- the EXP -- is still forthcoming.
This crossover that churns out more than 600 horsepower from its available W-12 engine and hits a top speed of nearly 190 miles per hour. That makes it the fastest SUV of all time, which is somewhat surprising given that it's weighed down with all the amenities of a Bentley Continental GT. The armrests are higher and the center console is wider, but there's still handcrafted leather, wood, and metal trim; an eight-inch touchscreen; a control dial in the center console; 22-way adjustable seats with heating, ventilation and massage functions; 10.2-inch Android tablet screens in the rear; and a customizable 1,950-watt, 18-speaker Naim sound system.
All-wheel drive and all-weather floor mats and liners are all fine options for this vehicle, but they both seem a bit out of place in a car that offers 15 shades of leather, 15 carpet colors and seven wood options.
Starting price: $54,650
Miles per gallon: 22 city, 29 highway, 25.5 combined
They once made this all-wheel drive beauty with a diesel engine, but Volkwagen's misadventures pretty much ended that.
You've just have to make do with rain-sensing wipers, stability and traction control, an emergency monitoring service, a driver-fatigue monitor, pre-collision automatic braking, blind-spot detection and a lane-departure warning syste mall keeping you safe. Meanwhile, you have the COMAND entertainment, navigation and communication system, dual-zone automatic climate control, ventilated seats and remote starter to keep everyone entertained -- and to keep their minds off of the lost efficiency of the now-dead diesel.
Starting price: $82,600
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 93 mpge
Electric charge range: 257 miles
The Falcon-winged Tesla sport utility's second-best model doesn't have the 289-mile range of the P100D or its 2.9-second zero-tosixthy but it still has camera, radar and sonar systems surrounding it to help avoid collisions. It also has an air filtration system that can provide cabin pressure and a hermetically sealed environment in case of a bioweapon attack, a panoramic windshield with solar tinting, seating for seven, navigation and free charges on the supercharger network.
The all-wheel drive is an across-the-line Tesla touch, but the collision-avoidance sensors, rain-sensing wipers and stability and traction control combine with the best fuel efficiency of any SUV on the road to make a surprisingly rain-friendly electric vehicle.