Ford and General Motors have turned to all-wheel drive to boost the appeal of their Lincoln and Cadillac luxury brands.
Customers believe it improves performance and safety. They accept higher sticker prices and lower fuel economy to get those benefits.
About 50 percent of the CTS models that Cadillac sells have AWD.
"All-wheel drive will take on an even bigger role as we introduce new models," said Jim Vurpillat, Cadillac global marketing director.
All-wheel drive has traditionally appealed to buyers concerned about driving in bad weather. Today, it's associated with advanced technology and overall vehicle sophistication and capability.
"It gives people confidence," Vurpillat said.
About 30 percent of vehicles sold in the United States will have AWD by 2015, said Paul Lacy of consultant IHS Automotive. "The trend is driven by the growth in all-wheel-drive cars and crossovers," Lacy said.
Some of the growth in all-wheel drive will continue to be at luxury brands, where AWD's cost and fuel consumption are less of an issue. But mainstream cars like the Ford Fusion and Chrysler 300 increasingly offer AWD, as do all Subarus.
"All-wheel drive enhances traction for all-weather capability and provides better stability, cornering and control at high speeds," said Mircea Gradu, Chrysler director of transmission and driveline engineering.
Audi invented the modern all-wheel drive luxury car, and it remains a leader. About 80 percent of the vehicles Audi sells in the United States feature its iconic quattro AWD system.
"For us, it's more than a system to improve driving in bad weather," Audi of America product planning chief Filip Brabec said. "We believe having control of all four wheels is better than only two. As a driver, you're just a little less likely to get into trouble. All-wheel drive expands the envelope of control."
That's particularly true for brands that start their vehicle engineering with front-wheel drive platforms, like Audi and Lincoln. It's very difficult for a FWD car to match the performance and handling of rear-drive models like the Cadillac CTS, and most BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and Lexus sport sedans.
"People with luxury cars want AWD. Front-wheel drive is almost a dirty word to them," said Frank Markus, technical director of Motor Trend magazine.