As the Autofocus team set out for the Maple Leaf Rally Club’s Bancroft, Ontario dirt circuit, we were all thinking the same sinister thing: How high do you think we’ll be able to jump the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup?

Ostensibly though, the purpose of our test was to evaluate the different all-wheel and four-wheel-drive systems available to Canadians.  There was a time when if you wanted a vehicle that put power down through all four wheels, you’re choices were few and far between: a quirky Subaru, a luxurious Audi or a utilitarian pickup truck. But, the game has moved on. Not only do most manufactures offer a vehicle with AWD or 4WD, but the systems they use are increasingly clever and varying. Active yaw control, centre differentials, torque distribution: this is all cutting edge stuff. The amount of computing power in these cars would make your laptop look like an Easy Bake Oven. The point of all this cleverness though remains the same as it ever was: keeping you in controls and on the road in all seasons.

HeapMedia89846

The humble Kia is not an extreme machine like our other two contenders. It’s a normal car for normal people. The exterior, designed by ex-Audi man Peter Schreyer, is about as good as it gets for a small SUV these days. It wasn’t to everybody’s liking initially, but it grew on all of, especially after its metallic orange paint got a little muddied. Standing under the bright Northern Ontario sun next to the Lancer and the Raptor, it might as well have been from the Jetsons.

But, we came to Bancroft to see how it handled, not how it looks. The AWD system underpinning the Kia is of the part-time variety. Think of it as mainly a front-wheel-drive car that can send power to the rear wheels to get your out of a jam. Sensors actually detect when you’re about to get into a slide and preemptively send power where it’s needed.

As contributor Bradley Horn said: “The Kia is a perfect example of the kind of modern AWD machine Canadians can buy today. The system does a brilliant job of compensating for any hair-brained escapades at the wheel. On the dirt track, if you drove it with some semblance and sanity, it would scamper through with the torque distribution and ESC working hard. To get the Sportage out of shape on the course, I had to overdrive it to excess. Defeat the ESC, power into a corner way too deep, then throttle to the max with bodacious steering efforts. You’d have to be in way, way over your head to go wrong in this machine.”

This Kia’s AWD system is lighter and a more simplistic design than the other competitors, and therefore leads to a more fuel-efficient vehicle. The Sportage manages a respectable 7.1 L/100 km on the highway and 10 in the city. Base price for the AWD model is $29,495.

HeapMedia89843

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has a long-standing reputation as a darling of the rally racing world. A pedestrian Japanese sedan transformed into a high-powered sports machine.

That said, to an admittedly miniscule group of car nerds, it’s now the butt of many jokes because, technically if you dig deep under its skin, the ‘Evo’ is based on the chassis of the recently departed Chrysler Sebring – not the most dynamically impressive or inspiring piece of engineering ever to roll on four wheels.

But, despite what the gearhead luddites say, the Lancer hasn’t lost all of its edge. This top-line model has a crazy 2.0-litre turbocharged motor that churns out 291 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. It sends power to all its wheels through a super-quick shifting dual-clutch transmission (if you opt for the $51,798 MR model, the manual GSR trim comes in at a more reasonable $41,998).

Given its rallying heritage, we expected it to be the hoon’s weapon of choice and it didn’t disappoint. It was on high-performance street tires, but it was easily controllable on the dirt, drifting on command.

Underneath the Evo is a permanent all-wheel-drive system. Unlike the Sportage, power is going to all wheels, all the time. Its clever electronics let you play with the car’s behavior depending on the terrain, but you can be assured that it will always have your back. It was the easiest and probably most fun to rip around the handling track the Maple Leaf Rally Club kindly lent us for the day.

With the heavier, more complex AWD system, you’re looking at 12.4 L/100 km in the city and 8.7 on the highway. Although, the higher consumption probably has a lot more to do with the ultra high-performance motor under that vented hood.

HeapMedia89834

“My god, but is it excessive. I showed the truck to an eco-conscious friend and I could feel her seething with hatred around this blue-ovaled beast. I swear a Birkenstock bounced off the hood driving by Whole Foods,” says Bradley.

The Raptor is not a normal truck. It was built to travel fast, very fast, over any terrain. It’s probably as close as we’ll ever get to an off-road racing machine for the road.

So, obviously we wanted to see how high it could jump. Basically, the driver says jump and the Raptor says how high? It’s as simple as that. The $53,199 monster we had on hand for the day was at home leaping up into the air and crashing back down again. Even after repeated high-speed launches, the Raptor refused to give up.

“The old-school, proper 4WD system in this truck is the only design that can stand up to a pounding,” Horn says. “Sure it’s heavy, but it’s tough and won’t break.”

The Ford’s 4WD system is basically the same setup you’ll find in any modern pickup truck. Heavy steel driveshafts and gears to mechanically put power to all four corners. It’s primitive tech by the Kia and Mitsubishi’s standards, but it’s just a proven. The awesome 6.2-litre V8 can power all the wheels, but you can lock the truck into rear-wheel-drive only mode too, if you want to have some power-slidey fun on the dirt.

Ford of Canada doesn’t seem to list fuel consumption stats for the Raptor, and for good reason. According to the U.S. EPA, it only gets 21.3 L/100 km in the city and 16.8 on the highway. But, what did you expect?

Leaving Bancroft, all three cars left us satisfied. The Kia did what it promised, with the AWD system keeping us on the straight and narrow. The Mitsubishi’s high-tech setup meant it was the easiest and most fun to slide about. And the Ford, well, the Ford is one of those vehicles that only comes along once in a while: an epic machine. But, the later two are overkill for most Canadian winters to be honest. The Kia is the sensible choice, but it you’re after the others then you know who you are and there’s no talking you out of it.