It is tough to make a recomendation based on your criteria, as it is all over the place, but it sounds like you need something fun. If you consider going with a good set of snow tires on spare rims, it will make AWD less necessary on your short commute. Here are a couple of interesting/unicorn options:
BMW I3 - These cars should appeal to your engineering sensibilities. They handle well given the low center of gravity. They accelerate quickly thanks to the immediate torque of the all electric drivetrain. They have an 81 mile range, which is more than enough for your. Generally they are just a very interesting car, with a beatiful interior and a carbon fiber monocoque chassis which is unheard of in this price range. Best of all, electric care depriciate quickly from new because tax breaks aren't available for used versions, so they can easily be found for $20k within warranty. The Nissan Leaf would be a less expensive option with similar virtues, although a more boring design.
Jeep Wrangler - Rugged, AWD and fun. Something interesting to shake up your car buying experience.
Audi TT - Again, a fun AWD coupe that is well engineered and great looking inside and out. Based on the Golf chassis so it can be less expensive to maintain if you do some of the work yourself or take it to a good independant service center. The older versions have aged really well, and the design is sure to become a classic.