In recent years, vehicles with four-driven wheels like the latest SUVs and dual-cab utes have become more popular.
Before now, only a few huge trucks and full-size SUVs, most of which were utilized for work or off-road adventures.
Unlike two-wheel-drive vehicles, which send power to either the front or rear wheels, all-wheel-drive cars send energy to all four wheels.
According to Jato Dynamics, a London-based automotive intelligence organization, over half of the new vehicles sold in the United States are equipped with all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD).
Many people prefer automobiles with all-wheel drive (AWD) traction for safety reasons, while adventurers prefer four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles because they can go off the beaten path.
But what exactly is the difference between AWD and 4WD?
Which one is best for you? The term AWD vs.4WD can be pretty confusing at times, especially since AWD systems have become more durable and 4WD systems have become more sophisticated.
To add to the complexity, different manufacturers use these names in different ways.
Have you ever wondered what the differences are between AWD and 4WD? Here’s what you need to know.
Table of Contents
- About AWD
- How AWD Systems Work
- AWD Pros and Cons
- About 4WD
- How 4WD Systems Works
- 4WD Pros and Cons
- AWD vs. 4WD in Snow or Ice
- Are our four-wheel-drive vehicles safer than two-wheel drive?
- Should you go for an AWD or a 4WD?
- Are SUVs all AWD/4WD?
All-wheel-drive systems provide constant power to both the front and rear wheels.
AWD is designed for smooth, snow-covered, or rain-slicked roads and would help keep your car moving forward better than front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive.
Also, all-wheel drive aids in transferring engine torque to the ground in high-performance vehicles when cornering at high speeds or launching from a stop with the engine’s full oomph.
Many all-wheel-drive systems fluidly shift torque between the front and back tires as needed, and when necessary, transition to two-wheel drive to save gasoline.
AWD refers to two different types of drivetrains, which are the full-time and part-time AWD. Full-time AWD implies that all four wheels are driven continuously.
On the other hand, part-time AWD or automatic AWD runs in a two-wheel-drive mode most of the time.
Only when further traction control is required would power given to all four wheels in these systems.
How AWD Systems Work
Full-time and part-time AWD systems normally run without the driver’s input; however, some feature selectable modes that give the driver some choice over how much power goes.
Through a system of differentials, viscous couplings, and multi-plate clutches, torque is distributed to all four wheels, allowing the car’s traction to be optimized. Under typical circumstances, the vehicle continues to run well.
Both the front and rear axles are driven all of the time in full-time AWD.
This type of AWD can assist the car handle better on dry roads and ensuring that maximum power is delivered to the road.
It also adds traction in slick conditions like ice, snow, or mud, allowing for safer, more confident handling.
Part-time AWD provides torque to two driven wheels in regular operation, either the front or rear, depending on the make and model.
When the driving conditions demand more traction, the technology automatically activates the other two wheels.
Modern part-time AWD systems rely on a network of electronic sensors to send data to a computer, which regulates the amount of power sent to each wheel.
AWD Pros and Cons
Because the all-wheel-drive is engineered to allow each tire to rotate at its own pace in turns—inboard tires rotate slower in corners—drivers can utilize it on pavement without causing damage.
For the average driver wanting bad weather security, all-wheel drive is a superior system to four-wheel drive.
As a result, most current SUVs and passenger cars are equipped with all-wheel drive. It’s even becoming more common in pickup trucks, which have traditionally been the domain of four-wheel drive.
The best part of AWD is that the driver doesn’t have to decide whether or not to use it.
Either all four wheels are driven all the time, or the system is set up to detect traction loss and deliver power where it’s needed.
AWD is offered on a wide range of vehicles, including compact sedans, performance models, and SUVs of all sizes, offering you many options.
Although AWD can perform effectively in various circumstances, including rain, snow, and minor off-roading, serious off-roaders choose to avoid it.
This view is changing as current AWD systems improve and become more capable, but many drivers who like to go off the main route still prefer to choose whether to use four-wheel drive for themselves.
AWD also raises a vehicle’s price and, in most circumstances, reduces fuel economy.
4WD system requires the driver to change into and out of the four-wheel-drive by turning a knob, pushing a button, or tugging a lever.
It is only intended for usage off-road or on severely slick surfaces. Therefore, the front and rear driveshafts are locked together, allowing the front and rear axles to rotate at the same speed.
This ensures that, at a minimum, engine torque is always transmitted to at least one front and one rear wheel in sand, mud, and snow, without depending on computers to predict or detect wheel slip.
More power is put to the ground in ultra slippery circumstances to get you moving and keep you moving.
However, four-wheel drive is reserved for vehicles with genuine off-road capabilities, such as the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator, and trucks like the Ford F-150 Raptor and Chevrolet Colorado Bison.
When most people think of drivetrains that power all four wheels of a car, this is the more typical system that comes to mind.
It’s not unexpected, given that the principle dates back to the dawn of motorized transportation.
A truck with high ground clearance, a shielded underbody, tow hooks, and big, knobby tires is the classic image of a 4WD vehicle.
This mechanism is primarily found in heavy trucks and SUVs, which is true.
However, over time, 4WD engineering has advanced to the point that, while still capable of significant off-roading, 4WD can also be found in a more extensive range of comfortable, even luxurious, models.
4WD systems use a set of front, rear, and center differentials, transfer cases, and couplings to send torque to the wheels, allowing the vehicle to maintain maximum traction in varying circumstances.
4WD systems, like AWD systems, are designed to transfer torque to all four wheels of a vehicle when traction is needed.
However, 4WD systems are more durable than AWD systems and can handle more rough terrain. They, too, are divided into two categories: full-time and part-time.
How 4WD Systems Works
Full-time 4WD works similarly to a full-time AWD system, with power delivered to all four wheels continuously.
Selectable modes may allow the driver to change how power is distributed between the front and rear axles in some designs.
The part-time is the true traditionalist of four-wheel drive, and it’s most commonly found in trucks and SUVs built to work and play in more harsh circumstances.
The vehicle is usually driven by two wheels, which are generally in the back. When 4WD is required, the driver must decide whether to engage it by pressing a button or shifting a lever.
In extreme off-road situations, some systems additionally allow the driver to lock the vehicle’s differentials for added traction.
4WD Pros and Cons
Many 4WD systems also feature low and high ranges that the driver can select using an electrical switch or a mechanical lever on the floor.
In an off-road situation, the low setting provides the most traction. The default setting is high, useful in slick on-road conditions like compacted snow, ice, loose sand, or gravel.
Off-road and on-road, 4WD cars are often better at handling harsh situations. Even though these systems are now available in well-appointed luxury vehicles and SUVs, they are still intended for durability and maximum pulling power, making them ideal for work and play in challenging terrain.
The design of 4WD vehicles and the creation of the cars that can be ordered have improved in recent years.
However, depending on the make and model, 4WD typically provides a firmer ride than 2WD. These systems also harm fuel economy and raise the vehicle’s initial cost.
AWD vs. 4WD in Snow or Ice
Driving in the cold sometimes entails dealing with a range of road surfaces that change rapidly, from soft snow to hard-packed snow to glare ice.
The ideal methods for dealing with these changing situations are AWD systems, which supply power to all four wheels all of the time or automatically engage four-wheel torque when needed.
They remove the guesswork from the equation and can react to changing road surfaces faster than a driver.
4WD, on the other hand, is better suited to managing deeper snow and other more severe winter circumstances. It can help you get out of a snowdrift faster, navigate slick hills better, and get to work safely before the roads are plowed.
Are our four-wheel-drive vehicles safer than two-wheel drive?
It is contingent on the state of the roads and how the vehicle is driven. Given the high level of critical safety systems now installed in all new passenger vehicles, it’s difficult to say unequivocally that an AWD vehicle is safer than a two-wheel-drive (2WD) vehicle.
Electronic stability control, which stabilizes the car when it shifts direction from what the driver intended, is required by Victorian laws for all new passenger vehicles.
Should you go for an AWD or a 4WD?
When choosing between an AWD and a 4WD, you must consider where you live, the usual driving condition you encounter, and of course, your taste.
AWD is available in a wide range of vehicles, from compact to full-size cars, trucks, and SUVs, offering you the most options conceivable.
It gives the best ride and fuel economy on dry roads while providing enhanced traction in moderate winter conditions or light off-roading.
It also offers the advantage of continuously driving all four wheels or automatically controlling which corner receives torque, removing the decision-making process from the driver’s hands.
For individuals who live in isolated places, work in extreme weather, or like off-road adventures, 4WD may be the superior option.
This system is commonly seen in trucks and SUVs with higher ground clearance than usual, making them ideal for navigating deep snow, rugged terrain, and steep grades, as well as carrying or towing colossal cargo.
Furthermore, models with part-time 4WD and low- and high-range characteristics provide the driver with the most control over where and how power is delivered.
Are SUVs all AWD/4WD?
Many of the high-riding vehicles on our highways these days are not AWD/4WD, despite their appearance.
People adore the look of off-roader wheel arches, big wheels, robust design, and that all-important ride height – but they don’t necessarily want to take their car off the road, as auto manufacturers realized a long time ago.
SUVs of all sorts have taken over, and a glance at the compact SUV market reveals that only a few models are available with all-wheel drive, with the majority being front-wheel drive only.
A fresh crop of ‘real’ off-roaders is now available for those who are dissatisfied with the soft-roader trend.
Ford, Holden, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and Toyota all produce SUVs based on their respective 4×4 utes, and they’re all designed for off-road excursions. Alternatively, the utes on which they are based are also quite useful off-road.