A few years ago, the most common four-wheel-drive vehicles were a few full-size SUVs and large trucks, which were primarily used for off-road escapades, but the tables have now been turned.
Today, advanced engineering has found a way to bring the 4WD system to almost all cars. Now, over 50% of cars being sold come with either a four-wheel drive (4WD) or an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.
So, for a new car enthusiast with an undying push to hit the road on all four, these AWD vs 4WD systems can get pretty confusing.
To help you out, we’ll take a detailed look into the main differences between AWD and 4WD. We will also tell you the advantages that come with each model.
The Main Differences Between All-Wheel Drive Vs 4 Wheel Drive Are
- A four-wheel drive allows the driver to select whether to run on two wheels, mainly the rear axle, whereas an all-wheel-drive system engages all the four wheels on its own.
- AWD, especially the part-time AWD, delivers impressive fuel economy, whereas that of 4×4 wheel drive is poorer.
- Four-wheel-drive vehicles have higher ground clearance and are more powerful, which makes them excellent for serious off-road driving, whereas all-wheel-drive cars are better for normal driving conditions and light off-road rides.
- When driving or corners, the wheels of an AWD spin differently (with the outer ones spinning more than inner ones), whereas those of a 4WD spin at the same speed. This implies that cornering with a 4×4 can be a challenge compared to an all-wheel drive.
Now, onto the big question, “Which is better between 4×4 vs AWD?” The answer is that it all depends on you. All-wheel-drive vehicles are designed with a 4-wheel system that helps to maximize road traction, and you will find them the perfect pick for slippery roads, negotiating corners, and general urban driving.
Therefore, top car manufacturers such as Honda, Audi, and Subaru, use it to market their brands. However, 4×4 models are excellent for off-road driving because they provide the driver greater control and power.
Difference Between AWD and 4WD: A Detailed Look
If you walk on the road, most of the vehicles you will see are likely to be all-wheel-drive. They are preferred by more people because they offer the comfort of working on paved roads and still operate pretty well when caught up in icy, slippery, or muddy conditions. But for most people who target scaling serious off-road driving, a 4×4 wheel drive is the preferred model. Here is a close look at AWD vs 4WD features:
As the name suggests, the vehicle’s system powers both the rear and front wheels. This implies that unlike in a 4×4 where the driver has the liberty to select to either engage 4×4 or disengage to run on 2×4, the driver in an all-drive has no input. AWD drivetrains are further categorized into two, part-time AWD/automatic AWD and full-time AWD:
If your car is a full-time AWD, the real and front axles are driven by the vehicle’s engine all the time. When driving on pavements with loose surfaces, mud, ice, or snow, all-time AWD provides better traction, making it safer and easier to handle.
Part-time AWD is a sort of hybrid between 2WD and 4WD but with advanced sophistication. When driving on standard roads, such as paved flat tracks on the streets, the vehicle sends torque to either the front or rear axle. However, when the car demands more traction, such as when driving on muddy areas or slippery surfaces, the electronic sensors command the engine to start sending torque to all wheels. Part-time AWD uses an advanced centralized computer that helps control power getting to each wheel.
The computerized sensors also come in handy when negotiating corners. For example, if you are negotiating a sharp corner, the sensors ensure the outer wheels of the part-time AWD spin faster than the inner ones, making the movement extra smooth. It also helps to reduce the risk of the cars skidding on the road when negotiating corners at high speed.
One unique benefit of part-time AWD and full-time AWD is that the driver does not have to make the decision on which system to engage.
The ability to detect the needed traction, especially when using part-time AWD, means that your full torque is only called to action when facing challenging terrain. This is why part-time AWD returns better fuel economy compared to full-time AWD and 4X4 wheel cars.
Four-wheel drive is the first thing that crosses the mind of most people looking for more powerful vehicles with excellent off-road capabilities. Traditionally, 4WD vehicles were designed with higher ground clearance, knobby tires, and a shielded underbody. These attributes were mainly found in SUVs and large trucks.
Nowadays, 4WD technology has advanced so much, and it is found not just in large SUVs designed for off-road driving but also on other more comfortable vehicle models. For example, you can now buy a modern 4WD luxury vehicle such as a Jeep Cherokee or a Ford Explorer.
A 4WD system works by sending torque to all four wheels of a car to help increase traction, and they are more robust compared to AWD. This means that a vehicle with a 4WD system can handle rugged terrain more effectively than an AWD. Like AWD, a 4×4 wheel drive system also falls into two categories: full-time and part-time four-wheel drive.
Full-Time 4×4 Drive
A full-time 4×4 wheel drive system, as the name suggests, operates with all the four wheels getting the power on a continuous basis. This implies a full-time 4×4 wheel drive runs like a full-time AWD. However, it differs in that the driver, in the case of a 4×4 wheel drive, might have some selectable modes on what level of power should go to the front or rear axle.
Part-Time 4×4 Drive
This is the common 4×4 wheel drive system that people are used to and is mainly found in trucks designed for off-road driving. The vehicles in this category are driven using two wheels, in most cases, the rear. Then, it is up to the driver to make the decision when to shift to 4×4 wheel drive.
If you are driving 4×4 vehicle models such as the Jeep Wrangler or Ford F150, you will be able to lock the differentials for better traction when driving off-road.
Four-wheel drive vehicles are the best option if you’re dealing with tough terrain or snow. Whether you will be regularly going out for rock crawling or traveling in muddy terrain, a 4×4 wheel drive will be a great pick. Indeed, even the 4×4 wheel drive models designed to offer extra comfort come with awesome pulling power.
If you’re not sure if your vehicle is a 4WD, you can check its VIN.
AWD Vs 4WD: The Winner?
The answer to the raging debate on AWD and 4WD depends on what you want to do with the vehicle.
AWD is available in all types of vehicles, from trucks to SUVs, giving you an excellent selection based on personal preference. It delivers excellent performance under normal driving conditions and also does well for light-off-road driving. So, if you do not intend to go for tough off-roading, this will be an excellent pick.
4WD, on the other hand, will be an excellent pick for people who stay away from the city or those who target regular off-road adventures. Their notable higher ground clearance makes IT easy to handle even the steep grades, deep snow, and rocky terrain. The model with part-time 4WD also provides the driver with better control and special connection with the car operations.