Automotive

Why All-Wheel Drive is Often a Better Choice Than Four-Wheel Drive

If you go window-shopping for new cars, it’s not always obvious, but you will pay more for all-weather capability. The system will be an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel drive, depending on which one is offered.

AWD-and-4WD Why All-Wheel Drive is Often a Better Choice Than Four-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive is Often a Better Choice Than Four-Wheel Drive

How All-Wheel Drive is Different

Four-wheel drive has been around forever.  You can think of it as a second transmission that gives the vehicle extra capability when faced with weather challenges. This helps it through mud, sand, or snow.  It can add weight to a vehicle because there are many mechanical parts.  That said, computerized commands are playing a bigger and bigger role, helping to reduce the weight of the overall system.

All-wheel drive is newer. It arrived as a computerized command system.  While it may add some weight, it is usually much less than four-wheel drive.  This system is not for off-roading or anything strenuous.  It is strictly for better traction during weather problems like rain, snow, and mud.

All-wheel drive’s automatic capability is what makes it so desirable for drivers. They can trust it to know when it’s needed.  This allows them to have the advantages of the front-wheel-drive until the all-wheel drive is required.  Traditionally, four-wheel drive capability must be turned on and off at the driver’s discretion. This is less true today with some four-wheel-drive systems that turn on and off automatically.

While all-wheel drive isn’t rough-and-ready like four-wheel drive, it can still take care of those challenges that most drivers face. It can handle a little sand at the beach. There’s no fear when rolling down a gravel road or even a dirt one. If you need to park in a field for a big event, the SUV or car can handle any traction problems it encounters.

Four-Wheel-Drive Why All-Wheel Drive is Often a Better Choice Than Four-Wheel Drive
There’s no fear when rolling down a gravel road or even a dirt one.

What You Should Know About Brands and Drivetrains

Even if you aren’t interested in a four-wheel drive, it helps to know who has it. Jeep Wranglers are always four-wheel drive, although it is an extra expense with any other Jeep SUV.  Most trucks have four-wheel drive options.  The one exception to that rule is the Honda Ridgeline, which is strictly all-wheel drive.

It seems a good rule of thumb that if a brand has trucks, then it will almost certainly offer four-wheel drive on some of its SUVs.  If it doesn’t sell trucks, it is more likely that the brand will only have all-wheel drive vehicles.  Then, the brand Subaru thrives as a strictly all-wheel-drive brand without any front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive SUV options.

AWD tends to be limited to SUVs.  However, some brands, although not many, offer all-wheel drive on their cars. There’s even an all-wheel-drive Prius Hybrid.  The 2021 Lexus ES AWD was introduced just this year. Both of these are good examples where the four-wheel-drive would not be desirable. Instead, AWD doesn’t add much weight and still manages to provide many of the four-wheel-drive benefits.

2021-Lexus-ES-AWD-scaled Why All-Wheel Drive is Often a Better Choice Than Four-Wheel Drive
AWD doesn’t add much weight and still manages to provide many of the four-wheel-drive benefits.

How All-Wheel Drive Works

Using the Lexus ES AWD as an example, let’s look at why all-wheel drive works so well.  In regular use, the Lexus ES AWD is driving in front-wheel drive. This means the engine is powering the front wheels, and the back wheels are rolling in response to that forward push.  When all-wheel-drive kicks in, that equation changes immediately.

The engine starts sending torque to every wheel.  The system is reacting to slippage. With every wheel engaged, there are four points to grip the road.  This helps provide traction when the road is slippery or snowy.

So it’s as effective as a four-wheel-drive when it comes to the everyday weather challenges that many people face, especially in the winter. Yet, it’s the second part of the equation that makes it a better fit for most people.

Regular four-wheel-drive tends to decrease fuel economy by a lot.  All-wheel drive narrows that margin by weighing far less and using the front-wheel drive for efficiency.  It’s also cheaper than four-wheel drive in most cases.

All-Wheel-Drive Why All-Wheel Drive is Often a Better Choice Than Four-Wheel Drive
The engine is powering the front wheels, and the back wheels are rolling in response to that forward push.

So, when you are shopping for your next ride, keep in mind the extra value of all-wheel drive.  It’s like getting the upside of four-wheel drive without any downside.

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