AWD vs 4WD
Which Is Best For You?

Buying a vehicle with an all wheel drive or a 4 wheel drive system requires some extra thought and special consideration.

Having one -or both- of these features on your new vehicle is going to significantly raise the price of your vehicle.

So is an all wheel drive or four wheel drive system right for you? Which one of these setups will better meet your needs?

Here’s a comparison of AWD and 4WD systems:

All Wheel Drive is something that is available on many high end cars and is becoming an option sold on many lower-priced SUVs and station wagons.

Originally, All Wheel Drive was used to denote cars that powered all four wheels, all of the time. While this created a much safer driving experience, it did tend to decrease fuel efficiency.

AWD vs 4WD Today


Today, most All Wheel Drive vehicles are being marketed as being “active” or “intelligent” in that they system only engages whenever sensors detect that a wheel is about to slip. This allows modern cars to enjoy the same efficiency as a two wheel drive model, without sacrificing the safety of being able to engage all four wheels in dangerous conditions.

However, there are times when driving calls for more than All Wheel Drive can offer. For example, vehicle owners that drive in severe weather or find themselves on poor roads (or no roads) are more likely to want the additional control 4 Wheel Drive systems offer.

There are a few different versions of 4 Wheel Drive systems and the implementation varies from one make to another. Some of them can be left on, even at highway speeds. These are called Full-time 4 Wheel Drive systems or Hi-speed 4 Wheel Drive. This system is typically engaged whenever driving in poor weather or on slick roads.

There is also a low-speed 4 Wheel drive system that is typically reserved for very rough terrain or muddy conditions where extra torque is needed. These can only be used at low speeds, but they provide the extra power necessary for extreme conditions. Jeeps and Land Rovers are classic examples of vehicles with this capability.

AWD vs 4WDMost 4 Wheel Drive vehicles also have a 2 Wheel Drive mode to allow for better fuel economy on the highway. They may only offer 2 Wheel Drive and 4 Wheel Drive “Lo”, or all three types of drive. A few even offer a combination of All Wheel Drive for highway use and 4 Wheel Drive “Lo” for extremely rough terrain.

So when comparing AWD vs 4WD systems for your next vehicle, take a moment and consider the terrain and driving conditions you vehicle will most often encounter. You may well decide that having power to all four wheels is the safest choice for your family, and worth any additional cost.

As we mentioned before the range of AWD and 4WD models available today has expanded considerably so whatever your needs are there’s a good chance you can find a vehicle that will meet those needs while still delivering great traction in slippery conditions.

If you’re looking for an AWD vehicle like a car or crossover SUV some examples of models you might want to check out are:

  • Subaru Legacy, Forester & Outback
  • Audi A4, A6 & A8
  • Ford Taurus or Edge
  • BMW 3 & 5 Series

If you want more heavy-duty off road 4 wheel drive capabilities then you’ll want to focus on more truck-like models such as:

  • Chevrolet Silverado
  • Ford F Series
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Land Rover Range Rover
  • Toyota FJ Cruiser

Some models billed as “AWD” really have very little rough road capability and might be better thought of as “rear wheel assist” models since these are typically front wheel drive cars or crossover SUVs with the ability to transfer some power to the rear wheels in slippery conditions.

It may be enough to get you out of a snowed-in drive way but if you plan on putting in some serious rough road time or pulling heavy loads out of slippery locations you may be better served by some of the more traditional, 4WD type vehicles like those listed immediately above.

If you already have an AWD vehicle and aren’t quite happy with it’s traction performance remember the role that tires play in the traction environment. If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow and own an all wheel drive vehicle it’s still a great idea to get a good set of winter tires from a tire-maker like Bridgestone or Continental.

Since temperature changes have an effect on the rubber compounds used in tires you’ll find that your top-of-the-line all-season tires just don’t get the same grip in cold weather that they do in the summer. Putting on a set of purpose-made snow tires can yield some pretty impressive improvements in the traction department and could make the difference between avoiding a slide into the ditch or a brief run-in with a guard rail.

Probably the best way to decide what type of traction system will be best for your needs is to take a little time to list how you normally use your vehicle in the course of a year and weigh the merits of AWD vs 4WD systems in each major usage category. Beyond that, just pick a vehicle that you like!

The line between AWD and 4WD vehicles has blurred extensively which can be confusing but for the most part that’s a good thing since it let’s you get some of the best of both worlds. For more info be sure to check out the AWD vs 4WD blog right here…

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