AWD vs 4WD: What’s the difference?
Everything you need to know about 4WD and AWD vehicles (and which is the safest)
With the rise of SUVs and dual-cab utes, more Australians are buying vehicles with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive than ever before. Unlike two-wheel-drive vehicles driven from the front or rear wheels, in an all or four-wheel-drive, power is directed to all four wheels. Many people choose cars with all-wheel drive (AWD) traction for safety reasons, while adventure seekers opt for four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles so they can head off road. We take closer a look at the benefits and drawbacks of all-paw traction.
All-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles are becoming the car of choice for many Aussie families.
All-wheel vs four-wheel drive: pros and cons
First of all, what’s the difference between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive?
There is very little difference in the mechanicals of all- and four-wheel drive. All-wheel drive describes vehicles that have a four-wheel drive system designed to maximise road traction, for example on slippery roads. It is seen as a safety feature and used by many brands, notably Subaru and Audi, to promote their models. Many AWD systems limit the drive to one set of wheels (front or rear) and only engage the other set of wheels when the system detects a slippage or a lack of traction, or for performance or efficiency purposes.
Four-wheel drive is used as a description of vehicles that are more inclined to be used for actual off-roading. Many, but not all, 4WD vehicles have a centre differential that helps divide the power and torque between the front and rear axle.
Serious off-roaders will usually have high and low-range gearing. Low range makes it easier for the engine to propel the vehicle at a lower speed over steep terrain. Many four-wheel-drive models do not have high and low range but will still have off-roading ability.
There are a variety of different four-wheel-drive systems found in different models. Some require the driver to stop the vehicle and engage the four-wheel-drive system, while with others all four wheels are engaged at all times.
Are AWD/4WD vehicles safer than two-wheel-drive models?
It depends on the conditions of the roads and how the vehicle is driven. Therefore, it is difficult to state categorically that an AWD vehicle is safer than a two-wheel-drive (2WD) one given the level of mandatory safety features now fitted to all new passenger vehicles. Victorian regulations state that all new passenger vehicles must be fitted with electronic stability control, which stabilises the vehicle when it shifts direction from what the driver intended.
One of the main benefits of AWD or 4WD is that a vehicle fitted with one of these systems will accelerate from a standing start with greater traction than a two-wheel-drive vehicle. This is especially the case when the road is wet or slippery as the traction is distributed equally between all four wheels.
AWD and 4WD also aids traction, depending on the conditions, when towing a boat, caravan or float. This is evident when towing on wet or slippery roads, at a wet boat ramp or on unsealed roads designed for off-roading. It is also handy when driving on sand.
Many 4WD vehicles are simply bigger than other vehicles and this can benefit crash performance.
4WD and AWD can aid traction, depending on the conditions.