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 front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive vehicle 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 more 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.
Do I need a 4WD or AWD vehicle to drive in snow or on sand?
4WD and AWD cars can provide an advantage due to their extra traction, but they're not a must for driving in the snow. All cars sold in Australia, even 2WD models, have had Electronic Stability Programs (ESP) installed in them since 2013. The ESP provides traction control and vehicle stability automatically thanks to sensors that pick-up when the vehicle deviates from the direction you're driving in. However, it's still important to know how to drive safely in the snow, including when and how to fit snow chains.
Driving on sand is a different story, however, and you must use a 4WD. The 4WD must also have a low-range gear selection. You'll also want to reduce the pressure in your tyres - 16psi is a good starting point but don't be afraid to take it lower if your engine is struggling or your tyres keep sinking into the sand.
Are AWD and 4WD vehicles worth the higher price tag?
AWD or 4WD models generally cost more than equivalent two-wheel-drive models. Many SUVs are offered in the same model grade but with the option of 2WD or AWD/4WD. In this case the AWD/4WD is usually a minimum of $2000 more than the 2WD version. For example, a 2022 2-door Toyota Hilux costs from $31,733 driveaway for a 2WD model, but this increases by more than $15,000 to $47, 172 when you opt for a 4WD drivetrain.
Whether the extra outlay is worth it depends on how the vehicle is used and where it’s being driven. If it’s covering a lot of miles on country roads, particularly unsealed roads, then it could definitely be worth the extra cost. Likewise if you live in an area that gets a lot of rainfall or snow. When it comes to towing a caravan, boat, horse float or bigger trailer, AWD/4WD is recommended.