All-Wheel Vs Four-Wheel Drive: The Difference


Nov 09th, 2020

All-Wheel Vs Four-Wheel Drive: The Difference

Understanding cars can be quite challenging as it is. So, if you’re one of those people who can’t tell the difference between all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD), try not to be so hard on yourself. The fact of the matter is that many people will struggle to explain the difference, even if they think they know what sets them apart.

Marketers at notable car brands don’t make this issue any less confusing. Most regular people are familiar with the concept of 4WD, but the AWD is still relatively new. On top of that, marketers at car companies have devised unique names for what is AWD in a bid to stand out among competitors.

Hopefully, this article will clear up some of that confusion for you. We’ll begin by exploring what AWD and 4WD are and how they function. Then, we’ll dive a little deeper to understand what sort of environment either one will work best in for you.

How Does Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) Work? 

Firstly, let’s explore how four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles function. Whenever anyone hears the term 4WD, they’ll immediately picture muddy trucks driving off-road, perhaps in the jungle or out in the wilderness. That is not a coincidence, as most of the time you’ll find 4WD vehicles are those that people need to take into those kinds of unpaved areas.

From a technical standpoint, here’s how four-wheel-drive works. Whenever the driver engages the four-wheel-drive mode in their vehicle, its transmission will channel energy that the engine produces towards all four wheels simultaneously.

Typically, automobiles need only two-wheel drive. But on unpaved and uneven surfaces like small hills, jungles, and deserts, you may find yourself in a situation where only individual wheels on your truck can gain any traction. Since the 4WD delivers power to all four wheels, whichever ones can gain traction also have the ability to push your vehicle forward.

Pros and Cons of Four-Wheel-Drive (4WD)

As with anything else when it comes to automobiles, there are pros and cons to using four-wheel-drive.


Here are some of the pros:

  • Provides additional torque - If you find yourself in a situation where you need additional torque to pull or tow a heavy load, four-wheel-drive will give you what you need. All four wheels are engaged and powered to move the vehicle forwards. Even though it’s slower, you’ll get all the torque you need to pull that weight.
  • Better traction in dangerous driving conditions - Off-road vehicles have to face a variety of dangerous driving conditions, like mud, sand, snow, and wet surfaces. Four-wheel-drive affords the driver much better traction to help them get through it all.
  • Handles steep inclines and declines easily - Going off-road also involves climbing up and down steep surfaces, including hills and even rocky places. As mentioned before, you never know which of your wheels will stay in contact with the ground. Well, with 4WD, it doesn’t matter; all of your wheels have power and can help you move forwards.
  • Control stays in the driver’s hands - You could consider 4WD to be a mode rather than a permanent function. By that, it means that the driver an switch between 2WD and 4WD as they see fit. In this day and age, when cars are often doing more thinking than their drivers, 4WD allows you to make all the decisions.


Are there any Cons to using four-wheel-drive? Yes. Here are just a couple:

  • Not ideal for on-road driving - Remember: four-wheel-drive means that all four wheels receive energy equally, and that’s not ideal in on-road driving, especially when you’re taking corners. For excellent corner handling, your rear wheels need to turn at a different speed; something that 2WD is more suited for.
  • Your speed is limited overall - You’ll have all the torque you could want, but your maximum speed will be more of a slow cruising speed.

Popular 4WD Vehicles in 2020

Four-wheel-drive vehicles aren’t just limited to timeless trucks like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Toyota Hilux. You’ll also find 4WD on some of the more family-friendly cars you’ll see around town as well. Great examples of these in 2020 include the Land Rover Discovery, Mercedes G-Class, and the Subaru XV.

How Does All-Wheel Drive (AWD) Work?

So, how does all-wheel-drive differ from 4WD? In both cases, doesn’t the car engage ALL wheels simultaneously? Well, when it comes to AWD, it’s not that straightforward. One way of looking at it is that AWD is much ‘smarter’ compared to 4WD. That’s because the car will decide where to send power based on how much traction, or lack of it, each wheel experiences at any given time.

Pros and Cons of All-Wheel-Drive (AWD)


Here are some of the pros of all-wheel-drive vehicles:

  • Better stability - Firstly, AWD vehicles work well for both on-road and off-road conditions. That’s because it provides better stability to the car overall, as it monitors and adjusts the power it sends to each wheel individually.
  • Higher fuel efficiency - Seeing as how the AWD only delivers power to the wheels that have traction and need power, it also increases the vehicle’s overall fuel efficiency.
  • Better performance - AWD allows for slip within the transmission system as a whole. Again, with its ability to monitor each wheel and send power where it’s needed, the overall performance that you’ll experience is also greatly improved.
  • More options - Even though the AWD runs from the point you start the vehicle, you still have a few options from which you can choose. Some cars have full-time, part-time, or automatic all-wheel drive. The difference? Depending on the terrain you’re on, and whether or not you want to use AWD all the time, you can switch between modes to maximise fuel efficiency.


Even though the AWD comes off as being the best of both worlds, it does have its fair share of cons. These include:

  • Limited off-road capabilities - Trying to be the best of both worlds also means being less efficient at both. With an AWD vehicle, you probably won’t get the same off-road performance as you would with a 4WD pickup truck built for those driving conditions.
  • Increased costs - It’s easy to see that AWD systems are complex, so much so that it can monitor the traction of each wheel and decide where to send power on-the-fly. As such, the overall cost of the vehicle is also higher, since you’re paying for that technology.

Popular AWD Vehicles in 2020

When it comes to AWD, you’ll often find it in regular sedans and family-friendly vehicles instead of rugged off-road trucks. Some excellent models you’ll find in 2020 include the likes of the Mini Cooper Clubman, the Lincoln MKZ, and even the Subaru Crosstrek.

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By Ray Hasbollah