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AWD Vehicles Versus 4WD… Do You Know the Difference?

AWD Vehicles Versus 4WD

In many modern cars, the difference between AWD and 4WD can be very confusing. As new technologies are implemented the line that differentiates the two becomes increasingly shallow. Having to choose between AWD vehicles versus 4WD starts with understanding how each system work.

AWD cars

Traditionally, AWD has 3 differentials. They have a differential for the front wheels, one for the rear wheels, and a central differential that distributes the torque to the front and rear axle. The differentials ensure that torque is distributed evenly between the wheels while allowing them to have different rotational speeds. All four wheels spin with the same force but can have different speeds.

In real-life scenarios, an AWD system can have one or more wheels slipping while the others receive the same torque. For regular driving, this system works quite well as it is quite rare to find yourself stranded on public roads. What it does is to ensure traction and stability on public roads.

4WD cars

4WD systems have a similar setup. When comparing AWD vehicles versus 4WD, you can notice that 4WD uses a central transfer case instead of a differential. The transfer case allows for the torque to be distributed unevenly, depending on where it may be needed the most. This means that the front axle may get more torque than the rear axle or the other way around depending on the conditions.

This type of setup makes 4WD cars more practical for off-roading. If for example, your front axle is slipping, the system can detect this event by monitoring the rotational speed of the wheels. If the front wheels spin more than the rear wheels, it indicates that the car may require more torque on the rear axle to get the car out of a difficult situation. The transfer case assists by sending more torque to the rear axle.

Which one is better?

The debate around AWD vehicles versus 4WD vehicles revolves around use case scenarios. AWD vehicles usually have the option to send all the torque only to the front axle. This means better fuel economy. 4WD vehicles manage torque distribution better across the front and rear axles which makes them better suited for off-road conditions.

Understanding how these systems work can help you determine which one is better for your situation. Both systems are good at what they do for the type of driving situations they were designed. In modern days, AWD systems are more common. They are not necessarily cheaper, but they are more commonly used since most people rarely drive in off-road conditions.

4WD systems tend to be more common in large cars with high ground clearance such as trucks. As the market demand for small SUVs and crossovers increased over the past decade, AWD is more common amongst vehicles by sheer sales volumes. Tucks, pick-up trucks, and dedicated off-road vehicles sell in smaller numbers than SUVs and crossovers.

In the end, AWD vehicles versus 4WD vehicles is not a fair comparison. AWD cars will always perform better on public roads while 4WD vehicles will be better for off-roading. Reversing their roles will not provide any kind of advantage.