Are AWD cars completely useless for everyday driving?

Arif · Oct 11, 2020 08:00 AM

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The Audi Sport Quattro and Subaru WRX STI have cemented their names in the hall of fame of all-wheel-drive cars. AWD is good for performance and the fastest supercars of today mainly use AWD drivetrains.

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Today, just about any manufacturer has their own AWD system. And while they may differ in names, they basically send power to all four wheels. Some AWD systems are more superior than others, but that is a subject matter for another day.

Despite the interesting technology behind AWD cars, most of us in Malaysia are doing just fine with our 2WD cars. We don’t get snow and most of us urban dwellers barely need to drive over loose surfaces.

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We are doing so fine without AWD, that even the Proton X70 has dropped its AWD variant. Range topping variants of other SUVs like the Honda CR-V are also equipped with 2WD only, making it more expensive than the AWD version.

From an everyday-driving perspective in Malaysia, AWD is not an attractive choice for the following reasons:

1. AWD systems barely get any action

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Rush hour. Photo: The Star

The only thing being tested during your commute in heavy traffic is your patience. Besides that, your car is barely being pushed to its limits when crawling through traffic.

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You can only feel a significant benefit of AWD when driving through loose/slippery surfaces. Since we don’t get any snow, one of the few occasions that may demand for AWD would be a heavy downpour.

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The benefit of AWD is much more significant when you have over 200 PS at your disposal.

2. AWD cars consume more fuel

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This one’s a no brainer. AWD cars are heavier and have more areas for mechanical losses.

3. AWD cars require more maintenance

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Differenitals require oil changes too. Photo source

AWD differentials will require oil changes. While they may not be as frequent as engine oil and transmission oil changes, it is an additional cost when it comes to maintaining your AWD car.

4. Your AWD car will never be as capable as a full on 4-wheeler

If your everyday commute involves going through some really challenging off-road paths, you’re better off with a proper 4WD car, not an AWD.

AWD cars are meant for confidence-inspiring driving in less than ideal road conditions.
While AWD cars are capable of handling slightly challenging surfaces, they don’t come equipped with lockable differentials and proper low range gears. The unibody chassis also limits the ground clearance of the average AWD car.

Is there any good reason to get an AWD car then?

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The key advantage of AWD cars is traction. Undeniably, you will feel more confident driving an AWD car on a slippery road on a rainy day. If you have over 200 PS at your disposal, yes, AWD is very very beneficial. If your driving style would benefit from the improved traction of an AWD car, disregard all the “disadvantages” that I have just laid out for you.

Handling of AWD cars are also better, but that usually requires the aid of other systems like torque vectoring and vehicle dynamic control. And more importantly, if you’ve always wanted an AWD car for yourself, go ahead and get one. Live a little.

Conclusion

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If it’s daily commute we’re talking about, you will barely see the benefit of an all-wheel-drive system. You’re better off prioritising a full suite of ADAS instead. If you’re extremely thrift on fuel consumption and maintenance, an AWD car is definitely not for you. If you want to go off-roading, a Suzuki Jimny might be a better choice.

However, if you do desire a more confident driving experience and the freedom to travel a little bit off the beaten path, an AWD car might just be the perfect car for you. There are various AWD systems out there and we will go into detail on each one of them in future entries.

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