AWD or 4WD – do you need it?

Zamil Syaheer · May 2, 2020 09:00 AM

AWD or 4WD – do you need it? 01

When looking to purchase your next car, certain models on sale like the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V offer all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD) as an option, but with extra premium. Is AWD that much safer and worth the additional money these systems command?

AWD or 4WD – do you need it? 02

The term AWD and 4WD are used interchangeably, but they operate differently and are found on a variety of cars on the market. Before we proceed any further, here’s a brief breakdown of the term:

  • All-Wheel Drive: A type of system that automatically shifts power between the front and rear wheels for additional traction control in slippery situation and light off-road driving. AWD systems are commonly fitted on SUVs.
  • Four-Wheel Drive: A type of system that employs two differentials and a transfer case to provide power to all four wheels of a car. 4WD systems are commonly fitted on pickup trucks.

AWD or 4WD – do you need it? 01

Ford Ranger navigating the wet and muddy off-road like a piece of cake.

Pros of AWD/4WD

Here’s what you can expect to gain from an AWD or 4WD system:

  • Better Traction: Having additional power to the other two-wheels provide better traction and optimizes power distribution, as it helps you avoid losing control or getting stuck in the mud. They also improve your ability to accelerate from a standstill.
  • Towing Ability: Because these systems generate more traction, they allow for greater towing ability, especially on off-road surfaces.
  • Improved Handling: This only benefits AWD cars equipped with a torque vectoring system, like the Subaru WRX or Mercedes-AMG A45, as it aids cornering.
  • Confidence: AWD or 4WD gives you more confidence while driving in terrible weather or bad road surfaces because of their improved ability to maintain traction in poor road conditions.

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Subaru WRX with its torque-vectoring AWD system, aids with handling.

Cons of AWD/4WD

Though their benefits are noticeable, especially in poor driving conditions, AWD and 4WD cars do have their own set of drawbacks:

  • Costs: AWD and 4WD vehicles cost more and typically require more maintenance due to added mechanical parts. For example, having to replace the differential gear oil.
  • Fuel Economy: With the added mechanical bits, AWD and 4WD usually weigh more than 2WD cars, which affects fuel efficiency.
  • Technology Advancements: With a plethora of advanced driver assisted tech and safety equipment such as traction control, stability control and anti-lock braking system available on two-wheel-drive (2WD) cars, AWD and 4WD are no longer necessary as part of vehicle safety.
  • A false sense of security: It’s wrong to think that you’re much safer just by having the system because it won’t help if you drive irresponsibly or exercise poor maintenance.

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Maintenance would be a little bit on the high side.


There are some cases when you should give AWD and 4WD serious consideration: for example, if you live near or spend time in places with terrible dirt roads, or pushing beyond 300 horsepower like the Toyota GR Yaris as you would want as much traction as possible to contain the power. Front-wheel-drive (FWD) with ESC is good enough, but tyre maintenance is super important to be safe in the long term.

Zamil Syaheer


More than 10 years experience, specialising in Motorsports, Advanced Driving, Event Management & Creative Design. He enjoys driving (drifting, actually) anything RWD with a proper LSD over the limit. Versatility is his motto and mantra.


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