4WD vs AWD


#1

I am an avid skier in Oregon and drive through all weather on our mountain passes. I have also driven to Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming in the last 2 years. I am looking for a vehicle that I gets the best fuel economy and is the most environmental friendly. Any suggestions? If I understand correctly, 4WD is a bit heavier thus reducing fuel economy but is it safer?


#2

4WD is best for off-road use. AWD is better on the pavement. Neither is “safer,” in my opinion. They are different, and each works best in its preferred environment.

4WD is driver-engaged when desired, while AWD is automatic and functions full-time or as needed, depending on the way the system is designed.

Both 4WD and AWD add weight as compared to a similar vehicle with 2WD, so I’m not sure there’s a mileage advantage either way.

I have a 4WD Ford Ranger and an AWD Subaru station wagon. I prefer driving the Subaru when there’s snow on the ground. There are lots of AWD vehicles available today, even a hybrid or two. Have fun shopping.

If you plan to drive in snow country, consider a set of dedicated winter tires. They make a world of difference, even on an AWD vehicle.


#3

4WD uses simpler, older, technology which allows you to select 4WD only when you need it by using a switch or shift lever. AWD is a far more complex full-time system requiring careful maintenance and perfectly matched tires. With AWD, you will always buy 4 new tires, not one or two…Any malfunctions or mechanical problems with AWD tend to generate heart-stopping repair bills. The cost-per-mile to operate a 4WD/AWD is always higher than a 2WD vehicle, sometimes MUCH higher.

Since even avid skiers spend 90% of their driving time on clear, dry roads, you need to ask yourself how much do you want to spend so you can get in and out of the parking lot effortlessly…Would a Subaru Forester meet your needs?


#4

Depends on what you expect IT to DO for YOU. I have both, a 92 Explorer 4x4 and an 06 Escape hybrid awd. The Escape has no selector switches, all computerized, and no low range. I would never use the Escape to pull someone out of a ditch nor go hill climbing, it’s awd is olny good for it’s own control and maneuverability. The Explorer, on the other hand, is selectable including low range and will easily handle the workhorse jobs.


#5

4WD is basically good only for getting unstuck. You never want to use it above very low speeds, as it makes tires break loose on turns (due to the lack of a center differential). In that sense, it’s considerably less safe than AWD or FWD. Once you’re moving along, switch to 2WD. If you have to drive through snow and slush, either 4WD at a crawl, or AWD would do. Even with winter tires, 2WD (FWD) will have its limits. It takes more snow, but 4WD or AWD will eventually get stuck too.

4WD and AWD will add similar amounts of weight to a vehicle, compared to FWD. AWD is certainly safer than 4WD at speed. Ever drive along an Interstate during a snow, and see all those 4WD SUVs upside down in the ditch? The ones that went zipping by you a few miles back? Nothing can substitute for common sense and care. If you must drive through heavy snow, I would suggest AWD. Some models can lock up the center differential, and act like 4WD, for when you get stuck.


#6

Opinions vary but from personal experience I would recommend the RAV…has full time AWD . I have 2 - an 05 with fortera silent armor tires and an 07 with Bridgestone Alenzas, …no problems in snow , traction is great, safety depends on your driving ability and reasonable road conditions…winter mpg about 24 summer 27… had FWD and usually slipped going up my road with AWD never felt any slippage…


#7

Check out the ski resorts you go to. I’ll bet that there are a lot of FWD cars in the parking lots. You can likely get by with a FWD car that can accommodate your ski racks. If you must have a 4WD/AWD car, I’d go with AWD. YOu just want to get to the resort, not go stump jumping. YOU don’t need the extra-low that 4WD affords.


#8

One snide comment to add: environmentally friendly 4WD and environmentally friendly AWD are oxymorons.


#9

AWD is reliable, my family has owned them over the last 25 years with out an issue in the AWD system (Audi, AMC Eagle, Subaru, Toyota).

4wd is not safer and actually less so. Safety equipment on modern vehicle does not work correctly like stability control & ABS typically. It also like to go straight, turning is more difficult.

Whether you get AWD, FWD, 4wd get four winter tires if you are an avid winter skier. I used to be 60+ days/year and got around using a low slung Civic coupe without an issue. This included driving up “closed” interstates.


#10

I second the opinion that 4wd is actually much less safe. The trouble is you really can’t use the 4wd on even patchy snow and ice with some areas of dry pavement. And since most 4wd vehicles are rear wheel drive when they’re not in 4wd, they’re actually quite bad in winter on-the-road conditions.However, because there is no center differential, they’re less prone to getting stuck in deep snow or mud than most AWD vehicles.

Along these lines, I will note that all AWD systems are NOT created equal-- basically some of them are just an open center differential which means you can theoretically get stuck if just one wheel has no traction. The Subaru AWD system is far-and-away the best AWD system on the reasonably priced vehicle (Audis are good too) because they have all limited slip differentials, but you pay for the high performance of the AWD system in the tire size sensitivity mentioned by Caddyman.


#11

I will add to GreasyJack’s AWD eval. If you buy an AWD like BMW, Honda, Toyota and most others besides Audi/Subaru they are based of clicking on the brakes on the wheel that slips to divert power to the other wheel it hopes has traction. They do cause excessive brake wear if used on a regular basis in difficult conditions and some cannot overcome the deeper snow conditions effectively. I know the current generation RAV4 overcomes this with a pseudo 4wd(non AWD) mode below 25MPH by driver action.


#12

The Suzuki SX4 has a pretty neat AWD setup. Can be set for 2WD, AWD, or 4WD, with standard stability control. Plus CR now has enough data that its in the better then average reliability category.


#13

4WD is lower gear so there for
you cant have good mpg


#14

Probably has been said, but if you’re worried about fuel economy and environmental friendliness then get the SMALLEST 4WD or AWD vehicle that you feel will work for your situation, that will get you the best fuel economy with the least pollution and impact.

AWD is easy because you typically don’t have to think about it… but 4WD isn’t that much harder, you just have to remember to push the button or move the level, and it’s usually not that hard when you’re driving in very bad conditions :stuck_out_tongue:

That said, my SO has a 2005 Subaru Outback Sport (Impreza Wagon) and it gets very good mileage with AWD. It does very well in the snow, but not as good with it’s worn all season tires as it could have, which brings us to the next point----

Benefits of 4WD/AWD are almost completely negated unless your tires are suited for the conditions you are driving in. If you’re driving in snow/ice you should have dedicated snow tires, that will be more of a life saver (literally) then AWD vs. 4WD considerations.


#15

4WD is lower gear so there for
you cant have good mpg

HUH??? Who told you that???

There is 4WD-Low…AND 4WD-High. High is the same gearing as if you drive in 2wd.


#16

4wd vs AWD.

First off…if there’s packed snow on the ground you do NOT want to be driving anywhere near highway speed no matter if you have 4wd or awd.

AWD is probably a good choice if you’re driving on not too deep…and not hard packed snow.

With a AWD system…there is only 1 wheel driving the vehicle at any given time. If that wheel slips then one of the other 4 wheels take over. This system works fine for light snow or ice.

4wd system there are two wheels driving the vehicle at all times…one in the front and one in the back. Great for off-roading…or drudging through a snow storm…or getting up ski mountains. There are areas in this country (usually mountain passes) where you are NOT allowed on the road without 4wd…AWD are NOT allowed. They do not provide the same traction as 4wd system does. There’s a place my youngest son and I camp at several times during the summer. It’s just him and me and our tent (we leave the camper at home). To get there you have to traverse a 3 mile dirt road up hill… There isn’t a AWD vehicle I know of that can make that hill. There’s a couple turn arounds where I’ve seen vehicles like the Honda Pilot turn around because they can’t go any farther. For true traction on the slipperiest and steepest of terrains…4wd is the ONLY way to go. Now I’ll admit that for 99.999% of the population 4wd is NOT needed…and awd will work fine.


#17

100% true…You don’t buy a 4wd or a Awd and expect to be environmentally friendly. HOWEVER…you probably don’t need to buy the BIGGEST BADDEST SUV available either. We have a family of 4 (5 when daughter comes home from college) and my V6 Toyota 4-runner works out just fine.


#18

You are not describing AWD correctly for Subaru or Audi. They offer a 50/50 split of the power front/back and allow for front/rear slippage as needed never anything near 100%. Just enough so the vehicle can turn properly which 4wd lacks.

My Subaru WRX(manual transmission Subaru AWD) always has at least one wheel spin when in the rough stuff on the front and mostly two on the rear as it has limited slip. This is all using pure mechanical differentials no electronics. Extremely effective. You would be surprised where you find Subaru’s.

What you describe about Honda Pilot is true of most other AWD. Basically front wheel drive with a rear kicking in when needed and mostly too late but they do a bit better on fuel consumption.

The biggest benefit of 4wd is relative simplicity and nearly always a low range for extreme conditions. Otherwise its a painful system for the everyday user. I drove one(Toyota 4wd pickup) for 8 years and never really liked it much in the winter.


#19

The biggest benefit of 4wd is relative simplicity and nearly always a low range for extreme conditions. Otherwise its a painful system for the everyday user.

Agreed…But for situations where you need it…AWD doesn’t come close. And as I stated…MOST people don’t need it.

I drove one(Toyota 4wd pickup) for 8 years and never really liked it much in the winter.

Here in NH…I’ll agree…not really needed for winter driving…But where I grew up…where snow fall is 3-4 times what NH gets…4wd is a lot more usefull then AWD.

The other big benefit of a TRUE 4wd system is ground clearance. Cars like Audi and Subaru’s don’t have the ground clearance in the real deep snow.


#20

Well, you’ve gotten a lot of good/bad/correct/incorrect/contradictory advice here…if I were you, I’d read what Wikipedia has to say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-wheel_drive
Then check out the Audi/Subaru/BMW/etc. web sites to see if they have more to offer.

As for what to use, as some have said tires can be a bigger factor, I used dedicated snow tires for 12 years in Anchorage with a FWD Rabbit, never got stuck. Any AWD system would be better, as long as you have snow tires.