AWD question

Subaru and Audi say that their AWD systems are better than others because theirs are built from the ground up, whereas others’ AWD systems are add-ons to front-wheel or rear-wheel drive systems. I have driven a Subaru for years on icy mountain roads, and it has saved my butt more than once. But now we need a car that carries a little more cargo than the Outback. So we are looking at some mid-sized SUVs with AWD. My question is, does the quality of the AWD differ that much? If so, do any other makes, in addition to Subaru and Audi, have high-quality (i.e., the safest) AWD systems?

I appreciate your Subaru preferences. I had an older one also. Recently, the advantages of their system has been lessened by the use of traction control systems using the braking system to manage the traction on all 4 wheels in slippery conditions. Many cars have it now and I believe it will be mandated for everyone. The Subaru system along with it’s low center of gravity, gives it an innate feeling of stability, even without this aid that’s hard to duplicate. I own a pre 2010 4Runner expressly for the Torsen (torque sensitive instead of wheel spin initiated) system and find it’s the only SUV that approaches a Subaru system with the added ability to tow heavy loads and go off road effectively.

It will never handle as well as a Subaru, but with it’s much higher ground clearance and effectively, an electronic limited slip differential on both axles, it’s as unstoppable as they get. From your statement, I think it’s overkill and as most modern SUVs now have traction control, I’d test drive any awd, car based mid size SUV from all the manufacturers. Perhaps starting with the really ugly Subaru Tribeca. GM now makes some excellent on road awd mid size SUVs as does Ford with the new Taurus based Explorer. Also Highlander, Pilot etc. Personally, I would look for one with a Torsen center diff and traction control.

If you don’t include winter tires in your purchase plan, you will be going through brake pads like you wouldn’t believe as the traction control will work over time on ice and snow and be much less effective in doing so. Only good winter tires increase traction, TC and Torsen just manage it better.

I guess the Tribeca’s not big enough? I’d look at the Pilot, put on a set of winter tires, I think that would work. What other SUVs do you see in your area?

Watch and learn.

Check out Hyundai Santa Fe and Tuscon

It’s not unusual that a vehicle can pass the Subaru test. Any part time 4wd system can, and with a locking rear, do much more. What is unusual is that a car can do it, keep it’s good handling properties and have no additional input from the driver. That’s a Subaru

I had the AWD 2007 Ford Escape with the 2.3L 4 cylinder and 4sp. auto transmission. It did quite well for my needs. Sadly, I didn’t have it but for 6 months, as I lost my job and it was repo’d. But, that Escape got 25 MPG and rode good and the AWD didn’t require input from me. And, yes with better tires, it would have been even better. For the 2-3 winter snowstorms I drove through, it was fine. Note: this is front-wheel-drive first/normal then the rears assist as needed.

In my opinion, AWD is the better choice over 4WD for most people. I say this because, AWD normally requires zero driver input but 4WD requires the driver to push a button or pull a lever. And 4WD can only be used in conditions where wheel slippage occurs or you will bind the drive-train. AWD comes into help any time the default drive tires need assistance, even in rain, on the highway, etc. Not so with 4WD. So, again my opinion is stick with AWD, such as ones like you mentioned, Subaru, Audi, Volvo (all things safety), etc.