I have a 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe with 252,000 miles. It has 4WD, but I didn’t use the 4WD much when we lived in Southern PA. It still runs, but things are starting to wear out. I am shopping for a small crossover SUV. I am considering the Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tuscon, Toyota RAV 4 and the Ford Escape. I test drove the Rogue, plan to drive the rest in the next month or so.

We live in Southern Delaware, which is flat and far enough south that we normally don’t get much snow.

I am trying to decide between an AWD and a FWD. AWDs cost a little more both in purchase price and and decreased gas mileage. I have also read that the maintenance costs for AWDs are a little more. However the AWDs have better resale value.

I plan to keep the car for 8-10 years, so I don’t mind paying a little extra if the cost is justified.


Do AWDs handle better than FWDs and is it worth paying the extra for AWD vehicles?



The extra handling of AWD cars is mostly myth. They are no better in cornering or braking, only in traction while accelerating. Given your location, AWD is not needed, FWD is fine. If you are worried get 4 snow tires for the winter.

Yes, AWD takes more maintenance and more gasoline. And higher initial cost. The costs of that will far outweigh any increase in resale value, if there indeed is any such increase. IMHO.

Where you live I’d get fwd.

If you are really concern about shaving a few tenth of a second around every corner, then the Subaru should be on your very short list

The extra handling of AWD cars is mostly myth. They are no better in cornering or braking, only in traction while accelerating. Given your location, AWD is not needed, FWD is fine.

I agree that Southern PA doesn’t get enough snow to warrant. But I completely disagree that there isn’t a difference AWD vs FWD. We own all three. FWD Lexus, 4wd 4runner and AWD Highlander. There’s significant difference in handling and acceleration with AWD or 4wd over FWD. Braking is about the same. Probably won’t notice the difference in Boston because they don’t get much snow…but the White Mountains for skiing or Upstate NY (real snow country)…you may not even be able to move in a FWD before the plows come.

Get a FWD and get a good set of winter tires. Your overall cost of ownership will be considerably less over the life of the vehicle with FWD only.

I live much farther North than you and have never had an AWD vehicle, or needed one.

If you plan to use it for anything other than carting stuff (people and otherwise) around, you’re probably OK with just FWD. If you need to tow, or launch/recover (as in boats), then consider 4WD. Down here in Texas, 4WD in my 4Runner is great in the rain - mostly because the roads are very oily due to the fact that we don’t get enough rain to keep them clean. I can feel that difference when underway in the wet. Other than going off-road, launching/recovering boats/motorcycles/friends and using it (all the time) in the rain, there’s not much in it - except for fuel savings (and cost). It can matter on resale, if you don’t own it for a significant amount of time. If you drive them into the ground (like me), then resale isn’t a concern.

If handling is your primary concern, RWD handles best, AWD comes in second and FWD last. Being a life long fan of RWD, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche have been my cars of choice.

RWD with four real winter tires will perform better in snow than either FWD or AWD with all (read three) season tires. My BMW with Blizzaks would outrun my ex’s Audi A4 with all season tires during the winter.

FWD will be right for flat areas with or without snow.

I live in Central Maryland, and our climate is much the same. The only reason I can think of for having AWD is if you drive on the beach, and if you do that, you would be better off with 4WD including low gearing. The only hills you are likely to encounter are highway overpasses and you (and I) don’t get enough snow to justify AWD or snow tires. If there is too much ice or snow, just don’t drive. If you really want AWD, then get it. There is nothing wrong with buying what you want even if you don’t have a great need for it.

In Minnesota all I’ve ever had is FWD and RWD and really haven’t had a problem. I suspect though that our next car will be AWD due to limitations of selection. I’m not yet sold on AWD due to the extra cost, weight, need to replace all four tires if you wreck one, etc.

I too am not sold on the extra cost, weight, mileage hit from AWD. FWD and/or RWD (with decent tires) has served me well in Mass, Vermont, and Colorado for over 4 decades.

Subaru’s full time four wheel drive send power to all four wheels, unlike most AWD systems
that send power to the front wheels until they slip. When all wheels are powered full time, you won’t have one set of tires handling all of the power and sideway forces. Both sets of axle are subjected to a fraction of power and sideway forces. This means the tires are further away from their limit and you can push to a higher cornering speed.

The Acura super handling AWD is another one to consider. It is a regular front wheel drive with the ability to drive either rear wheel faster than the front. It also sends power to the rear when it anticipates under steering. By over driving the rear wheel, it reduces the load on the front tires and helps the car turn with the rear

I have a 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe with 252,000 miles. It has 4WD, but I didn’t use the 4WD much when we lived in Southern PA.

You mean this car has an Off switch for the AWD?

If you drive on paved roads without much snow, and not too steep, or when it does snow , the road is always graded and sanded, fwd is the better choice. Better mpg and better reliability.

If however you need to drive on snow covered or ice covered, steep roads, the awd option is probably worthwhile. When I lived in Colorado in a ski resort area I had a fwd VW Rabbit and my 4WD Ford truck, and the Rabbit would take me pretty much everywhere I needed to go, even in the winter, as long it was a standard graded and sanded road. With no complaints. The Rabbit would even go up some pretty steep snow covered roads when necessary, just needed to go slower is all.

But for rutted, steep, narrow, deep snow and ice packed roads, only the 4WD truck would make it up those.

Pays your money and take your choice,AWD isnt a substitute for proper driving technique,4 wheels pulling(when they do) is better around here in the winter (due to the grades) sometimes the Suburbans and SUVs go over the bank first(due to driver inattention)I can usually get by just fine with 2wd.I usually run my 4wd in 2wd for practice in the snow.
Once upon a time I was reading an off road magazine that said something to this effect,run it in 2wd,till you hang up,then switch to 4wd and head back the way you come,Another said"4wd,allows you to get stuck in more inacessable places.The old Ford pickups I used to drive had ,open differentials and little weight over the rear wheels(essentially a 1wd)they taught you the value of mud and snow tires pretty quickly.
Another tip,if its icy,stay home if at all possible.