Ford Explorer 2011+ AWD vs 4WD


#1

Gang,

I live in a state with lots of snow. I am looking to buy a Ford Explorer, but I do not know if I should opt for AWD vs 4WD. I notice that AWD is really low in the used inventory lists, but 4WD seems to be available.

I would like to understand 3 things:

  1. When the weather is bad, and its snowing heavy, can I engage 4WD and drive at (safe) highway speeds (kids always in car) ?
  2. Do I need to stop and engage 4wd or can I do so while driving?
  3. I understand that the diff between AWD and 4WD is that the computers measure slip and adjust traction wheel by wheel, but, which is safer AWD or 4WD?
  4. Were you in my shoes, would you purchase a 4WD Ford Explorer 2011+? ( I dont do much of roading).

Thanks so much / Aali.


#2

All the 2011+ Explorers you’re looking at have the same AWD/4WD system (except for those that are FWD), those names are often used interchangeably. Yes, they can be engaged while driving, and you can drive in the snow at appropriate speeds. All 2011 and newer Explorers are actually based on a FWD chassis, and all AWD versions have a center differential or viscous coupling, so you can drive them in AWD even when there’s no snow (make sure there’s not a ‘differential lock’ engaged, if they have one, the owners manual will spell out the details).


#3
1. When the weather is bad, and its snowing heavy, can I engage 4WD and drive at (safe) highway speeds (kids always in car) ?

4wd does NOT…repeat NOT make the vehicle stop any faster. You do NOT want to be driving at highway speeds in RWD or FWD or AWD or 4wd during heavy snow. 4wd or AWD is ONE tool to help you drive in bad weather.

2. Do I need to stop and engage 4wd or can I do so while driving?

No. You can shift into 4wd at any time. Only older systems (30+ years old) did you need to stop or drive no more then 20mph to shift. And most of them had manual locking hubs.

3. I understand that the diff between AWD and 4WD is that the computers measure slip and adjust traction wheel by wheel, but, which is safer AWD or 4WD?

4wd and awd systems have become blurred over the years. The 4wd system on my 4runner is much like an awd system. What you described is called Traction control…NOT AWD.

As for which is safer…though choice. Both do very well in snow. 4wd is better for drudging through deep unplowed snow. I still prefer 4wd…but awd is fine.

4. Were you in my shoes, would you purchase a 4WD Ford Explorer 2011+?

Personally - no. I’m still not impressed with Fords reliability track record.


#4

@Texases is correct. The 2011+ Explorers have an AWD system, not a traditional 4WD system. You might see an AWD model advertised as 4WD by less knowledgeable individuals/dealers. The two terms (AWD and 4WD) are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

In your case you have two choices with the 2011+ Explorer, Front wheel drive (FWD) or AWD.


#5

Actually, Ford is the guilty one here, they call their AWD system on these Explorers “Intelligent 4WD”. So there really is no difference between the terms AWD and 4WD, they way they’re used these days.


#6

I agree that car makers have truly confused the issue of 4WD vs. AWD, and that the system in the Explorer is actually AWD. As a result, the system in the Explorer can be engaged while the vehicle is moving. However, as was already said, I would hope that the OP wouldn’t already be driving at high speed if the traction conditions are poor!

The traditional types of 4WD systems are probably only found on actual trucks nowadays.
That is…“truck”…as opposed to the typical crossover vehicles that are commonly called SUVs.

That traditional 4WD system was essentially designed for getting you out of a ditch, or out of deep mud, and should not be used on the road–at all. By contrast, AWD can be used on the road, and while you still have to drive cautiously and to leave much longer distances between your vehicle and the ones in front of you, AWD does help you to get moving without drama and also to keep the rear end of your vehicle from sliding-out on curves. However, it doesn’t make you invincible by any means.

If you want to maximize your traction and your safety, I urge the use of winter tires on any vehicle that is typically used in a snowy area, and that includes vehicles with AWD.


#7

@VDCdriver hit the nail on the head: if the OP is concerned with driving children in ‘a state with lots of snow’, it’s more important to have a great set of winter tires than AWD, in my opinion. Both is even better.


#8
If you want to maximize your traction and your safety, I urge the use of winter tires on any vehicle that is typically used in a snowy area, and that includes vehicles with AWD.

Good all season tires for places like MA is fine. 35" of annual snow-fall is so little that snow tires would be a waste and possibly worse because 90% of the time you’re driving on dry pavement.


#9

“Good all season tires for places like MA is fine. 35” of annual snow-fall is so little that snow tires would be a waste and possibly worse because 90% of the time you’re driving on dry pavement."

The problem with that statement is that there is absolutely no standard–either industry-wide or from any governmental agency–as to what constitutes an “all-season” tire.

As a result, some of them are okay in snow–although nowhere near as good on snow or ice as a true winter tire. And, some so-called “all-season” tires are downright treacherous on winter road surfaces. The Bridgestone Potenza RE-92 tires that I suffered with are one example of a so-called “all-season” tire that is essentially useless on snow. However, there are undoubtedly others, and unless the OP checks before buying, he could well wind up with one of the “all-season” tires that are useless on winter road surfaces.

So, if the OP wants to compromise with so-called “all-season” tires, he would be well-advised to do a lot of due diligence on websites such as tirerack.com and 1010tires.com. By looking at ratings and reviews, it should be possible to see which all-season tires actually have acceptable winter traction and which don’t.

When I was still in my working days, I used a set of Michelin X-Ice winter tires, despite living in NJ, and despite having a vehicle with an excellent AWD system. The additional safety advantage was well worth it to me.

However, now that I am retired, and I can opt to stay off the roads until they are plowed and salted, I use the same set of Michelin Defender tires all year. They have decent winter traction, although their traction is still a far cry from what I had with my Michelin X-Ice winter tires.


#10

WoW - thanks gents, for all the valuable info.

A few comments:

  • I would prefer to not drive at all during snowy conditions, but most employers are not open to this, and the kids’ daycare is in the same bldg as the office.
  • Snow tires would be ideal, but, it makes sense to read ratings for ‘all season’ tires to see what gets the best rating before making a decision.
  • Traction control is the most important - regardless of AWD / 4WD and especially with FWD.

Thank you very much for sharing all your info, I truely appreciate it.


#11

“Snow tires would be ideal”

Not any more!
Modern winter tires actually give you a traction advantage on ice, as well as on snow, and being able to stop in a significantly shorter distance on a slippery winter road surface is perhaps the most significant safety factor. Snow tires were essentially just as useless on ice as any other tire, but that is not the case with the altogether superior technology of modern winter tires.

The term “snow tire” is now considered archaic, and has been replaced–appropriately–by the term “winter tire”.


#12
The problem with that statement is that there is absolutely no standard--either industry-wide or from any governmental agency--as to what constitutes an "all-season" tire.

I agree with that. There are way too many tires that may be rated all-season but are really just summer tires. That’s why I qualified my statement with GOOD all-season tires. Don’t just randomly choose any all-season tire. There are ways to find ones that are truly all-season.


#13

"Don’t just randomly choose any all-season tire. There are ways to find ones that are truly all-season. "

Which is why going to a tire store and asking for a “good” all-season tire is just as likely to yield what is actually a “summer tire”, simply because the shop wants to move those tires out of their stock.

I suggest that the OP consult Consumer Reports’ tire ratings, as well as the websites for tirerack, discount tire, and 1010 tire. Where you see a consensus regarding a tire having good winter traction, that is a good indication of what you should be buying.


#14
Which is why going to a tire store and asking for a "good" all-season tire is just as likely to yield what is actually a "summer tire", simply because the shop wants to move those tires out of their stock.

And I would never buy a tire that way…nor would I ever suggest someone does. A person has to do their own research. You ask 50 people on this site what a good all-season tire is…and you’ll probably get 30 different answers.


#15

Well, you wouldn’t do it and I wouldn’t do it, but I can guarantee that there are lots of folks who will simply accept the word of a stranger at a tire store–who may have an unknown agenda–as to what tires to buy. And, I am always mystified at the queries in this forum and in some others where people ask strangers, “What tires should I buy?”

I wouldn’t take the word of anonymous people on the internet regarding tires any more than I would use the internet for medical advice–but there are people who do both of these things.


#16

Ask for “Winter Tires”, the ones with the snowflake on them. All season tires are really 3 season tires.


#17

Yes, genuine winter tires will have a snowflake and mountain peak symbol embossed into the sidewall. However, as I should have mentioned earlier, there are a few (very few, actually) all-season tires that have this symbol, because they do meet the industry standard for winter tires.

The one with which I am familiar is the Goodyear Fortera Triple-Tred tire.
The good news is that they can be used in any weather.
The bad news is that they start out noisy, and after about half the tread is worn away, they are INCREDIBLY noisy.


#18

If you do not have good winter traction tires on an AWD or 4wd car, then use the system in ice and snow, you run the risk of driving too fast for you tires and stopping and turn become much more difficult. AWD and 4wd are no substitutes for good shoes.

A football player would be a fool to play without cleats and any one who depends upon AWD in snow as a replacement for good traction tires is taking big chances.


#19
A football player would be a fool to play without cleats and any one who depends upon AWD in snow as a replacement for good traction tires is taking big chances.

To keep the analogy going…I’d take Ron Gronkowski without cleats then Pee-Wee Herman with the BEST cleats available.


#20

Analogy, Mike? That’s like comparing a 215mm wide Blizzak to a molded plastic garden pushcart wheel.