All wheel drive (AWD) vehiclesoffer greater control and stability while driving on slick and/or snowy roads, making it easier to launch the car from a stop, easier to climb a hill, and less likely to drift sideways while accelerating or when going around curves. Yet, the number of AWD vehicles may seem overwhelming, and the underlying technology can also be confusing. Therefore, the following information is offered to help guide your research.
First, it’s critical to assess the need for an AWD vehicle. Do you often encounter rain/snow/mud/sand while driving throughout the year? If the answer is no, then AWD may not be a necessary feature, especially because many modern vehicles offer traction and/or stability control systems to make occasional driving on slippery roads easier, even on two-wheel drive (2WD) models. To find out if a particular vehicle offers traction and/or stability control, please consult CarsDirect (www.carsdirect.com/research) or the manufacturer’s website.
Next, one must distinguish between AWD and four-wheel drive (4WD) systems. AWD is offered on many cars and SUVs, whereas 4WD is offered both on SUVs and pickup trucks. Generally speaking, there are two different versions of AWD: active or passive, which is usually determined by the mode of center differential operation (mechanical vs. viscous coupling). On AWD vehicles, the engagement of all four wheels occurs automatically with no driver input. However, with 4WD vehicles, the driver typically operates a lever/switch inside the vehicle to select between 2WD/4WD. Detailed information on AWD/4WD systems can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website, or you could contact the dealer directly.
Finally, to distinguish between the operation of traction/stability control, AWD or 4WD systems, nothing beats a test-drive at your local retailer. Ideally, test-drives should occur during a period of inclement weather, with a mix of on/off-road conditions.
Given the extra weight, complexity, and expense (lower fuel economy, for example) of owning a vehicle with either AWD or 4WD, one should carefully consider – and research – their options. Although a range of information is available on the web, personally interacting with this technology is essential to making an informed decision.