All-Wheel Drive Cars - Are They Worth It?
Posted by: Dan on 1/11/2016
All-Wheel Drive Cars: Are They Worth It?
When you’re looking to buy a new car, at first you may just be focused on the colour: a stunning red, a vivid blue, a bright yellow. This type of choice is often your first, and feels most important – but then you start thinking about all of the other options available and really get into the depths of decision making.
One of the decisions you need to make is what kind of powertrain you want to have. Whether you regularly drive in a difficult climate, off-road, or simply just want to try something new, all-wheel drive (AWD) can be an attractive option – but are AWDs truly worth it? There are many factors to consider if you go this route – read on to learn if AWD is right for you.
What is all-wheel drive?
One of the chief questions that surround AWD vehicles is simply, “What is an all-wheel drive vehicle?” Most drivers understand that AWD involves the use of all four wheels, but many Australians get confused when they rightly recognise that all cars use four wheels. So, what makes AWDs unique?
All-wheel drive vehicles differ from rear-wheel drive (RWD) and front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicles in that they are designed to provide power to all four wheels independently. The classic example of why this is useful is in an off-road situation when you get stuck in the mud. An AWD will usually be able to get you unstuck far easier than a RWD or FWD.
What about four-wheel drive?
Once someone has a good understanding of what AWD is, the next question is usually: how does this differ from 4WD? The differences between them can be confusing, and it’s only made more so as many car manufacturers and sellers use the terms interchangeably, even though they are different.
The differences between 4WD and AWD are best understood in purpose. 4WD was established first, and designed primarily for off-road vehicles. Even today, “true” 4WDs, like a classic Safari vehicle, adhere to this form. In contrast, an AWD can be used as an off-road vehicle, but the powertrain is also used in sports cars, commuter cruises, and so on.
Why do I want an AWD vehicle?
Depending on the type of car you want to buy, a vehicle with an AWD can offer a lot of advantages over a FWD or RWD in the right conditions. Anyone who lives in a rural area or regularly drives some tough roads will find that an AWD avoids the aforementioned situation of getting stuck in the mud.
Similarly, for regular driving in your daily commute, an AWD provides better traction that has led many car gurus to fall in love with the intuitive feel one provides, and promise to never go back to driving any other set up.
Why should I avoid an AWD vehicle?
Just as AWDs have unique advantages, they also offer some downsides. The first is use. While an AWD vehicle can be great if you are often navigating bogs and mud flats, a trip to a grocery store in the suburbs will not require its use. This becomes an important consideration given that AWD vehicles are also typically more expensive than their 4WD, FWD, and RWD counterparts.
Alongside expense, there is the limited range. While there are many AWD vehicles to choose from, if you have your heart set on a particular car or manufacturer, trying to find one with an AWD option may take a long time, or be outright impossible. This is particularly so if you are a fan of vintage vehicles and restorations.
Where do I start?
Choosing between a 4WD and an AWD is usually the first major decision for an AWD driver. If you seek an AWD sports car, this decision immediately helps narrow down your choices. On the other hand, if you want an SUV, but remain uncertain as to which powertrain set up best suits you, then a few factors are important to consider.
While 4WD and AWD may be used interchangeably to describe a car, a vehicle set up with 4WD is usually more expensive. On the other hand, a 4WD powertrain usually can be turned off in modern vehicles, but the same is not true for AWD. Deciding whether to pay more money upfront or save some costs over the long-term is the best way to decide between models.
Conclusion: Are they worth it?
Whether you like them or loathe them, it’s safe to say that AWDs occupy a unique niche in the market. They also serve a number of unique purposes. As 78% of Australians commute to work by car, making sure you find the right fit in a vehicle is vital. If you are seeking a vehicle that is ideal for off-road driving, that has great traction for driving the city and suburbs, and offers a special driving experience, an AWD may be for you.
If you are a subscriber to the school of thought that says a car is more about getting from Point A to Point B, then it's unlikely an AWD is your best option. This is because the higher cost of an FWD or RWD vehicle, and the different feeling it provides when driving, can often mean these vehicles’ chief virtues will be of little appeal to you.
Ultimately, whether you’re buying your first car ever, a second car for your family, or are lucky enough to be buying a weekend car purely for driving pleasure, doing your research into AWDs and looking to arrange a test drive is worthwhile. If you find you love AWDs, great! If you don’t, you can always move on and look at other vehicles and car types to find the best fit for you.
What has your experience with all-wheel drive cars been like? Let us know in the comments below: