2WD vs 4WD vs AWD | What’s the difference?

The terrains and conditions you drive in determine which type of car you need to buy. Depending on your daily driving activities, you need to choose either a 2WD (two-wheel drive) or a 4WD (wheel drive) vehicle. Typically, 2WD vehicles are smaller than 4WD vehicles.

2WD vehicles are powered by only two wheels, either in the front or in the back, while 4WD vehicles are powered by all four wheels. This obviously means that 4WD vehicles provide more power than 2WD cars. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of both?


2WD Vehicles


Most vehicles are found in this category. Being a 2WD vehicle means that only two wheels are spun by the engine. There are two types of 2WD vehicles; front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive. A good example of a 2WD from BE FORWARD stocklist is the Toyota Wish.

What is a Front-wheel Drive?

This design is the most common and it is where the engine powers the two front wheels. This engine design has the advantage of being cheaper to make. They are also more space efficient than their rear-wheel drive counterparts. These engines are preferred as they provide better traction while going uphill as the weight of the engine is balanced over the front wheels. The disadvantage of this type of design is that the front wheels have to do two jobs, driving and steering.
Related Blog: 10 Best Cars for City Driving

Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) Advantages:
FWD cars do not need a transmission tunnel to accommodate the propeller shaft which propels the rear wheels on RWD cars. This enables them to come with an almost flat floor that maximizes interior passenger and cargo space. FWD has been a good catalyst for the recent surge in the production of small cars that are light and efficient. This was made possible by the FWD system which fits the transmission and driveshafts to an engine creating a very compact system.
Handling in FWD cars is predictable, thanks to the front weight bias that tends to understeer at the limit, which is manageable for the average driver unlike terminal oversteer, while the possibility of fishtailing or spinning is improbable.

Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) Disadvantages:
FWD cars have an inferior towing capacity compared to RWD or 4WD/AWD cars. This is due to the fact that the front driving wheels are far from the towed load which can be a traction drawback since the front driving wheels will have less weight on them. Due to this fact, the safely rated towing capacity of a FWD car is likely to be less than that of a RWD/4WD car of the same specification. The driveshafts of a FWD car may hinder the extent to which the front wheels can turn, thus it may result in a poor turning circle compared to a RWD car with a similar wheelbase.
CV joints and rubber boots in FWD cars don’t last as long as those in RWD cars due to packaging and geometry constraints. Other factors that significantly affect these parts are the short drive axles that cause the joint to flex at a much wider magnitude of motion, aggravated by extra stress and angles of steering. FWD cars are prone to “torque steer” whereby a sudden acceleration, FWD cars tend to swerve to the right.

A used 2010 Subaru Impreza from online used car dealer BE FORWARD.
Above: A used 2010 Subaru Impreza


What is a Rear-wheel Drive?


infographic of rear wheel drive

This design is where the engine powers the rear wheels. This type is popular in pick-ups and trucks that carry heavy loads. This is so because the heavy loads give better traction. Rear-wheel drives are also popular on sports vehicles, SUVs and luxury vehicles where handling is improved. Cars with rear-wheel drive have the advantage of optimized suspension handling due to the fact that the front wheels are used for steering only.

Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD) Advantages:
In dry conditions, a rear-wheel drive car is ideal as its handling is improved due to an evenly distributed load and “load transfer” while accelerating. Easy to steer compared to a FWD as the rear wheels propel the car whilst the front wheels steer the car. Maintenance costs for rear-wheel drive cars cost less as they have fewer parts packed into a small space, unlike front-wheel drive cars that cost more due to having too many parts in a small space that will require removing to access the workspace.
RWD cars are good at towing compared to FWD due to the load not being far from the wheels that do all the pulling offering more traction. For those who are into drifting, RWD cars are more desirable than FWD as power is sent to the rear wheels to keep them spinning whilst the front wheels counter-steer to move the car sideways (Note: Drifting is not recommended for non-professionals). FWD cars have a tendency of veering to the right or left during acceleration technically known as “torque steer,” something you won’t experience in a RWD car.

Rear-wheel drive (RWD) disadvantages:
Extra mechanical parts add extra weight that makes RWD cars less efficient.
Less spacious due to the presence of a transmission tunnel that eats ups interior space.
Trunk space can be limited due to the presence of a tube housing and other mechanical parts placed underneath. Additional mechanical parts increase the production cost which translates to a slightly higher MSRP. Power to the rear wheels is transferred via the propeller shaft and other mechanical parts. In this process, a power loss of about 30% of the engine’s total power output occurs. Since RWD pushes the car rather than pulls it, it has more difficulty maneuvering in wet and snowy conditions.
A RWD car is driven by the rear wheels pushing the car forward, this process may result in the rear part of the car being pushed out of line especially when driven on less grippy surfaces (snowy or wet conditions) or quick acceleration out of corners. Such incidences can make the car difficult to control and less safe.


2WD Vehicle Advantages and Disadvantages

Depending on your driving style or performance needs, a 2WD vehicle may be right for you. Learn more below to find out.

CheapLess power
Fuel-EfficientNot for all terrains


4WD Vehicles

infographic of 4wd


Most of us at one point in time have wanted a car with the option of four driven wheels, but then the only cars that came with this option were a handful of pickup trucks and full-size SUVs, commonly used for work chores and off-road experience. But gone are the days, as these days there is an enormous increase in the production of either four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).

AWD cars are vehicles that can send power to all four wheels and have become indisputably popular. But what’s the difference between 4WD and AWD? And which one is convenient for you? To most people, the terms 4WD vs. AWD are somewhat confusing, and with AWD systems toughened up and 4WD becoming more advanced, telling the difference between the two has become even more difficult.

Now let’s take a look at how these systems work and their advantages and disadvantages. We hope after you read this, you’ll be in a much better position to make an informed decision when you are in the market for your next car, truck, or SUV.

Related Blog: 4WD, AWD & 4×4 Drivetrains: What Do They Mean?

What is a Four Wheel Drive?bf562816_toyotalandcruiserprado

4WD is a standard and traditional system that has been around for ages, whereby the engine sends power to the transfer case which splits power to the front and rear wheels for better traction.
The stereotypical image of a 4WD car is of a pickup truck or SUV with high ground clearance, tow hooks, bull bars, and big, knurly tires. And yes, most of the time you’ll find this system in trucks and SUVs, but the sophistication and evolution of 4WD systems has seen them find their way into a wider variety of basic and luxurious models.
So for example you are using a 2WD car, and you end up getting stuck in mud. Your two wheels will keep spinning but still won’t get you out of that situation, and this is where 4WD systems become useful, as you’ll just have to engage 4WD and power will be sent to the front wheels that have better traction and the car will come out of the mud paddle.

Used 2007 Subaru Forester from online used car dealer BE FORWARD.
Above: Used 2007 Subaru Forester

4WD Vehicle Advantages and Disadvantages

4WD advantages
4WD offers improved traction that can help you to easily navigate out of difficult/dangerous terrains, such as slippery surfaces (snow, ice, or mud), climbing steep hills (down or uphill), rocky areas, and any other terrain that can prove difficult to navigate through. By engaging 4WD traction and control improves.
The additional parts result in extra weight which is useful as it provides a better grip on the road.
4WD is a useful system for off-roading as it guarantees you safe passage.
Wearing of driveline components and tires is equally distributed.

4WD disadvantages
4WD cars come with a higher asking price and are also expensive to maintain. This is due to the additional mechanical parts (transfer case, differentials, etc.).
The extra power and weight of 4WD systems demand more fuel, deeming them inefficient compared to their 2WD counterparts.
The extra weight from the additional parts negatively impacts the braking distance to a complete stop. The lighter the vehicles the easier to stop.
4WD drivers can sometimes be overly confident, which sometimes gets them into trouble or lead to dangerous accidents.

Good off-road tractionHeavier
Switchable to 2WDExpensive
More fuel consumption

What is an All-Wheel Drive?

This vehicle design gives power to every corner of the vehicle. It is capable of providing maximum traction on acceleration. It is absolutely magnificent in wet and slippery conditions. It is capable of providing power to a set of wheels, either the front or back so that when your car is slipping, power is moved to another axle, to try and get more traction from it.
An All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) car is a car that comes with a drivetrain that supplies power to both the front and rear wheels all the time or when needed. There are basically two main AWD systems. A full-time system that supplies power to all the wheels continuously and a part-time (automatic) system that operates in two-wheel drive (either front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive) most of the time, with power sent to all four wheels only when extra traction is needed.

AWD advantages
Superior traction. An AWD system supplies power to all four wheels and when one loses traction, the rest of the wheels will make up for the loss, making these cars desirable for driving on uneven or slick terrains.
Autonomous. The fact that an AWD system kicks into action without human intervention is the catch. It’s a constantly active system, a computer-controlled system that sends the required power to each wheel whenever a lack of traction is detected, but also automatically adapts to the road condition.

AWD disadvantages
Expensive. AWD cars have a high asking price compared to 2WD cars.
Inefficient. AWD cars are heavy and power has to be supplied to all four wheels which equates to more fuel consumption.

2WD vs 4WD: Which is Better?

2WD vs 4WD vs AWD

If you are in the market for a car to use daily and the terrain consists of well-paved roads and the weather patterns are not extreme then a 2WD car is the ideal car for you as it will perform all the necessary car duty without doubt, but also with new and improved technology 2WD cars performance is getting even closer and closer (not there yet) to that of an AWD car, with options like traction and stability control whereby the amount of power to one or the other wheel can be controlled. When needed, the driver can also completely cut power to one wheel for extra control when it feels like the car is going out of control.

But if you need a car that will take you through unpaved roads and hush weather conditions such as slippery muddy or icy/snowy terrains, sandy deserts, mud slicks and traps, and/or bumpy off-road terrain, then the ideal car for you will be an all-wheel drive (AWD), or four-wheel drive (4WD) car.

Maintenance costs for rear-wheel drive cars cost less as they have fewer parts packed into a small space, unlike front-wheel drive cars that cost more due to having too many parts in a small space that will require removing to access the workspace.
RWD cars are good at towing compared to FWD due to the load not being far from the wheels that do all the pulling offering more traction.

For those who are into drifting, RWD cars are more desirable than FWD as power is sent to the rear wheels to keep them spinning whilst the front wheels counter-steer to move the car sideways (Note: Drifting is not recommended for non-professionals).

This article is written by BE FORWARD Supporters ID 30317 Takudzwa Masvaure In Zimbabwe. What is BE FORWARD Supporters? Click here to join!

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1 thought on “2WD vs 4WD vs AWD | What’s the difference?”

  1. 4wD has more power than 2wD because during rainny season their is a lot of mad which 2wD can not assist and 4WD is the best.


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