FWD vs AWD. Which is better?


You might have come across vehicles that are either Front Wheel Drive or All Wheel Drive. Almost every manufacturer today is offering such vehicles to their customers and this has attracted every car guru to the discussion about which is better. The difference between FWD and AWD is important especially when it comes to buying a new car. If your needs and preferences do not match an FWD vehicle, you would hardly like to keep it for long. Therefore, before you make an important buying decision, let’s take a detailed look at FWD vs AWD.

FWD vs AWD: The Difference

Most of the vehicles you see on the road are fuel-efficient front-wheel drive vehicles. This means that both the engine and transmission power the wheels in the front to make it go. Although front-wheel drive designs have been around for a while since the first automobiles were introduced but did not become popular until the 1970s. 

Before that, most cars used the rear wheel design. The reason being that at the time, the front wheels did the steering and there was no cost-effective way for the front wheels to both steer and move the vehicle. Therefore, if you were to talk about the advantages of Front Wheel Drive, they include, better fuel economy, more interior space, good all-season handling, and easy to service. 

On the other hand, All Wheel Drive vehicles are designed in such a way that the power has to be sent to all the wheels to make the car go. However, when compared to Front Wheel Drive, All-Wheel-Drive vehicles were less popular since the system was complicated and expensive. Once the manufacturers got hold of reliable and relatively affordable All-Wheel-Drive systems, the design became much popular. 

Some notable advantages of All-wheel-drive vehicles include the best wet-weather handling, better traction on ice and snow, and better off-road capability. In other words, All-Wheel-Drive vehicles are basically cars for hilly areas. Since the power is sent to the four wheels, it enables the driver to control each pair when it comes to visiting rocky and hilly areas. Furthermore, All-Wheel-Drive systems are mostly found in crossovers and SUVs, etc. that are designed for off-roading. 

Another important thing to know that many AWD vehicles are also available and offered with FWD as an option. This happens to be true for small crossover SUVs. Therefore, if you are not in the mood to purchase a vehicle equipped with an AWD system, you can purchase the same vehicle with FWD and save some money. 

Is AWD the Same As 4WD?

Many people are of the view that AWD is the same as 4WD, however, that is not the case. Both systems are entirely different. In general, 4WD systems are used by pickup trucks and larger SUVs. The biggest difference tends to be that the all-wheel-drive is always active and happens automatically. In this case, the driver does not have to do anything to engage the AWD system. In most cases, smaller SUVs and passenger cars tend to use AWD.

Is Every AWD System The Same?

Another misconception when it comes to AWD vehicles is that every AWD system is the same. The fact of the matter is that there are different ways to implement an all-wheel-drive system. When it comes to brands, there is a substantial difference particularly when it comes to determining how each one engineers their particular AWD system.

For instance, Subaru used an AWD system that is always engaged. The system is designed such that the power is provided to the four wheels as needed using a center differential in the transmission. Furthermore, Subaru offers many models with the same system such as the 2019 Impreza compact sedan to the 2019 Ascent midsize SUV. 

Additionally, the 2019 Ford Edge uses a system called AWD Disconnect to completely decouple the rear axle when it does not need enhanced traction. When the AWD is not engaged, the Edge operates as an FWD vehicle. This allows the Edge to save some fuel since power is not being sent to all four wheels. 

On the other hand, Mazda utilizes a “predictive” AWD system that always keeps the rear wheels slightly engaged. It does so by using sensors that are distributed around the vehicle providing information that helps the vehicle decide when it needs more power to the rear wheels. Moreover, this system is also available on some hybrid vehicles as well such as the 2019 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Sedan or the 2019 Lexus rx450h SUV. Since these are hybrid vehicles, the AWD is all-electric. 

Drawbacks to AWD

If you are up for buying an AWD vehicle, you need to be aware of certain things. First, vehicles with an AWD system tend to be comparatively expensive than FWD. Secondly, insurance costs are usually higher and lastly, fuel costs tend to be higher as well.

AWD vs FWD: Which is Better Off-Pavement?

If you intend to drive your vehicle on unpaved surfaces, then an AWD vehicle is the best option. Since you will be driving on surfaces that contain grass, gravel, and other materials covering the surface, it means less grip for your drive wheels. In that respect, All-Wheel-Drive vehicles are designed to provide maximum traction on any type of surface. With that being said, front-wheel-drive vehicles do comparatively well on mid-off-road surfaces. However, you need to remember that an AWD is not heaven-sent. You can still get stuck in the mud. 

AWD vs FWD: Which is Better In the Rain?

In general, when it comes to driving in wet conditions, AWD vehicles tend to be comparatively better. One of the reasons is that the reflective paint used to create crosswalks and guidelines often becomes slippery when it’s wet. Other factors, such as oil or the presence of wet leave on the road can also post a risk. In this respect, AWD vehicles are designed to sense the wheel slip and adapt to wet weather very well as well.

AWD vs FWD: Which Is Better In Ice and Snow?

All-Wheel-Drive systems tend to be better on ice and snow since the system identifies that the vehicle is struggling to grip and therefore, gets you started and keeps you moving. Today, vehicles with AWD systems feature modern traction and stability controls that allow such vehicles to handle most snow and ice conditions. 

Front-Wheel-Drive vehicles are also good in snow since the engine is located over the drive wheels. The extra weight helps provide traction. If you live in an area that experiences mild to moderate winter weather, you maybe able to save some money by opting for a front-wheel-drive vehicle and a set of winter tires. 

AWD vs FWD: Do You Need Winter Tires?

As mentioned previously, you can do away with a good set of winter tires as well if you do not have the budget to purchase an AWD vehicle. Investing in winter tires such as the Bridgestone Blizzak or Yokohoma iceGuard which are specifically designed to keep you on track in snow and ice, might eliminate the need to opt for an AWD vehicle. The reason being that such winter tires tend to use special tread designs and soft rubber compounds that enable the vehicle to grip on both snow and ice. 

Several tests show that good tires are key to good traction. With that being said, a vehicle with an FWD system wearing winter tires will outperform an AWD vehicle wearing standard all-season tires. However, the best performance is always going to happen with AWD and a good set of winter tires. 

AWD vs FWD: What About Traction and Stability Controls?

Another noteworthy factor when it comes to discussing FWD and AWD vehicles is that all modern cars come with great traction and stability controls. These are essentially electronic systems that are designed to prevent the vehicle from getting out of the driver’s hands or losing grip. If for instance, a wheel happens to lose grip, the system immediately identifies the problem and sends power to allow it to remain on track. 

All new passenger vehicles today come with traction and stability controls as standard equipment. If you were to opt for the right set of tires, this technology can go a long way in equalizing the difference between FWD and AWD vehicles. 

AWD vs FWD: What About A Pre-Owned Vehicle?

If you wish to buy an AWD vehicle, consider buying a pre-owned car or SUV. However, make sure that you only purchase from a certified dealership that deals in selling pre-owned AWD vehicles. This way you will be at peace knowing that the vehicle has been checked and looked after at the dealership. Buying a certified pre-owned vehicle is a great way to save some money and get all the features you have always wanted. Plus, you should still expect a higher price for an AWD vehicle but it will sell at a higher rate in the future as well.

AWD vs FWD: Which Is Right for Your Family?

In most countries, the decision to buy a particular vehicle is based on whether the family needs an all-wheel system. The reason is that if you have your family traveling with you especially in areas that require traction, an all-wheel-drive system is going to offer more safety. You will be at peace knowing that if you were to encounter ice, snow, or extreme rain, you will be a lot safer. However, if you come to the conclusion that you do not need a vehicle for any such conditions then a front-wheel-drive vehicle is going to suffice. 

In addition to that, if you happen to live in an area that experiences wet weather conditions along with snow and ice most of the year, then you are better off with an AWD system vehicle. This is mainly the reason most people in the U.S opt for SUVs that come with AWD systems. Since the country experiences extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes and minor earthquakes on a regular basis, a regular front-wheel vehicle is going to make it comparatively tough for a family to make its way out of the mess.

If you have the budget, you can also opt for AWD vehicles that come with the FWD option as discussed previously. This will allow you to save some money and get across manageable and moderate wet and snowy conditions. 

Good Reasons to Choose AWD or FWD

The debate about, which system is the best then again rests on the preferences and needs of the customers. One cannot say that AWD is superior to FWD or otherwise. This is because the decision to buy a vehicle with a particular system depends on several external factors as well. AWD and FWD systems are designed for different purposes. While FWD systems are more focused on performance like the rear-wheel systems, All-Wheel systems tend to specialize in traction and control. 

All-Wheel Drive systems apart from providing more traction and control on both ice and snow tend to sell easier and offer a better resale value as well. On the other hand, Front-Wheel vehicles are less expensive to buy and offer better fuel economy along with lower insurance premiums. 

Final Word

Modern vehicles when it comes to safety and traction features have never been better. Every manufacturer offers AWD and FWD vehicles at virtually every price point. Back in the day, it was relatively difficult and complicated to choose the right car, truck, or SUV. However, today, once you have all the information, choosing the right type and system, is as easy as it gets.

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