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  • CarPro Advice: Understanding All-Wheel Drive

    CarPro Advice: Understanding All-Wheel Drive

    I often get calls from CarPro Show listeners who are confused about all-wheel drive (AWD) and the benefits of it. I am a big fan of AWD personally and actually have said that I would never personally own a car without it. Here we take a look at all-wheel drive systems and whether you should consider one when buying your next vehicle.

    All-Wheel Drive

    Not too long ago, only expensive, upper scale cars came with all-wheel drive, like Audi's famous Quattro system. They were as much about handling on dry streets as getting through a snowstorm. Much has changed as all-wheel drive (AWD) has gotten cheaper, lighter, and more common thanks to automakers like Subaru who continue to refine AWD in more common cars and SUVs.  Automakers are also developing electric vehicle (EV) specific systems. Scroll down to check out a video of Audi's new Q8 Sportback e-Tron Quattro's electric AWD system.

    Inclement Weather

    For most people, inclement weather is an easy determining factor in whether to consider AWD for your next vehicle. Generally, it will give you all the traction needed to get to and from work safely, even in areas where there is a lot of snowfall. To be clear, if you are a serious off-road driver, four-wheel drive is going to be better for you. For some people, the decision to all-wheel or not, is not so clear.

    For instance, many of our listeners in Sacramento would not use AWD often since their weather is fairly mild, but many of them go to Lake Tahoe often, and so you can easily make the case for all-wheel drive. Having all-wheel, instead of having to rent one, will probably work out cheaper.

    Driving Differences

    If you have never driven an all-wheel drive vehicle, you can feel subtle differences when on clean road surfaces, but most will not notice the difference. In fact, with the newer all-wheel systems, even in poor road conditions, most cannot tell when the system is engaged. 

    2023-hyundai-palisade-xrt-credit-hyundai-1 2023 Hyundai Palisade XRT with AWD. Credit: Hyundai

    In the simplest of terms, all-wheel drive distributes power where needed to give the best traction, without any action taken by the driver. Some of the newer systems even anticipate the need to engage the system before any actual slippage is detected.


    You will pay more for an all-wheel drive equipped vehicle, but usually, you will get that premium back in resale value, especially now that more and more people are wanting AWD. In some models, you may lose 1 to 2 miles per gallon in fuel economy, but in other cases, there is no loss at all when driving on roads that are dry.

    2023-lexus-es-250-awd-credit-lexus-1404x11122023 Lexus ES 250 AWD. Credit: Lexus.

    It is important to note that all-wheel drive is more of a performance feature than a safety feature. Of course, an all-wheel drive car will be better in snow, ice, or mud. It will allow you to go faster in those conditions too, which is not always a good thing. You must realize, too, that AWD does not help you stop, especially on ice and slippery road conditions.

    Electric Vehicles

    When it comes to electric vehicles, all-wheel drive is an important consideration as well.  AWD is  again, great for performance and traction.  EV specific AWD systems include Lexus'  DIRECT4 AWD and Nissan's e-4ORCE AWD.

    Back to Audi and its famed Quattro system, check out the video demonstrating its electric Quattro system in the new Q8 Sportback e-tron:

    HubSpot Video


    The thing to remember with EVs is that while AWD models typically offer more power,  you'll likely pay the price with a loss of range. (Battery size and the number of motors are also factors.) A great example of this is the new Nissan ARIYA. The FWD, single motor, longe-range battery Venture + grade achieves the highest range of the lineup at 304 miles.  That beats ALL the e-4ORCE all-wheel drive, dual-motor trims which give you substantially more horsepower.

    Another example of the RWD/AWD range difference is the Hyundai IONIQ 5. The RWD achieves a 303-mile range, while the AWD achieves 266 miles. (The base trim with the smallest battery offers a 220 mile range. For trims click here.)

    Final Thoughts

    Having all-wheel drive is not bad for anybody, even people who live in Southern California, Texas, or even Hawaii. All-wheel-drive vehicles generally sit up a little taller, have a better view of the road ahead, and enhance the driving experience. For people who battle the elements often, like our listeners in Cleveland, I think it is a must.

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    Editor's Note: This post has been updated with new information and photos since its original publishing date. Photo Credit: Subaru.