2023 Subaru Outback. Credit: Subaru.


Understanding All-Wheel Drive

Written By: Jerry Reynolds | Jan 10, 2024 3:20:35 PM

For some reason, we had numerous CarPro Show callers the past couple of weeks who were 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.  It seems like a good time to take a look at all-wheel drive systems.

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.

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. 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.


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.

All-Wheel Drive and 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.

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.)

Take the 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 range difference is the new 2024 Kia EV9 EV, the 2024 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year.  The trim with the most range in the lineup is the Light Long Range RWD model with the larger battery, which gets an estimated 304 miles of range. The AWD trims have an estimated 270-280 mile range.  On the upside, the top ranging EV9 GT-Line AWD model delivers 516 pound-feet of torque.

Final Thoughts

Having all-wheel drive is not bad for anybody, even people who live in Southern California, Texas, or even Hawaii. AWD vehicles generally sit up a little taller, have a better view of the road ahead, and enhance the driving experience.  

Photo Credit: Subaru.