AWD vs. 4WD: What’s the Difference?

May 12th, 2022 by

All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive sound like they could be the same thing, but they aren’t. The two drive systems are meant for vastly different driving conditions. Let’s go into deep detail on the differences between the two so you know which drive system is right for you.

All-Wheel-Drive Features and Advantages

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The vast majority of commercially sold cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicles use either rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive. The most effective drive system for on-road driving is definitely the all-wheel-drive layout. This drive system uses all four wheels to drive the vehicle forward. Some all-wheel-drive systems grant torque evenly to each wheel, while others are adaptive, granting torque as needed to each wheel. The latter variation is less common in all-wheel-drive vehicles than in four-wheel-drive ones, but it is still greatly sought after, especially in areas with rough or particularly curvy roads.

All-wheel-drive configurations increase the wheel grip on the road significantly, decreasing the likelihood of slipping and sliding in unfavorable conditions. Drivers who live, commute, and work in areas where heavy rainfall or snow is common will get a lot of value out of their all-wheel-drive system. With all four tires pushing against the road, all-wheel drive’s increased traction offers superior acceleration capability and reduced issues when cornering tightly.

Types of All-Wheel-Drive Systems

When you look at a simple listing of vehicle specs, it may seem that every all-wheel-drive system is the same. This is not so. The two primary forms of all-wheel-drive drivetrains are full-time and full-time with automatic engagement. The first comes in mechanical and electronic versions while the second requires a computer to operate properly, making it always electronic. Full-time all-wheel drive is just what it sounds like: a form of drivetrain that uses all-wheel drive all the time, with even torque distribution between tires.

Full-time all-wheel-drive with automatic engagement alternates between two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive as needed, using computer sensors to determine when to engage the all-wheel-drive function. Some vehicles with all-wheel-drive and driving modes feature modes where the all-wheel drive is always off and modes where the all-wheel drive is always on. Check with your dealer for specific details. This version of all-wheel drive is good for mitigating one of the primary drawbacks of all-wheel-drive systems: increased fuel and electricity use.

Some all-wheel-drive systems have a hard toggle function. These are usually installed in trucks and SUVs and function much like old-school two-wheel to four-wheel toggle dials.

Four-Wheel-Drive Features and Advantages

Four-wheel-drive drivetrains are most commonly found on SUVs and trucks. They are meant to make a vehicle capable of handling tough terrain, from basic off-roading and shallows fording to the extreme challenges of rock-crawling. The best four-wheel-drive systems feature hard toggles, either in floor levers or console-switch form. Floor levers are more common in mechanical four-wheel-drive systems, while the switch format is more common for computer-driven adaptable four-wheel-drive systems. That’s right: four-wheel-drive drivetrains are also available in mechanical and computerized electrical forms and full-time and adaptive full-time forms.

Low-Range and High-Range Four-Wheel Drive

Some four-wheel-drive systems come with low- and high-range shifters. Low-range four-wheel drive is best for the heaviest off-road challenges. These include traversing deep sand or mud, crawling over rocks and small boulders, fording creeks and shallow points in rivers, and handling the steepest and most daunting off-road trails.

When you see competitive drivers running through off-road courses, you’re seeing low-range four-wheel-drive in action. In this mode, the wheels turn more slowly, generally while the vehicle is moving at or below 40 mph. This speed limitation greatly decreases the chances of slips or hard rolls as your four-wheel-drive vehicle moves over difficult terrain. The steering wheel will turn more slowly in this mode.

High-range, four-wheel drive is ideal for off-road situations that require greater speed, such as during mud-riding, off-road racing, and easier-to-handle off-road conditions. If you’re on a paved road, you should always have your four-wheel-drive drivetrain switched into high range mode. This will greatly decrease the power and fuel demands of your drivetrain, extending your vehicle’s operating range. Some drivers may be tempted to switch to low range for increased on-road traction, but the tradeoff generally isn’t worth it. Four-wheel-drive vehicles without a low- to high-range toggle are generally set to high range continuously.

Disadvantages Compared

All-wheel drive just can’t do the work of a four-wheel-drive system off-road. It also tacks on a price increase to the vehicle’s overall cost, but the tradeoff is more than worth it for city drivers and country drivers who stay on-road. All-wheel drive drains fuel more quickly, so go with a system that only turns it on when it is needed if you can. Four-wheel-drive vehicles generally have much stiffer handling than all-wheel-drive systems, but this is as much of an edge off-road as it is a disadvantage on-road.

All-wheel-drive drivetrains and four-wheel-drive drivetrains add from $1,000 to $3,000 to vehicle price, with the higher-end luxury vehicles sporting the more expensive drivetrains. This variation tends to be quite warranted since the luxury-format drivetrains have longer life spans due to more durable parts.

What Hyundai Vehicles Come With Each Drivetrain?

Hyundai currently offers six models with all-wheel drive. The Hyundai Kona is available with all-wheel drive at every trim level. The Hyundai Tucson is also available with all-wheel drive at every trim level. The Hyundai Santa Fe starts out with two-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available at higher trims. This holds true with the electric and plug-in versions of the Santa Fe as well. The Hyundai Palisade starts with front-wheel drive at all trim levels, but all-wheel drive can be added at any trim level. Finally, the Hyundai Ioniq is all-wheel drive at all trim levels. The diesel version of the Hyundai Tucson comes with four-wheel drive.

There you have it: a complete breakdown of all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, with the advantages, disadvantages, and available Hyundai vehicles included. For more information on these drive systems and the Hyundai vehicles that use them, contact the experts at Spokane Hyundai in Spokane, Washington. They’ll show you through their expansive inventory to the ideal vehicle for you.

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