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Four-wheel-drive vs All-wheel-drive explained: Differences, working method, and usage

Four-wheel-drive vs All-wheel-drive system explained. We explain the difference between 4WD and AWD, their intended uses, how they work, and what suits your needs the best.

four wheel drive vs all wheel drive difference explained

Four-wheel-drive (4WD) vs All-wheel-drive (AWD) have been confusing, and at times, they are even interchanged and used. Technically, when skimming over the two terms, they essentially do the same — power all four wheels of the car. However, their benefits and usage vary and we explain the differences, their intended usage, and what suits your usage the best.

Four-wheel-drive (4WD)

2022 Mahindra Scorpio N

The term four-wheel-drive is usually associated with SUVs and off-roaders. In most cases, the vehicle is driven primarily on two wheels – usually the rear – and the driveshaft is linked to a transfer case. When the user engages to 4WD (high or low ratio), the transfer case engages the front wheels as well, lowering the drive ratio and increasing the torque output of the vehicle as well, helping the overcome obstacles.

A 4WD vehicle may even come with lockable differentials to help allow all four or two wheels to rotate at the same time and speed, helping overcome difficult terrain and obstacles such as rock, mud, sand, and snow. A good example of a four-wheel-drive vehicle in India is the Mahindra Thar, or even the new Mahindra Scorpio-N, which can handle extreme terrains.

All-wheel-drive (AWD)

2022 maruti suzuki grand vitara

An all-wheel-drive vehicle can be full-time or part-time driven on all four wheels. The primary aim of an AWD system is to offer more grip to the car on the road and is usually done by a computer that detects traction loss or cornering speed and many other aspects. At times, a user can select between two and all-wheel-drive modes in a vehicle and AWDs are usually front-wheel-driven. AWD vehicles are usually accompanied by selectable modes of operation that can control the engagement of all four wheels to an extent.

Unlike 4WDs, an AWD vehicle is usually limited to the type of terrain it can travel because it is not designed to be taken off-road like a 4WD system, however, they can handle sand and snow to an extent. An AWD system usually enhances the sportiness and handling of a vehicle, keeping traction optimised for superior grip on surfaces. A great example of an AWD vehicle is the new Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara.

The new Grand Vitara gets an AWD variant with its Mild Hybrid variant mated to a manual gearbox. The All-Grip AWD system helps the driver choose from four settings: Snow, Sport, Auto, and Lock. The first three modes engage and disengage the AWD system automatically, while the Lock function keeps the Vitara in permanent all-wheel-drive mode.

Four-wheel-drive or All-wheel-drive – Which one suits you?

The usage of the two systems varies widely. If your usage is more of broken roads, sand, mud, rocks, and recreational activities, a 4WD vehicle is what you need. Do note that in 4WD mode, the vehicle is designed to operate at extremely low speeds and cannot be used on good tarmac conditions as this will ruin a 4WD system.

If the usage of the vehicle is primarily limited to the city with occasional highway trips and enthusiastic driving, an AWD system is for you. Drive to all four wheels without sacrificing power helps for better traction on good surfaces, bad roads, snow, sand, and some twisty roads, however, the system will not handle anything more than that.

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