What is the difference: 4WD vs AWD

What is the difference: 4WD vs AWD

Know the difference in 4WD and AWD drivetrains..

In spite of large online resources and the lucrative strategies of car dealers, car shopping is still a bothersome for many. Adding to it, increasing number of car segments, advanced features, the process of car buying has become even more intimidating. There is a long list of confusing topics while seeking the right car, but AWD (All Wheel Drive) and 4WD (Four Wheel Drive) seems to confuse car shoppers from some time now.

Many times, both the terms are interchangeably used, but actually are entirely different when it comes to the motoring world. Let’s start with how does AWD and 4WD affects your everyday driving.


Four-Wheel Drive (4WD)

It is an old school version often known as Four by Four (4X4) and is used in off-road automobiles or the vehicles with all the terrain capabilities. It locks the front and rear axle together and splits the torque 50:50 in both the axles. This as a result offers great traction and is best suited for severe off-roading conditions such as climbing over rocks, while fording deep water and on low-traction surfaces.


  • Offers best traction in extreme off-road conditions
  • It can be turned off to improve fuel efficiency
  • A Rugged Technology


  • Adds weight and complexity to car
  • It can not be used in all conditions
  • Comparatively more expensive than two-wheel driven cars


All Wheel Drive (AWD)

As the name suggests, it supplies power to all the wheels. This type of drivetrain works well in sloppy roads and while taking it over moderate off-road condition. It can easily keep you moving through sand, mud and similar loose surfaces. Most of the AWDs supplies power to one set of wheels, either front or rear. When it finds slippage at one of the axles, it diverts the power to the other axle in order to find more traction. These systems are well suited for rapidly changing conditions.


  • Offers better grip and control in all conditions
  • Provides sportier handling and traction
  • Works all the time


  • Less fuel economy
  • Added weight and complexity
  • Not as good in extreme off-road conditions

So, if you have a plan of using your vehicle on extreme off-road conditions than 4WD is your best bet. Mostly it comes with a truck-platform SUVs, which comes with durability to match the machismo of Four-Wheel drive train. However, for most of us, AWD is more suitable. The AWDs can work in moderate off-roading and serves well on the normal roads with traffic as well.


Focus on Tyres

The tyres of your vehicle are more important than the number of wheels being driven. For example, if you have an AWD car, but it won’t be a good idea to take it to the Himalayas straight away from the dealership. This is because, your stock vehicle might come with summer tires and won’t do well in cold.

A few years back, Michelin did a study where they took the front - wheel driven car having winter tyres and the AWD car with all season tyres to the cold conditions. The car having FWD system with winter tyres outperformed the  AWD car in almost every test. Though AWD car had the edge in terms of accelerations, but when it came to braking, its distance was quite longer than FWD car. If AWD could have got winter tyres, it must have been a clear winner, but this shows the importance of tyres.

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