All-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive—what do these mean exactly, and what are the benefits of each? These represent different kinds of drivetrains, which are what connect the transmission to the drive axles and deliver power.
For front- and rear-wheel drive, this means that the power is delivered only to two of the tires, with the other two just following suit. Front-wheel drive, or FWD, is great for drivers who live in climates that don’t get huge amounts of snowfall and who drive smaller cars like sedans, which rarely come with AWD systems. Rear-wheel drive, or RWD, typically offers better performance and is therefore popular in sports cars, but it doesn’t perform very well in bad weather conditions.
When it comes to AWD and 4WD, the difference can be tricky to understand, since both involve power being delivered to all four wheels. In AWD systems, which are common in SUVs, the system is always active and determines which wheels to send power to based on how sensors read the environment. On the other hand, 4WD, also known as 4×4, only engages when you tell it to and delivers power to all four wheels at the same time.
Though they’re not all that dissimilar, they’re made for very different purposes. AWD is a great standard drivetrain for people who live in areas with extreme weather conditions, and 4WD is mostly activated for off-roading purposes in mud, through forests, on sand, et cetera. If you don’t plan on going off-roading for fun, AWD or FWD is probably best for you.