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Choosing between an AWD vs a 4WD. Which Option is Best for You?

With so many AWD and 4WD options available, working out which vehicle type is best suited for you can be difficult terrain to navigate.

AWD vs 4WD - AWD Going Offroad with 4WD behind

When choosing a vehicle, one of the critical considerations is the drivetrain, specifically whether to opt for an All-Wheel Drive (AWD) or a Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) system. There are a fair amount of factors to consider. Each has their own pros and cons, and understanding these differences, as well as your own needs and requirements, will really help you to make the best and most informed decision.

In this article, we delve into the disparities between AWD and 4WD (or 4x4) vehicles, explore their advantages and disadvantages, help you determine the best fit for your needs, and discuss some popular choices available in the market. So, let's dive in and unravel the AWD vs 4WD debate.


  • What is an AWD?
  • Pros of AWD
  • Cons of AWD
  • What is a 4WD?
  • Pros of 4WD
  • Cons of 4WD
  • Choosing the Best Option for You
  • Popular AWD Cars in Australia
  • Popular 4WD Cars in Australia
  •  FAQ

What is an AWD?

AWD stands for All-Wheel Drive. It is a drivetrain configuration in which power is simultaneously delivered to all four vehicle wheels. This system provides improved traction, especially in slippery or uneven road conditions, by distributing power to each wheel as needed.

AWD is commonly used in vehicles such as SUVs, crossovers, and high-performance cars to enhance stability, handling, and off-road capability.

AWD vs 4WD - All Wheel Drive Car in open outback road

Pros of AWD

Here are some pros of AWD vehicles. These benefits make AWD vehicles well-suited for individuals who frequently encounter challenging road conditions or desire a more confident and capable driving experience.

Enhanced Traction

One of the critical advantages of AWD is its ability to provide enhanced traction. An AWD vehicle can maximize grip on the road surface by distributing power to all four wheels. This is particularly beneficial in slippery or challenging conditions such as rain, snow, or icy roads.

With power being transferred to the wheels with the most traction, AWD vehicles can help prevent wheel slippage and provide better control and stability.

Improved Stability

AWD systems improve stability, especially during cornering and manoeuvring. By actively distributing torque between the front and rear wheels, AWD vehicles can optimise weight distribution and balance, resulting in better handling characteristics. This can increase confidence and a more composed driving experience, particularly on winding roads or uneven surfaces.

Ease of Use

AWD systems are typically designed to operate automatically, requiring minimal driver intervention. Once engaged, the system continuously monitors various factors to determine the optimal torque distribution to each wheel. This means that drivers can enjoy the benefits of enhanced traction and stability without switching between different driving modes or engaging the system manually.

AWD vs 4WD - Volvo splashing through mud

Cons of AWD

The cons of AWD are relatively minor and may not significantly impact the driving experience for most individuals. However, it's essential to consider these drawbacks and assess whether they outweigh the benefits of your specific driving needs and preferences.

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Increased Complexity

The simplicity of a good quality cooler shouldn't be underestimated. There's really very little that can go wrong with what is essentially a big box. Once you introduce anything electronic to the mix, you introduce a range of potential problems.

Additionally, the extra weight of the AWD system can slightly impact the overall vehicle's weight and handling characteristics.

Slightly Reduced Fuel Efficiency

AWD vehicles often have somewhat reduced fuel efficiency compared to their two-wheel drive counterparts due to the added mechanical components and increased weight. The additional power required to drive all four wheels can increase energy consumption.

While technological advancements have mitigated this drawback to some extent, it's essential to consider the potential impact on fuel economy when choosing an AWD vehicle.

Limited AWD Off-Road Capability

While AWD systems offer improved traction and handling in various road conditions, their off-road capabilities may be more limited compared to dedicated 4WD systems. AWD systems typically lack the low-range gearing and locking differentials found in 4WD systems, which are crucial for navigating extremely challenging off-road terrains.

What is 4WD?

4WD stands for Four-Wheel Drive. It is a drivetrain configuration that simultaneously delivers power to all four vehicle wheels. Unlike AWD, which typically operates in an automatic or on-demand mode, 4WD systems are often manually engaged or disengaged by the driver.

4WD is commonly found in off-road vehicles, trucks, and SUVs, providing enhanced traction and off-road capability by sending power to all four wheels. It is advantageous in challenging terrains like mud, snow, or steep inclines.

4WD vs AWD Debate - Image of a Dirty Off-road 4WD Jeep

Pros of 4WD

4WD vehicles are preferred by off-road enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and individuals who regularly encounter rugged terrains. Here are some pros of 4WD vehicles.

Excellent Off-Road Capability

4WD systems are designed to excel in off-road environments. They offer exceptional traction and allow vehicles to conquer challenging terrains like rocky trails, deep mud, sand, or snow. The combination of all four wheels being driven, along with features like low-range gearing and locking differentials, provides the necessary power and torque for off-road adventures.

Maximum Traction

4WD systems provide maximum traction by engaging all four wheels simultaneously. This feature is particularly valuable when one or more wheels may lose grip due to slippery or uneven surfaces. By evenly distributing power to each wheel, 4WD systems help prevent wheel slippage and enhance control and stability.


4WD vehicles offer versatility, allowing drivers to switch between 2WD and 4WD modes as needed. When driving on regular roads or in favorable conditions, the driver can switch to 2WD mode to optimize fuel efficiency. However, when encountering challenging terrain or adverse weather conditions, the driver can engage the 4WD mode to take advantage of the enhanced traction and off-road capabilities.


Something worth considering too is the ability to add additional accessories to your vehicle, such as roof racks, bull bars, spare wheel carriers and so on. Depending on your requirements, having a vehicle that will allow the addition of something like a bull bar and winch may be an important factor, and most 4WD vehicles cater to this ecosystem of 4x4 accessories that are available.

Cons of 4WD

Considering these cons in the context of your specific needs and driving environment is essential. Here are some cons of 4WD to look for.

Reduced Fuel Efficiency

4WD systems tend to have lower fuel efficiency than 2WD or AWD vehicles. The additional mechanical components and increased weight associated with 4WD can increase energy consumption. The nature of 4WD requires more energy to propel the vehicle, leading to slightly reduced fuel efficiency with power distributed to all four wheels.

Higher Cost

4WD vehicles often have a higher initial cost than their 2WD counterparts. The added complexity of the 4WD system, including components such as a transfer case, differential locks, and additional drivetrain components, increases the manufacturing and production costs.

This cost difference may also extend to maintenance and repairs, as the 4WD system requires specialised knowledge and may involve more intricate mechanisms.

AWD vs 4X4 - Toyota in mechanics garage

Limited On-Road Maneuverability

While 4WD excels in off-road environments, it can have limitations regarding on-road maneuverability. The added weight and mechanical components of the 4WD system can affect the vehicle's handling, especially during tight turns or abrupt maneuvers.

All wheels' increased traction and power may result in a wider turning radius and reduced agility compared to lighter, more agile 2WD vehicles.

AWD or 4WD? What's Best for You?

When deciding between AWD, 4WD, or 2WD, several factors should be considered to determine the best option for your needs. Here are some key considerations:

Driving Environment

Assess the typical driving conditions you encounter. If you frequently face challenging terrains, such as snowy or off-road conditions, and require maximum traction, a 4WD vehicle may be the best choice. An AWD vehicle might provide sufficient traction if you primarily drive on paved roads and encounter occasional adverse weather conditions.

On the other hand, if you mostly go on well-maintained roads without significant weather challenges, a 2WD vehicle may be suitable.

Lifestyle and Usage

Consider your lifestyle and intended vehicle usage. If you engage in off-road activities, outdoor adventures, or towing and hauling heavy loads, a 4WD vehicle's superior off-road capabilities and towing capacity may be desirable.

If you have an active lifestyle that involves outdoor sports or frequent travel to rural areas, an AWD vehicle can offer the necessary traction and stability. For everyday commuting and city driving, a 2WD vehicle may be sufficient.


Evaluate your budget for purchasing and maintaining a vehicle. It's important to note that 4WD vehicles generally come with a higher price tag compared to their 2WD counterparts due to the added complexity and components.

Additionally, the cost of maintenance and repairs for 4WD systems may be higher. Consider your budget for upfront fees, fuel expenses, and potential maintenance and repair expenses when deciding.

Fuel Efficiency

Assess your priorities regarding fuel efficiency. If saving fuel and minimizing fuel costs are significant considerations, a 2WD vehicle typically offers better fuel efficiency than AWD or 4WD vehicles. While advancements have been made in improving AWD and 4WD systems' fuel efficiency, they still consume more fuel due to the added weight and drivetrain components.

Remember to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each system concerning your priorities to select the option that provides the optimal balance for you.

Popular AWD Cars in Australia

Here are a few popular AWD cars available in the Australian Market. Each model offers unique features and characteristics, so it's essential to research and test-drive multiple options to find the one that best suits your preferences and requirements.

Subaru Forester

The Subaru Forester is a compact SUV renowned for its strong AWD capabilities and versatility. It offers generous cargo space, a comfortable interior, and advanced safety features. With its symmetrical AWD system, the Forester provides excellent traction and stability, making it a popular choice among adventurous drivers.

Mazda CX-5

The Mazda CX-5 is a stylish, well-rounded SUV with a smooth, engaging driving experience. It features Mazda's i-ACTIV AWD system, which monitors road conditions and adjusts power distribution accordingly. The CX-5 provides a balance of comfort, practicality, and AWD performance, making it a sought-after option in the Australian Market.

Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 is a popular choice for those seeking reliability, spaciousness, and off-road capability. The latest RAV4 models come equipped with Toyota's Dynamic Torque Control AWD system, which enhances traction and stability on different surfaces. With its comfortable ride, fuel-efficient engines, and advanced safety features, the RAV4 appeals to many drivers. If you’re after an AWD that will take care of you in offroad conditions, the RAV4 will be one of your best options.

All wheels' increased traction and power may result in a wider turning radius and reduced agility compared to lighter, more agile 2WD vehicles.

Volkswagen Golf R

The Volkswagen Golf R is a high-performance hatchback offering sportiness and AWD capability. With its 4MOTION AWD system, the Golf R delivers impressive grip and handling, making it a thrilling option for driving enthusiasts. The Golf R combines power, refinement, and practicality, making it a sought-after choice among those who enjoy more ‘spirited’ driving.

Popular 4WD Cars in Australia

For 4WD cars, some popular examples are available in the Australian Market. Each model has unique strengths, so it's essential to consider factors such as off-road capability, towing capacity, interior space, and features that align with your preferences and requirements.

Toyota Land Cruiser

The Toyota Land Cruiser is a legendary and competent 4WD vehicle known for its ruggedness and reliability. It offers excellent off-road capabilities, powerful engines, and a spacious interior. 

4WD vs AWD Toyota Land Cruise driving up dirt road

With its advanced four-wheel drive system, the Land Cruiser can easily tackle challenging terrains, making it a top choice for off-road enthusiasts and those seeking a robust and dependable vehicle.

Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger is a popular ute with toughness, versatility, and impressive off-road capabilities. It offers a range of 4WD variants, including a selectable 4WD system that allows drivers to choose between different drive modes to optimise traction based on the terrain. 

The Ranger is known for its towing and hauling capabilities, comfortable cabin, and modern features, making it a sought-after choice among adventurers and tradies.

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is a midsize SUV for off-road adventures. It features Mitsubishi's Super Select II 4WD system, which allows drivers to switch between 2WD and 4WD modes to suit different driving conditions. 

The Pajero Sport offers strong performance, ample space, and a range of advanced safety features, making it a popular option for families who also enjoy their outdoor and offroad adventuring.

Nissan Patrol

The Nissan Patrol is a full-size 4x4 SUV renowned for its robustness, power, and off-road capabilities. It features Nissan's advanced 4WD system with various modes, including low-range gearing for extreme off-road situations. 

The Patrol offers a spacious and luxurious interior, towing capabilities, and advanced technology features, making it a favored choice for those seeking a large and capable 4WD vehicle.

AWD vs 4WD - FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about AWD and 4WD.

What is the main difference between AWD and 4WD?

AWD (All-Wheel Drive) distributes power to all four vehicle wheels, improving traction in various road conditions. 4WD (Four-Wheel Drive) also distributes power to all four wheels, but it typically requires driver engagement and is designed for off-road use. The main difference is that AWD operates automatically, while 4WD is manually engaged.

Which drivetrain option is better for off-road driving?

4WD is generally better for off-road driving due to its enhanced traction and capabilities in challenging terrains. It offers low-range gearing and locking differentials, which provide maximum torque and traction for conquering obstacles and rough terrain.

Are AWD and 4WD vehicles more expensive than 2WD vehicles?

AWD and 4WD vehicles often have a higher price tag than 2WD vehicles. The added complexity of the drivetrain and components involved in AWD and 4WD systems increases manufacturing and production costs.

How does AWD affect fuel efficiency compared to 2WD?

AWD systems can slightly reduce fuel efficiency compared to 2WD vehicles. The additional mechanical components and increased weight in AWD systems require more energy to propel the car, leading to a slight decrease in fuel economy. However, advancements have been made to improve the fuel efficiency of AWD systems.

Can AWD or 4WD vehicles be driven on regular paved roads?

AWD systems enhance traction and stability on regular roads, especially in adverse weather conditions. However, it's important to note that AWD or 4WD may not be necessary for everyday driving on paved roads, and it's essential to consider your specific needs and driving environment.

Are AWD or 4WD vehicles more challenging to maintain and repair?

AWD and 4WD vehicles may require specialized maintenance and repair compared to 2WD vehicles. The additional drivetrain components and complexity of these systems can result in higher costs for repairs and maintenance. It's recommended to follow the manufacturer's guidelines for regular maintenance and find experienced mechanics familiar with AWD and 4WD systems.

What are the advantages of AWD over 2WD for everyday driving?

The advantages of AWD over 2WD for everyday driving include improved traction and stability, especially in adverse weather conditions. AWD can provide better handling and grip, allowing the vehicle to navigate through slippery surfaces such as rain, snow, or gravel more confidently.

However, it's important to note that a well-maintained 2WD vehicle with traction control for most everyday driving situations can offer sufficient traction.

Can I switch between 2WD and AWD/4WD modes in a vehicle?

Some vehicles allow drivers to switch between 2WD and AWD/4WD modes. This is often found in AWD systems that automatically distribute power to all four wheels when needed and switch to 2WD mode for better fuel efficiency in normal driving conditions. 4WD systems typically require manual engagement and switching between 2WD and 4WD modes through a transfer case or electronic controls.

Are there any specific driving conditions where AWD or 4WD is particularly beneficial?

AWD and 4WD are particularly beneficial in driving conditions such as snowy or icy roads, wet or slippery surfaces, and off-road environments. These systems provide enhanced traction and stability, reducing the risk of wheel slippage and improving control in challenging conditions.

AWD and 4WD excel when maximum traction is required, making them popular choices for individuals living in regions with harsh winters or engaging in off-road activities.

How do AWD and 4WD systems enhance safety on the road?

AWD and 4WD systems enhance safety on the road by improving traction and stability. They provide better control in adverse weather conditions, reducing the risk of sliding or skidding. With power distributed to all wheels, AWD and 4WD systems can help prevent wheel slippage and maintain grip, ensuring better handling and maneuverability.

However, it's important to remember that driver attentiveness, proper tyre maintenance, and cautious driving are still crucial factors in overall road safety.