Drivetrains Explained: What are the Different Types?

13th Dec 2022

By Kenny Longdon

What is a drivetrain?

Before we take a look into what a drivetrain does, and the different types, we thought we'd take the opportunity to explain what a drivetrain actually is, to avoid any doubt.

In simple terms, a drivetrain is the sum of components used to drive the wheels, excluding the engine or the motor. This could be either:

The coolest Ford cars from the '80s inlcude:

Below we will take a look at the different drivetrains available, whilst taking a look at their advantages and disadvantages.

Front-wheel Drive (FWD)

Hyundai i10

Like all drivetrains, the clue is in the name. Therefore, front-wheel drive cars ensure drive via the front wheels, effectively pulling the car along. Hatchbacks and city cars tend to come with front-wheel drive.

Examples include:


  • Familiar - Many cars default with front-wheel drive, so are familiar with many drivers.
  • Affordable - Most cars come with this drivetrain, as it's affordable to produce.
  • Simple - Most FWD cars use less components, making the car lighter and therefore more likely to have good economy - hence why most economical cars are front-wheel drive.


  • Limited grip - As only the front wheels have the power, grip is reduced on the rear wheels. Although the weight of the engine over the front axle helps in some instances.
  • Not the best handling - Front-wheel drive cars can suffer from understeer when pushed hard.

Rear-wheel Drive (RWD)

Porsche 911 GT3

The driver-focused favourite. Rear-wheel drive cars effectively push the car along, as power is sent to the road via the rear wheels, meaning all the front wheel have to focus on is steering. These cars tend to be performance cars, or driver-focused cars.



  • Driver-focused - Rear-wheel drive cars tend to be very driver-focused, with many performance cars (listed above) having this set up.
  • Handling - Tends to be better than other drivetrains.


  • Not very good in winter - Rear-wheel drive isn't ideal for winter conditions, especially when snow and ice is involved, as not much weight sits on the back axle.
  • Harder to control - Some rear-wheel drive cars are notorious for 'getting the back end out' which can catch some drivers out.

All-wheel Drive (AWD)

Ford Focus RS

As you've probably guessed, an all-wheel drive drivetrain is just that, all the wheels provide power to move the vehicle. These cars tend to be high performance cars or premium SUVs. They can transfer power to the wheels when prompted, therefore if a rear or front wheel loses traction, the drivetrain can send power to ensure grip and stability.



  • Enhanced grip - Superior traction in all weathers.
  • Performance - Helps with launches in performance cars.
  • Variety - Usually available on a wide range of SUVs and performance cars.


  • Handling - Can promote understeer.
  • Cost - Tend to be more expensive due to the complexity.

Four-wheel drive (4WD)

Dacia Duster

Just like all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive powers all four wheels too, but it does so in a slightly different way.

4WD sends power to each of the independent wheels equally, whilst AWD vehicles can send different levels of power to each individual wheel. 4WD vehicles tend to be SUVs of a certain era or style.



  • Off-road ability - Great for tricky terrain.
  • Popular - These cars are popular with people who live in rural areas.
  • Practical - These cars tend to offer great practicality and space.


  • Economy - It isn't usually the best.
  • High maintenance - On some specific 4x4 models.
  • Competition - All-wheel drive tends to be more popular.

Which drivetrain is best?

Car Buying

There is no such thing as the best when it comes to drivetrains, it will all depend on your particular circumstances and needs of the vehicle.

For example, you don't really need anything more than front-wheel drive for a city car, but this doesn't stop SUVs with their AWD/4WD drivetrains being used a lot in the city too.

Of course, on the flip side, you'd want the AWD/4WD SUV if going down farmers tracks and the like, as opposed to the FWD city car.

Manufacturers like Ford and Mercedes-Benz now produce many of their performance cars with all-wheel drive, so their performance can be enjoyed all year round.

Find your perfect car at Evans Halshaw

No matter what car drivetrain you're looking for, you'll be able to find it at Evans Halshaw where we have a comprehensive selection.

Why not browse our selection of brand-new and used cars?

Alternatively, if you enjoyed this article, why not have a browse of our blog section for more.