What is Four-Wheel Drive?

31st Oct 2023

By Kenny Longdon

What is four-wheel drive?

A drivetrain is the sum of components used to drive the wheels, excluding the engine or motor, when talking about a vehicle.

One of these drivetrains is four-wheel drive, otherwise known as 4WD or 4x4. There is also all-wheel drive, front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive.

Four-wheel drive works by sending power to each of its four wheels equally. Sometimes it's confused with all-wheel drive; four-wheel drive is different as unlike all-wheel drive, it cannot send varying levels of power to each wheel.

Read on to discover four-wheel drive in more detail.

Advantages of four-wheel drive

Ford Ranger Raptor

Like any drivetrain, four-wheel drive has a number of advantages. These are listed below.

  • Enhanced grip
  • Excellent off-road
  • These cars tend to offer great practicality
  • Popular in rural parts of the world
  • Can switch between 2WD and 4WD in some models
  • Elevated driving position in many models
  • Inspires confidence

Disadvantages of four-wheel drive

Dacia Duster

As with anything, there are also disadvantages to go with the advantages. The disadvantages to four-wheel drive are listed below.

  • Economy is usually not the greatest
  • Some 4x4 models can have high maintenance
  • Competition from all-wheel drive
  • Usually heavy, and therefore not as dynamic
  • Expensive, especially models like the Range Rover

Four-wheel drive vs All-wheel drive

Dacia Duster

It's a common misconception that all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are sometimes thought of as the same, as they both essentially control all the vehicle's wheels.

However, they are both different, despite seemingly doing the same thing. All-wheel drive is able to transfer different amounts of power to each individual wheel, whilst four-wheel drive transfers power to all four wheels equally, or to each axle.

Both drivetrains can however switch from four-wheel drive to two-wheel drive (either front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive) in some models, to make them more appealing. This is the case with high performance all-wheel drive cars that can switch to rear-wheel drive, for a more driver-focused feel and of course to enable the ability to drift more easily (in a safe or racetrack environment of course). Some cars even have a 'DRIFT MODE' like the Ford Focus RS, which is all-wheel drive out the box.

In four-wheel drive cars, the ability to switch to two-wheel drive reduces load on the engine and can help save fuel, which is a big help if you're just normal road driving.

With the popularity of SUVs, the 4x4 stigma that every SUV must be four-wheel drive has been well and truly altered.

SUVs have become more and more popular, but they were once not really favoured as the four-wheel drive concept was not really part of the essential daily driver needs.

With many SUVs now featuring front-wheel drive - as the consumers tend to like the chunky looks, extra practicality and higher driving position, manufacturers found four-wheel drive was not high on the lists of what your average SUV buyer wants.

Of course, you can still find four-wheel drive SUVs and similar all-wheel drive SUVs, but they tend to be more expensive, like many Land Rover models for examples - but they do offer a fantastic mix of comfort on road and excellence off-road, so you do get what you pay for.

Popular four-wheel drive cars include:

  • Dacia Duster - great value, practical and characterful four-wheel drive SUV, which also happens to available in front-wheel drive
  • Ford Ranger Raptor - A truck with four-wheel drive like this acts as a great work horse, ideal if your work takes you off the beaten track
  • Fiat Panda - An icon for generations, the Panda is small but packs an impressive punch. Again, it's also available with front-wheel drive
  • Land Rovers - Models like the Discovery, Defender and Range Rover all have four-wheel drive and are perhaps some of the best off-road vehicles available

Should you buy a four-wheel drive car?

Dacia Duster

As touched on above, consumer buying habits have changed and so actually needing a four-wheel drive has changed too.

If you live in a rural area and spend most of your driving on tracks, uneven road and off-road, then a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle would be a better choice than a front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive car.

But if you plan on staying on road, with no intention of taking your car off-road, a four-wheel drive car is not really needed.

Of course, an all-wheel drive car could be a clever move as you will get enhanced grip and stability when it rains or snows - which happens more frequently than we'd like in Great Britain.

Find your perfect four-wheel drive car with Evans Halshaw

If you're in the market specifically for a four-wheel drive, or maybe you're eyeing up a new car, or used car, Evans Halshaw have tempting offers to help make your decision that little bit easier.

Or maybe you enjoyed this article and want to read more, then why not check out our dedicated blog section to discover more.