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
- Disadvantages of four-wheel drive
- Four-wheel drive vs All-wheel drive
- Popular four-wheel drive cars
- Should you buy a four-wheel drive car?
Advantages of four-wheel drive
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
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
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.
Popular four-wheel drive cars
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?
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.
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