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What is the difference between 4WD, AWD and SUVs?

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Buying a new car, but unsure which one is right for you? Here's a quick rundown of 4WD, AWD and SUVs to help you decide. 

4WD (four-wheel drive)

The 4WD vehicle, also known as a 4x4, is commonly used for off-road driving. They are powerful vehicles that can take almost anything you put them through. If you want an off-roading adventure traversing through the sand, creek beds, or dirt tracks, then a 4WD is the perfect ride. 

Popular 4WD vehicles include the Range Rover, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Hilux, Ford Everest, and Nissan Patrol. These heavy-duty cars are great for hauling or work activities that need a high-powered engine. 

What is a 4WD vehicle? 

A 4WD has a vehicle drivetrain system where power to all four wheels is evenly distributed by the engine. Most 4WD vehicles are designed specifically for off-road driving and can withstand various tough terrains. The wheels will have twice the traction compared to the typical two-wheel drive vehicles. A key feature that 4WD vehicles have is locked differentials to enhance the off-road driving experience by improving traction. 

There are different types of 4WD vehicles such as the full-time 4WD and part-time 4WD. The full-time 4WD has the four-wheel system engaged at all times. Meanwhile, the part-time 4WD only engaged the four-wheel system when additional traction is needed. 

Pros of a 4WD vehicle 

Here are some advantages of buying a 4WD vehicle: 

  • Can prevent accidents and keep you safe. 

If you are driving through rough terrain or dangerous conditions, having a 4WD can help keep you safe while you’re on the road (or off-road). The powerful engine and heavy-duty wheels improve your control of the vehicle so you can maneuver safely whether it’s raining or snowing over remote roads or rocks. 

  • Improved visibility for better off-road driving. 

Most 4WD vehicles provide an elevated vantage point. It’s much easier for drivers to look over every corner of the terrain. Look across crests and ditches and have a clear view of country roads. You’ll have an easier time driving through rough roads, heavy rain, and other tough conditions. 

  • Good towing capabilities. 

A 4WD vehicle is a dependable car that can handle tough jobs. When it comes to towing, it can tow up to 3,100 kilograms depending on the make and model. Some 4WD vehicles can tow even more. Even smaller 4WD vehicles may be able to tow 2,000 kilograms. Whatever size you choose, you’re sure to have a powerful car. 

Cons of a 4WD vehicle 

There are some drawbacks to driving 4WD vehicles which are: 

  • 4WD vehicles are more expensive. 

Although there are affordable 4WD vehicles out there, they may cost more than the average sedan. Because 4WD vehicles are so enduring and equipped with a lot of special features, the more affordable ones can cost from $30,300 to $70,00. 

  • A lot more complicated and expensive to maintain. 

A 4WD system weighs more than the typical two-wheel drive and has additional equipment such as differentials and a transfer case. You may see more wear and tear with vehicles like these. Maintaining the vehicle may be more difficult and costlier compared to a two-wheel drive.  

  • Less fuel efficient. 

A 4WD vehicle burns through fuel faster because of its weight and power. If you are not ready to shoulder higher fuel costs, maybe a 4WD is not the right fit for now. 

AWD (all-wheel drive) 

An AWD vehicle, or all-wheel drive, is designed to get the best road traction on slippery roads. The AWD is also a four-wheel drive system similar to a 4WD. These vehicles can handle different terrains such as dirt and snow but are not designed for off-roading. 

This type of vehicle is not made for the heavy-duty jobs the 4WD can do. Instead, the AWD capabilities are seen more as a safety feature. Car manufacturers such as Audi and Subaru have numerous models that promote all-wheel drive.  

What is an AWD vehicle? 

An AWD, like the 4WD, has an engine that powers all four wheels. However, an AWD vehicle is designed for better speed and handling not off-road driving or towing. With an AWD, the drivetrain system checks the traction on all four tires.  

The system sends power to a specific wheel at any given time. It can boost power to the back tires for faster speeds and acceleration. Or reduce back wheel power when travelling across slippery roads. This “Torque Vectoring” technology provides much better handling and control for an enhanced driving experience. 

Like the 4WD, the AWD also comes in part-time or full-time versions. A part-time AWD only uses the drivetrain system when necessary and is in two-wheel drive mode the rest of the time. On the other hand, Full-time AWD has all four wheels powered continuously. 

Pros of an AWD vehicle 

Here are some of the advantages of driving an AWD vehicle: 

  • Great traction for slippery roads. 

With an AWD, your vehicle will be better equipped for slippery conditions like rain, snow, or mud. The AWD’s system enhances your vehicle’s handling and acceleration so you can safely travel through slippery terrains. 

  • Better control when going around corners. 

On dry pavement, AWD vehicles may also have improved handling. When it comes to turning a corner, standard vehicles may have more difficulty and, sometimes, even lose control. With an AWD, the torque vectoring prevents slipping and keeps traction. 

Cons of an AWD vehicle 

Here are the disadvantages of driving an AWD vehicle: 

  • Gives drivers a false sense of security. 

Since AWD vehicles reduce wheelspin when accelerating on slippery roads, drivers may overestimate their traction. This leads to drivers going too fast in dangerous conditions. It also makes it hard to estimate the car’s ability to stop.  

  • Additional cost and lower fuel efficiency. 

An AWD vehicle costs more compared to a standard sedan because of its more complex systems and heavier machinery. With a more complicated system, maintenance and repair costs become more expensive. Plus, these vehicles also consume more fuel compared to a typical sedan.  

SUV (sports utility vehicle) 

An SUV is a broad category that includes vehicles with four-wheel drive and those with off-road capabilities. Although it is not as heavy-duty as one would expect from a 4WD, these SUVs can still go off-road but not in the same difficult terrains. 

Examples of an SUV are the Chevrolet Suburban, Mazda CX-5, Honda CRV, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sorento, Jeep Wrangler, and Ford Escape. SUVs come in a range of sizes, from compact ideal for city driving to extra-large vehicles for the great outdoors. 

What is an SUV? 

An SUV is characterised by its use of a body-on-frame design. The frame and body of the vehicle are connected during the manufacturing process but are built individually. This type of vehicle is built on a light-truck chassis but has a ruggedness like a station wagon. 

Originally, SUVs were created for those who want to explore the outdoors. It is ideal for camping, mountain biking, fishing, and other nature activities. Nowadays, the SUV has become sought-after by the public because of its performance and flexibility. 

Pros of an SUV 

Here are some benefits of owning an SUV: 

  • More comfortable and has a large storage capacity. 

SUVs are typically more comfortable because they have bigger cabin space. These vehicles can typically fit up to seven people to eight people and have plenty of storage space in the boot. 

  • Has great grip and handling with better visibility. 

If you have a four-wheel drive SUV, you will experience great handling in slippery conditions or uneven terrain. SUVs are also built with sturdy frames for longer durability and better power. These vehicles are also built higher compared to sedans. The higher seating position means better road visibility. 

  • More versatile compared to a sedan. 

An SUV is a multi-purpose car great for city driving or going on outdoor adventures. It can adapt to different road surfaces with ease without straining the engine. Bigger SUVs with powerful engines can also tow trailers, boats, or a caravan.  

Cons of an SUV 

Owning an SUV also comes with disadvantages such as: 

  • More expensive maintenance and purchase costs. 

SUVs are pricier compared to some standard cars. They are much bigger and offer off-road possibilities which can also make maintenance and repairs more expensive. Additionally, SUVs require more fuel compared to a typical sedan.  

  • The size could be more of a hindrance. 

Because SUVs are quite large, these vehicles may be more difficult to maneuver. If you are not hauling camping gear or transporting a handful of passengers at once, then the size may be cumbersome.  

  • Produces more carbon emissions. 

SUVs have been known to produce more CO2 emissions and are a lot less environmentally friendly compared to other vehicles on the market. 

Which vehicle is right for you? 

It depends on what your needs are. Each vehicle has its pros and cons. It is up to you to decide which vehicle is best for your lifestyle and fits your budget. Think about why you need a vehicle and what you’re primarily going to use it for.  

For instance, if you are looking for an excellent off-road experience, a 4WD is the ideal vehicle. However, if you want something more flexible that can handle different terrains and is great for your everyday commute, then an SUV is the way to go. Consider all your options and see which one best suit your needs. 

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