An AWD system offers many benefits over mostly standard FWD or RWD systems, but it does cost $2000 more on average which poses the question do the benefits of AWD really make the system worthwhile? In order to answer this question, we need to assess a few different factors.
There are many benefits to AWD, starting from better acceleration, more traction, better stability, the ability to go faster around corners, and an overall safer and more surefooted driving experience no matter the surface you are driving on.
However, as previously stated, an AWD system carries a hefty price tag in on itself. In addition, you also need to consider that you sometimes need to move up a trim level to even be able to opt for an AWD system which can sometimes increase the price significantly.
An AWD also adds more weight which takes its toll on fuel economy and the overall responsiveness of the chassis. Some AWD cars make the steering feel a bit ‘’artificial’ which is a common drawback of AWD sports cars. Moreover, AWD cars are often less practical than their FWD/RWD counterparts.
Benefits of AWD – Traction, safety, acceleration, and stability
An AWD system is designed to send power to all four wheels which makes the car faster in most circumstances. This means that a similarly powered RWD/FWD is almost always slower to accelerate, especially so if the car offers lots of power.
A great example of this is the new BMW M3 which is offered both as a classic RWD sedan or an AWD sedan. The AWD version of the M3 is capable of a 3 second 0-60mph time, but the RWD M3 is often more than a second slower because it’s unable to put the power down efficiently.
All of this means that there is a significant lack of traction with high-powered RWD platforms which can sometimes be viewed as a positive if you prefer a lively sports car. However, from a safety and stability standpoint, an AWD car is way safer, especially if the weather conditions are not ideal.
If the place where you live regularly experiences snow and ice, opting for AWD should be mandatory as this is equally as important as a set of decent tires. If so, the chances of spinning in an AWD car are much slimmer in every possible scenario.
Drawbacks of AWD –security(?), costs, complexity, efficiency, practicality and ‘’fun’’
For some, an AWD system is a no-brainer, and that’s completely understandable. However, one also needs to be aware that an AWD system carries a few downsides as well, and you need to balance your priorities only after you’ve informed yourself about those downsides.
The most obvious one is the increased cost which can sometimes outweigh the AWD logic by itself. AWD cars tend to be more complex which means that they are often pricier to repair if something goes wrong. The fuel economy is always worse as the car pushes power through four wheels of a much heavier car than usual.
An often-overlooked drawback of AWD is a potentially false sense of security as many drivers are not as keen to upgrade their tires if they drive an AWD car. However, this is mandatory no matter if you drive an RWD/FWD or an RWD car.
Finally, AWD cars have more mechanical components which can often rob rear passengers of their foot space. If you pair that with a smaller trunk and a sometimes lifeless driving experience, opting for an AWD car is a balance of priorities.
The way you use your car and the car in question
The way you use your car is also a fairly important factor when it comes to deciding if you need an AWD car or not. If you only own a single car, then it’s obviously more reasonable to opt for an AWD car, especially so if you live in a region that often experiences snow and ice.
Besides your usage scenario, the car itself is also an important deciding factor. If you want to buy a small hatchback, FWD should be enough as the car in question is likely fairly lightweight, not all that fast, and easy to control.
However, if you are planning to buy a large and heavy SUV/sedan, it’s better to opt for AWD as it makes the car safer if you do maintain your tires and other critical components. Moreover, an FWD/RWD SUV is not a popular option on the 2nd hand market.
Which cars need AWD?
Some cars are better suited for an AWD system than others, and that can be due to market demand or due to performance and safety. For example, the Volvo XC90 is a large SUV that is offered either as an AWD car or an FWD which is rather strange as this is not something the majority of potential customers want from a large SUV.
So if you do decide to opt for FWD, be sure to know that selling that SUV is going to be difficult. Moreover, a high-powered car is way easier to control and handle on a daily basis if it’s equipped with an AWD system.
Are good tires more important than AWD?
Yes, they are. All the benefits of an AWD system are nonexistent if your tires are not up to the task. This is a common issue as many people believe that an AWD system is enough and that there is no need to always have a decent set of tires.
Even though a good set of tires is more important on an RWD car than it is on an AWD car, it is still important on an AWD car. If you do lose traction on an AWD car, it can sometimes be way more difficult to settle an AWD car.
Do electric cars come with AWD?
Electric cars are different when it comes to the AWD/FWD/RWD scenario because they often offer a technology called torque vectoring which enables them to send power to a wheel that needs it the most.
All of this means that some EVs are theoretically able to be AWD, RWD, and FWD depending on the situation. Even though there are a few combustion engine cars these days that do offer variable AWD, this is mostly reserved for high-performance top-of-the-line cars.