Drivetrain Guide – front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or four wheel drive?

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Drivetrain Guide – front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or four wheel drive?

Guide
Thursday, 15 March, 2018

Our Drivetrain guide explains which one will best suit your needs; front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or four wheel drive?

When you’re looking for a vehicle to suit your needs, you’ll probably be confronted with various drivetrain options (the collection of parts that deliver power to the wheels).

In other words, you’ll more than likely be faced with a choice of front-wheel drive vs rear-wheel drive and perhaps four-wheel drive vs all-wheel drive. The differences between these can make a big difference to the driving experience, and capability of the vehicle, so our guide looks to shed some light, so you can make an informed decision.

Each of the above has its own benefits and you might be suited to one more than another. Let’s take a look at exactly what each of the options are and why they might be the right choice for you.

 

front wheel drive

Many cars, in particular small cars, hatchbacks and family cars are front-wheel drive, which means that power goes to the front two wheels only, so they’re responsible for both steering and moving the car. This gives greater potential for the vehicle to be light, economical and spacious, while also allowing it to cope relatively well with icy and snowy conditions.

The combined role of the front wheels and the fact they’re effectively “pulling” the vehicle along the road, can sometimes mean limitations in terms of the power capability of front-wheel drive cars. Yet there remain lots of positive reasons behind the popularity of front-wheel drive – including their tendency to be among the cheaper options compared to vehicles with other types of drivetrain.

The availability of front-wheel drive is widespread, including the more affordable models such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Corsa, Honda Civic and Kia Cee’d. More premium models include the Volkswagen Passat, Volvo V40 and Audi A4.

 

 

 

Rear Wheel Drive

With the engine powering only the rear wheels, these vehicles are sometimes thought of as giving a more authentic drive, with the front two wheels free to deal with the steering and the back two providing the “push.”

In addition, with the weight of the car towards the rear, there tends to be greater grip and power. The downside of this, and the separation of steering and power, is that rear-wheelers can be more difficult to drive in snow and ice than front-wheel drive cars. Nevertheless, you will find plenty of advocates of rear-wheel drive who will point to a more enjoyable experience behind the wheel as one of the main reasons to choose one of these cars.

High performance marques own this sector with models like the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz C Class and E Class and Alfa Romeo Giulia.

 

Four-wheel drive (4WD)

A 4WD vehicle has power to all its wheels. However, it’s also possible to activate and deactivate this 4WD element. This is useful because it provides better traction in off road conditions, which is when 4WD comes into its own. But when you’re driving in town or simply don’t need to worry about snow, mud or difficult terrain, you can turn off 4WD, switch to 2WD and improve fuel economy. These days, many manufacturers provide 4WD as an option – and cars with these systems tend to have a button or lever to select between 4WD or 2WD. Additionally, some vehicles will automatically detect road surfaces and apply the appropriate driving mode for you, as well as numerous other 4WD settings.

Examples of 4WD cars include: the Skoda Yeti, Mazda CX-5, Toyota Rav4 and Nissan Qashqai.

 

 

All wheel drive (AWD)

So, what’s the difference between AWD and 4WD? Put simply, AWD cars have all their wheels powered, all the time. This permanent power to all four wheels is useful off road but also provides increased grip and control under other road conditions too.

Traditionally, AWD vehicles included stereotypical off-roaders such as the original Land Rover, but AWD now also encompasses much sportier vehicles, such as Audi models. These cars are able to take advantage of extra power, grip and stability – a combination that adds up to significant performance benefits. More modern AWD setups have multiple modes that sense the kind of surface you’re on and can alter the settings accordingly, i.e. mud, snow, sand and gravel.

 

AWD goes electric

It’s worth noting that electric drivetrains are likely to play a bigger part in AWD vehicles in the future. In some cases, an electric motor can power one set of wheels, while a separate, fuel-driven engine powers the other. These systems have been applied to hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, while all-electric AWD cars may take things a step further by having permanent power to all wheels that’s generated purely by electric motors.

 

Different drivetrains: a summary

Drivetrain How it works Consider for ...
Four-wheel drive All four wheels are powered, but there’s the ability to switch to powering two wheels only Excellent traction off-road that provides the ability to cope with rugged conditions alongside the flexibility to be economical via a switch to two-wheel drive
All-wheel drive All four wheels are powered permanently Off-road capability or extra grip and stability for a sportier experience in normal driving conditions
Front-wheel drive Only the front two wheels are powered Good potential economy in terms of fuel and costs and the widest choice, with many different options from a host of manufacturers
Rear-wheel drive Only the rear two wheels are powered A purist’s driving experience that comes with the potential for additional power compared to many front-wheel drive vehicles

 

While we’ve tried to summarise the features of each type of drivetrain, there is inevitably an element of variation within each category and even the ways in which the media and manufacturers describe 4WD and AWD systems can differ in terms of phrases and terminology. Here at Arval, we’ve got the resources to help you get even closer to your car leasing decision.

You can browse our vehicle reviews to see what a particular make and model can offer. Also, whether you opt for all-wheel, four-wheel, front-wheel or rear-wheel, it’s worth looking at our van and car lease offers to see what we can do for you.