Front-Wheel vs. All-Wheel Drive: Do You Know the Differences?

Bambi Turner

Image: Youtube via CARJAM TV

About This Quiz

Automotive technology has come a long way in the past century. Just a hundred years ago, the Model T was all the rage, and drivers were puttering along at bold speeds more than 10 to 20 miles per hour.

Cars have not only gotten faster and cooler since then, but there have been strides in technology and safety that would make Henry Ford's jaw drop. Each new generation of car design brings advances that reduce the risk of accidents, save lives, reduce pollution and help people get where they're going with less hassle.

In the '70s, cars not only underwent extreme changes to meet new emissions standards and faced a significant U.S. gas shortage at the same time, but the decade also saw the option for buyers to splurge on a new feature known as all-wheel drive.

This technology was designed to make cars, which were almost exclusively powered by front-wheel drive at the time, more stable and safer on slick roads. Since then, the use of all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive has expanded rapidly, and many buyers now have the choice of this option when purchasing a new car.

Think you know the difference between front and all-wheel drive? Take our quiz to find out!

How much does all-wheel drive cut fuel economy compared to front-wheel drive?

On average, an all-wheel-drive vehicle will get 1 to 2 fewer mpg than an identical car equipped with front-wheel drive. That doesn't sound like much, but it adds up to a few hundred dollars a year for most drivers.

How much more does AWD cost as a typical option?

That extra technology and equipment doesn't come cheap! In 2018, buyers who choose 4WD or AWD options will pay an extra $1,500 to $4,000 for their vehicles, according to Edmunds.com.

True or false: four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are the same thing.

Some marketing materials and causal users interchange the terms four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, but these two technologies are not the same at all. They use different equipment and are useful in different types of driving scenarios.

Which of these combinations provides the best traction in snow?

Don't let four-wheel or all-wheel drive lure you into a false sense of security. According to Edmunds.com, a car equipped with two-wheel drive and winter tires will usually outperform a four-or all-wheel-drive car equipped with summer tires in snowy conditions.

Which of these is the biggest advantage of front-wheel drive compared to AWD?

There's a reason front-wheel drive has been the standard in cars for many years - it's cheap. Not only is the technology itself cheap because it's relatively simple, but it results in less weight, which means better fuel economy.

How many vehicles sold today have AWD or 4WD?

In 2018, about half of all vehicles sold are equipped with four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, according to Edmunds.com. This figure has increased significantly from only a decade or two earlier, largely due to the growth in popularity of SUVs and crossovers.

A vehicle designed to send power equally to all four wheels is equipped with....

The main difference between four-and all-wheel-drive vehicles is how the power is distributed. In a four-wheel drive vehicle, the drive-train sends equal power to all four-wheels. In an all-wheel drive vehicle, the amount of power sent to each wheel is varied.

True or false: rear-wheel drive is better than front-wheel drive for slippery roads.

Rear-wheel drive has a lot of drawbacks compared to front-wheel drive. Not only does it reduce fuel economy and take up space because of the need for a driveshaft, but it also makes it harder for drivers to control the front wheels of the car on slippery roads.

What's the biggest advantage to an all-wheel drive vehicle?

Edmunds.com names the ability to better accelerate on slippery roads as the main advantage to all-wheel drive vehicles. Four-wheel and front-wheel drive don't offer this benefit.

What's the best option for people who like to travel off-road a lot?

Four-wheel drive is the optimal choice for those who spend a lot of time driving off-road. It simply outperforms all other drive options when crawling over rocks or up the side of a steep hill.

Which of these is most likely to have rear-wheel drive?

Before people were going wild for AWD and 4WD options, most pickups and SUVs came with rear-wheel drive. Passenger cars, on the other hand, traditionally came equipped with front-wheel drive.

Which of these is NOT a disadvantage of 4WD or AWD compared to front-wheel drive?

Four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles usually perform better off-road then front-wheel-drive cars. The disadvantages of 4WD and AWD include higher purchase price, more weight and lower fuel efficiency.

Which of these technologies are you most likely to find in high-end passenger cars today?

High-end sports cars sold in the 21st century typically come with all-wheel drive standard to maximize performance. For example, if you purchase a new Lamborghini, it's most likely to come equipped with AWD unless you choose a custom model of some kind.

Which of these are you most likely to find in a Jeep?

Jeeps are made to conquer off-road driving obstacles. For this type of heavy-duty off-road performance, four-wheel drive is the best option, and this technology typically comes standard in vehicles built to appeal to the outdoor community.

Which of these is an advantage to having 4WD or AWD compared to standard front-wheel drive?

No matter what you may have heard, having a vehicle equipped with 4WD or AWD doesn't offer any real advantage over a front-wheel drive car when it comes to braking. Four-and all-wheel drive help with acceleration, not braking.

When were the first mass-produced four-wheel drive cars made?

The 1971 Subaru Leone is generally considered the first mass-produced vehicle to offer four-wheel drive. Earlier four-wheel drive vehicles, like the Jensen FF, were very expensive and made in limited numbers.

Which of these gets the worst gas mileage on average?

Front-or rear-wheel drive vehicles generally get better mileage overall than 4WD or AWD. Because four-wheel drive systems are less complex than AWD, and can sometimes be switched off when not in use, 4WD gets better mileage than AWD in most cases.

Which of these is the worst option for driving on dry roads under sunny skies?

Four-wheel drive is an amazing choice for rustic camping, but not such a great option for driving to work under sunny skies. Using four-wheel drive on dry pavement can cause damage to the transmission or axles of your vehicle.

What kind of drive would you use to drive up a mountain?

While the choice is certainly up to you, you better believe that those crazy souls who spend their weekend driving their vehicles up steep rock formations are relying heavily on their four-wheel drive. Any other drive-train option just wouldn't get you very far in this type of scenario.

Which of these options would work best on icy or wet roads?

All other things being equal, all-wheel drive is your best bet for staying in control of a vehicle on a slippery road. That's because the AWD system does a lot of the work for you, automatically adjusting power among the four wheels to maximize traction and performance.

Which of these is a drawback to front-wheel drive compared to rear-wheel drive?

Rear-wheel drive comes with a higher risk of fishtailing than front-wheel drive, but also offers some significant advantages over front-wheel drive. These include longer lasting tires, less wear and tear on the drive-train over time and a tighter turning radius.

All-wheel drive will always be the safest option and you should get it if you can afford it.

According to Consumer Reports, a two-wheel drive vehicle with proper tires is perfectly adequate for standard conditions, including rain and light snow. If you frequently find yourself driving in moderate snow or heavy rain, an all-wheel-drive could be the better option.

Which of these technologies helps with braking?

Sorry, having a car with AWD or 4WD has nothing to do with braking. These technologies don't reduce stopping distance and help you stop more quickly compared to a front-wheel drive vehicle.

Which brand used the slogan "Transfers power from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip?"

Subaru has built its brand around safety, and the addition of AWD has been no exception. The company's slogan "Transferring power from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip" is actually a pretty darn good description of what all-wheel-drive systems do.

Which of these is the biggest advantage of AWD over 4WD?

The biggest advantage to an all-wheel drive system is that it provides better handling in all weather conditions. This is true not only when compared to four-wheel drive, but also to front-and rear-wheel drive.

Which of these systems is most likely to help you get your vehicle loose if it gets stuck?

If you're cruising down the beach or back roads and find yourself stuck, nothing works better than four-wheel drive for helping you free your vehicle and get on your way. A four-wheel drive is also an excellent option for heavy-duty jobs like towing.

Which of these systems can be turned on and off?

One great feature of many four-wheel drive systems is that you can turn them on and off when you need them. All-wheel drive systems cannot be switched off, which ultimately means greater fuel costs overall.

What piece of equipment distributes power between wheels on AWD and 4WD vehicles?

The difference between four-and all-wheel drive lies in a piece of equipment called the differential. Located on the axles between the wheels, this equipment determines how torque will be divided between the wheels based on whether the car has 4WD or AWD.

What's the biggest disadvantage to rear-wheel drive compared to front-wheel drive?

Vehicles equipped with rear-wheel drive, which include many trucks and SUVs, are more likely to fishtail than front-wheel drive vehicles. Fishtailing is a handling issue that occurs when the rear-wheels suffer a loss of traction.

Which of these technologies often comes with a high and low option drivers can switch between?

Many four-wheel drive systems have traditionally come with a switching option that allows that driver to switch from high to low when needed. High settings are useful on slippery roads, while low settings are incredibly beneficial when extra power is needed to traverse rocks or tricky terrain.

What technology allows wheels on AWD vehicles to spin at different rates?

All-wheel drive vehicles are equipped with a technology known as torque vectoring. Vectoring is designed to control the exact amount of torque and power that goes to each wheel. Four-wheel drive vehicles don't offer this technology, so all wheels spin at the same rate.

Which of these is sometimes referred to as a part-time system?

Four-wheel drive systems are sometimes referred to as part-time systems. That's because many can be turned on and off with the flick of a switch so they are only used when needed.

AWD can provide better handling in dry conditions.

Modern all-wheel-drive systems help with handling on slippery roads, but some can improve handling in dry conditions. This is true if the AWD system is equipped with an electromagnetic system with torque vectoring, which makes automatic adjustments to apply torque to each wheel in the safest manner possible.

You can switch off most all-wheel drive systems when you don't need them to save gas.

With traditional four-wheel drive systems, you can flick a switch to revert to two-wheel drive when you want to. With all-wheel drive, turning the system on and off isn't really an option -- the AWD is always on.

Which of these technologies was used in the earliest known cars in the 1880s?

The earliest cars, built by Benz in the 1880s, actually used rear-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive wasn't in used until the start of the 20th century.

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