In their catalogues, car manufacturers like to boast about the possibility of purchasing their various models with a 4×4 drive. Unfortunately, this term is applicable to different systems operating in different ways so it’s worth to find out what the dealer really means by saying “four-wheel drive” before you spend money.
Four-wheel drive, which means…
The first type of 4×4 drive is a full-time four-wheel drive, providing torque to the two axles simultaneously. This is possible thanks to the use of a center differential. A full-time 4×4 is used in such vehicles as Audi Allroad, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Pajero, Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Discovery.
A full-time four-wheel drive can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. A symmetrical 4×4 is used in Land Rover Defender: its torque is distributed evenly between the axles. An asymmetrical 4×4 distributes the torque between the axes as needed, using an inter-axle differential and a multiplate clutch.
The second type of four-wheel drive is controlled manually. This means that the drive can be switched manually between 2WD and 4WD. Such drive is used, for example, in Suzuki Jimny, Jeep Wrangler and Nissan Patrol, where the rear axle is always powered and the power to the front axle can be turned on. This, however, should only be utilized off-road. On a regular surface, such 4-wheel drive will rather make things harder for you than help.
The third type of four-wheel drive is switching automatically between 2WD and 4WD. It’s something between a full-time four-wheel drive and a manually controlled four-wheel drive. It’s used, among others, in Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4, Volvo AWD, Suzuki SX4, Audi A3 and BMW X5. In this mode, power is distributed full-time to one axle but when needed, with the use of a multiplate clutch, it can be automatically transmitted to the other axle, too.
What are the pros and cons of four-wheel drive?
The truth is that a car with a 4-wheel drive is, in general, more versatile than one with a 2-wheel drive and it’ll handle different road conditions better. You’ll get further with a four-wheel drive than without it, for sure, but that doesn’t mean it’ll always get you everywhere. A 4-wheel drive ensures better grip than a 2WD, but once your vehicle skids, which unfortunately can happen, it’ll be very difficult to get out of it. A vehicle with a 4×4 drive can easily move from understeer into oversteer, making it much harder to regain control over driving.
Moreover, there is no denying that 4WD cars are much more expensive than 2WD cars and the cost of their maintenance is much higher. You are also forced to visit gas stations much more often, especially if your car has a full-time four-wheel drive. Such drive makes youe vehicle heavier, which increases fuel consumption. Potential repairs are more expensive, too. Such complex systems will break sooner or later; after all, every car part does.
Therefore, the decision to buy a car with a 4×4 drive must be made for reasons of an entirely different nature. Such vehicles will come in handy for people who often move through a rough terrain, e.g. they live or work in the mountains or forests, or for tourists who regularly visit the high-altitude ski resorts.
Cars with a four-wheel drive that are available on the market
Finally, let’s take a look at the choice of new 4×4 cars. We’ve visited one of the most popular Polish car ad portals. First, we’ve checked cars with a full-time four-wheel drive:
- Audi A5, A6, A7, Q2, Q3, Q5 and Q7;
- BMW series 4, 5, 7 and X1, X3, X4, X5;
- Mercedes C-Class, E-Class and S-Class, as well as CLA, GLC, GLE and GLS;
- Volkswagen Amarok, Golf, Multivan, Tiguan, Touareg;
- Subaru Levorg, Forester, Outback and XV;
- Mini Clubman, Cooper S, Countryman;
- Jeep Grand Cherokee.
If you set the filter to only show you the cars switching between the 2WD and 4WD operating modes automatically, you’ll see such brands as BMW, Audi, Volvo, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Porsche and Honda. There’s less cars switching between the 2WD and 4WD operating modes manually. Among them, you’ll find such brands as Nissan, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Suzuki, Jeep and Hyundai.
So there’s a lot to choose from. There are also many options available on the secondary market. Remember, however, to avoid used 4×4 cars with a suspiciously low price. Low price often means that you’ll have to visit the mechanic workshop soon after purchase.