AWD vs FWD: What’s the Difference?

If you’re browsing vehicles, you may notice some models, come standard with front-wheel drive (FWD), but all-wheel drive (AWD) is available for a small upcharge. To decide which option is best for you, it’s important to understand what these vehicle drivetrain types are and what is the difference between FWD and AWD.

Automakers and dealerships love to tout the all-weather capability of all-wheel drive and the additional confidence it inspires during inclement weather. But is AWD really necessary? Finding the right drivetrain option depends on your location and driving needs.

If you want a better sense of the major differences between the two systems, as well as their benefits and drawbacks, read on:

What is AWD?

As the name implies, all-wheel-drive(AWD) systems has the capability to send the engine’s power to all four tires all of the time. But in practice, there are actually two types of drivetrains that are called AWD.

One does drive all the wheels continuously, and some manufacturers refer to this type of system as full-time AWD. The second, often called part-time AWD or automatic AWD, operates most of the time in either front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, depending on the vehicle’s drive system.

It will help keep your vehicle moving forward better than front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive on snow-covered or rain-slicked roads.

In high-performance vehicles, the all-wheel drive helps transfer the engine’s torque to the ground while cornering at high speed or when launching from rest with the engine’s full oomph. Many all-wheel-drive systems seamlessly shuffle torque between the front and rear tires as needed and automatically switch to two-wheel drive when appropriate to improve fuel economy.

All-wheel drive can be used on pavement with no ill effect because it is engineered to enable each tire to rotate at its own speed in turns—inboard tires rotate slower in corners—so all-wheel drive is a better system than four-wheel drive for the average driver seeking bad-weather security.

For this reason, all-wheel drive is what you’ll find on most modern SUVs and passenger cars. It’s even increasingly offered in pickup trucks, the longtime domain of four-wheel drive.

What is FWD?

Front-wheel drive (FWD) means that the power from the engine is delivered to the front wheels. With FWD, the front wheels are pulling while the rear wheels don’t receive any power. Because of this, the vehicle gets pulled along instead of pushing, which can improve cornering and reduce any oversteer coming from the back wheels.

The pros of a FWD vehicle are that they typically get better fuel economy. Since the weight of the engine is located above the driving wheels, a FWD vehicle can maintain better traction in the snow. However, performance enthusiasts have claimed FWD vehicles are less fun to drive.

A front-drive car doesn’t need a longitudinal transmission, driveshaft, or rear differential, all of which are necessary for the rear-wheel-drive as well as some all-wheel-drive cars. By eliminating these components, you can have a flat interior floor and a lower cargo hold. The result is a roomier cabin, lighter weight, and lower energy/drivetrain losses between the engine and driven wheels.

Related Post: Is Front-Wheel Drive(FWD) Good For Snow?

AWD vs FWD: What Is the Difference?

The main difference between the AWD and FWD is how the sets of wheels get power from the engine. In FWD, the engine sends power to the front axle while in AWD, the power is transmitted to both, the front and the back axle at the same time.

FWD vehicles are generally more fuel-efficient and less expensive than AWD vehicles, but they may not provide as much traction and stability in challenging road conditions. AWD vehicles offer improved traction and stability, but they may be more expensive and less fuel-efficient.

Whether you should have AWD or FWD depends on your requirements. Do you have to use your car frequently under tough conditions? Under normal conditions, FWD can serve well. Normal conditions can include light rain and snow. AWD is the best for snow and minor off-road conditions. For severe heavy off-road conditions, 4WD is the best.

AWD Vs. FWD: What's The Difference?

AWD: Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros of AWD

AWD can offer several advantages over FWD, which only sends power to the front wheels of a vehicle.

  • Better Traction in Slippery Conditions. One of the greatest advantages of AWD vehicles is superior traction. As AWD cars turn all the wheels, they provide superior traction on challenging terrain and reduce the likelihood of a wheel slip. Superior traction and enhanced safety on icy and wet roads make AWD vehicles a true winner in places where climatic conditions are quite harsh.
  • Better Acceleration. Hand-in-hand with optimal traction comes optimal acceleration. An AWD vehicle provides power to all wheels simultaneously, which ultimately provides better acceleration. This can be useful when stopping and going in wet or snowy conditions.
  • Less Chance of Spinning When Exiting a Corner. AWD doesn’t automatically improve handling on dry pavement in and of itself. It depends on the vehicle. More and more high-powered, high-performance cars are using AWD for its ability to harness big horsepower without spinning the tires.

Cons of AWD

There are also some disadvantages to using an all-wheel drive (AWD) system in a vehicle, compared to a front-wheel drive (FWD) system. These include:

  • Reduced Fuel Efficiency. If you compare to vehicles that are otherwise identical except for their drive type, you will notice that there is a correlation between drive type and fuel economy.
  • Overconfidence. Another con comes in the form of driver over-confidence. Drivers who know they have a capable AWD system might find themselves stuck in situations they underestimate or may find they don’t know how to drive in low-traction situations as well as they thought.
  • Increased Cost and Complexity. In many cases, AWD is offered as an option, and it can raise a vehicle’s price by thousands of dollars. However, some automakers offer this feature as standard equipment—though the extra cost of AWD components (at least one extra differential, various clutches, a driveshaft, software, and more) is baked into the sticker price.
  • A False Sense of Security in Wintry Conditions. All-wheel drive is not perfect, and it’s not a silver bullet. AWD relies on computers to determine wheel slips and apply power to those tires with the best traction. Some conditions can be too tricky for the system, such as intermittent ice and snow. Hit the wrong patch of ice with too much speed, and it doesn’t matter which wheels have power, you’re going to slide and/or spin due to the very low or non-existent traction to be had.

FWD: Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros of FWD

  • Compared to vehicles of the same size and length, vehicles with FWD leave more space for people at cargo because of its lack of driveshaft, which causes an overall smaller drivetrain package.
  • The engine’s output is more efficient in FWD vehicles which means less driveline power loss and more fuel efficiency
  • The weight of FWD vehicles is primarily over the front wheels, which can assist in vehicle traction in low acceleration scenarios.

Cons of FWD

Some of the disadvantages of the front-wheel drive are:

  • Slower acceleration speed
  • Lower vehicle power and speed
  • FWD vehicles are prone to understeer due to the vehicle being quite front/nose-heavy

Our verdict is that if you are happy with a vehicle that is under 300 horsepower and you are not seeking out a sport vehicle that goes from “0-100 real quick” than an FWD vehicle could be suited for you! FWD vehicles are safe, practical and an overall good buy as long as you’re not planning on doing speed racing.

AWD vs FWD: Which Is Right for Your Family?

It’s easy to make an initial decision about whether your family needs all-wheel-drive or not. There are a few questions to ask:

  • Do you frequently encounter snow and ice in the winter?
  • Do you often need to drive up to higher altitudes?
  • Does your area get a lot of rain?
  • Do you frequently drive on gravel or dirt roads?

If the answer to those questions is no, you probably don’t need an all-wheel drive. If you answered yes to one or two questions, you should consider it. If all those conditions apply, then it’s smart to choose AWD.

Remember this: If you don’t need AWD, there’s very little reason to spend the extra money. If you do need it, you’ll be glad you spent the money to have it.

AWD vs. FWD: 5 FAQs.

Which is better FWD or AWD?

When deciding between AWD and FWD, consider your driving needs and conditions. If you frequently drive in snowy or slippery conditions, an AWD vehicle might be the better choice. On the other hand, if you primarily drive in cities or on highways, a FWD vehicle could save you money on fuel and maintenance costs.

Do you really need AWD?

There’s no question that AWD improves traction. The system allows all four wheels to spin, which can be helpful if two of them are on a slick or slippery surface. It can also be helpful if two wheels are stuck. That’s a reality that many drivers in snowy, northern climates have to face.

Is AWD safer than FWD in rain?

The AWD system adjusts the power distribution between wheels to compensate for a lack of traction. This gives it slightly better off-road capabilities than FWDs and improved performance in challenging weather conditions.

Why is FWD the best?

Front-wheel drive vehicles provide better traction in winter and slippery conditions, making them easier to steer. Front-wheel drive is usually more efficient than rear-wheel drive, increasing fuel economy. Front-wheel drive vehicles are usually easier to drive in turns.

Is AWD worth the extra money?

It depends. If you live somewhere where there is a lot of snow, mud, or other precipitation, then yes, you should get an AWD vehicle. However, if you have a FWD vehicle with the proper tires and mainly do city and highway driving, then you’ll most likely be just fine.

Is AWD more expensive to insure?

All-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) systems are more complex and costly to repair than standard front-wheel drive systems. That means your auto insurance rate may be higher for an AWD or 4WD vehicle.