Is All Wheel Drive Better Than Front Wheel Drive?


The drivetrain is one of the most important components of a vehicle. There are so many differences between all-wheel and front wheel drivetrains, and the one you go for will depend on your driving needs. You may want a car that only drives you on the highway and takes you from home to the office and back. 

Or you may need a performance car that you can drive for a long distance. When you consider all your driving needs and the driving conditions, you will know the drivetrain to choose. Below, I describe the two options in length. 

Is All Wheel Drive Better Than Front Wheel Drive?

Yes. When you need more traction and better performance to tackle regular winter and light off-roading, then an all-wheel drive system comes in handy. However, the front-wheel system also has its advantages, especially when you never venture off the road, and you live in an area where winters are mild.

The main difference between these two systems is that in an all-wheel drive system, the differentials send torque to all the wheels at the same time while in a front wheel drive, power only goes to the front axle. The amount of torque that goes to the wheels in an all-wheel drive system might be different for the rear and front wheels, but the wheels receive the power at the same time.

The front-wheel drive system will have less traction, but it will still drive smoothly where traction and extra power are not needed. 

When Do You Need Front-Wheel Drive?

A front-wheel drive system sends all power to your front wheels through the front axle. In an electric or hybrid vehicle, one or two motors might be used to send torque to the wheels.

The front-wheel drive system is less expensive as it only features a simple mechanism. If you need an affordable option, this system will meet your needs. You will spend less on repairs, maintenance, and replacements. 

Labor costs when you are repairing a front–wheel drive system are low and so are the components. Further, the system is lighter and these cars have a better fuel economy, so you will spend less money on gas every day. The high fuel economy and the less repair costs mean that you will have less to pay in the long run when you buy a front-wheel drive system.

When you need more room, the front-wheel drive system leaves the vehicle roomier. Unlike an all-wheel drive that has transmission systems on the floor of the rear seats, the front-wheel drive system offers more legroom for the rear seats. Better still, since the system is at the front side of the vehicle, automakers can engineer the space ergonomically to offer a comfortable ride.

When you need to climb hills, a front-wheel drive system offers more traction than an all-wheel drive one. This is so as the engine exerts its weight over the front wheels. This makes it crucial to understand the terrain you will drive on when picking the drivetrain of your choice. 

If you drive in dry weather, a front-wheel drive system will give you the traction and performance you need to drive. You can drive your vehicle in light snow, the system will not offer you much if you live in an area where winters are constant. 

When Should You Go for an All-Wheel Drive System?

In an all-wheel drive system, the engine splits power between the front and rear axles. The two axles may not get the same amount of power and two wheels in an axle may not get equal power. Some all-wheel drive systems have torque vectoring, which regulates the amount of power that goes to each wheel.

The main advantage of this system is that all wheels have power and if one loses traction, the others will help keep the vehicle on the road. It is not as powerful as a four-wheel drive system, but it offers enough traction for light winter driving. 

There are several all-wheel setups depending on the automaker and car model. Some vehicles offer full-time AWD where the engine continuously sends power to the wheels. Others offer part-time AWD, where the system will act as a 2WD until more traction is needed and AWD is engaged. 

You can have a part-time AWD system when you need the fuel-economy advantage of a FWD most of the time and the traction and power of an AWD only occasionally. These systems have sensors and a computer that decides when to switch between 2WD and AWD. As such, the driver doesn’t have to decide when to make the switch. 

The all-wheel drive system, regardless of the setup, improves traction significantly. You can use the system when you need to drive in the rain, snow, or slippery grounds off-road. If you ever want to drive beyond the pavement or your FWD system doesn’t offer enough power, you can go for an all-wheel drive system. 

The system can drive through shallow creeks, small rocks, and tree branches. You will spend more on fuel, repairs, maintenance, and initial buying costs, but the system will meet most of your needs. 

Is All Wheel Drive Better Than Front Wheel Drive in Fuel Efficiency?

No. All-wheel drive systems will use more energy than FWD systems. 

Engines generate rotational energy, which rotates the wheels of your vehicle. If the energy has to travel a long distance to make the wheels turn, the system becomes less efficient. The most efficient system is a traverse engine located next to the axle that needs power. 

Here, the power travels a short distance and the system is more efficient. A front-wheel drive system is, therefore, more efficient than an all-wheel drive system. 

In a front-wheel drive system, the shafts that connect the axle to the engine add inertia, and that can slow down the rotational energy of the vehicle. This can cause the vehicle to use more energy to transfer energy to the wheels than the wheels use. Nevertheless, the front-wheel drive system still consumes less energy than an all-wheel drive system. 

Which System is More Space-Efficient?

The front-wheel drive system is more space-efficient. When you need comfortable rear seating and more space, the FWD system offers you that. People with families and those who travel a lot over the weekend will need more space. 

FWD systems have a traverse engine placed on the axle to save on space. In the cabin, the system will not have any shafts, transmissions, and other components protruding. This means no part of the engine is in the cabin, and you have more space to yourself. 

The all-wheel drive system has differentials and shafts that protrude into the cabin. The floor space in your car will be limited with raised parts to accommodate the transfer case and other parts.

Which System Offers More Traction?

The AWD system offers more traction. Traction allows you to drive safely on slippery ground. You may not need traction when you drive on dry ground, but when it rains, traction comes in handy

A FWD system offers more traction when you drive up a hill. The weight of the axle and other components of the engine exert pressure on the wheels, adding to the traction. The undriven axle has less weight, which makes this an ideal safety mechanism. 

In an AWD system, all the four wheels hold grip on the road as they all receive power from the engine. The AWD systems are also heavier to further increase the traction. 

When you drive in a straight line, the FWD with a light undriven axle, makes you safe. If you drive in a curved road, the FWD system is less efficient. It is also less efficient when you drive fast or when you need agile handling. 

When you need better handling, driving off-road, spins, and high-performance driving, the all-wheel drive is a better option. The FWD doesn’t have enough friction in every wheel. As such, the longitudinal acceleration reduces force when you are taking a turn. 

When power dissipates during turning, powering out in a curved road becomes hard and less successful. You will feel less satisfied when you take a turn with a FWD than you would with an AWD. When you need more engine power and better handling, you are better off with a rear wheel drive or an all-wheel drive. 

The AWD system is more adapted to perform in adverse weather conditions. If you live in an area where the weather is rough, you are better off with an AWD vehicle and not FWD. In areas of the country where the weather is adverse, AWDs are very common. 

For icy roads, deep snow, and heavy rain, pick an AWD system. If you need to use FWD vehicles in areas with adverse weather conditions, you need to fit them with winter tires. Even then, they will still not perform as well as AWD systems.

The challenge with fitting winter tires is that they will get damaged when the roads are plowed. The tires are also noisy, and you need to store them after the winter. 

Which System is Better for Acceleration and Safety?

All-wheel drive systems use all their power to produce acceleration. The mass of a car, its friction, and inertia affect the acceleration of a vehicle. The all-wheel drive system generates all these, and this makes the system relatively less fast during acceleration.

This means that a FWD vehicle fitted with summer tires will likely outperform an AWD vehicle with all-season tires.

Front-wheel drive systems are safer in most conditions. The system has its engine on the front axle, so all the energy and the power goes to the axle and the wheels with no waste. 

When driving on slippery grounds, breaking the traction under power with a FWD system can result in understeering. In a rear-wheel drive, breaking traction under power can result in oversteering. These two conditions can cause the car to swerve in different directions. 

Understeering is safer than oversteering as the vehicle will slide further in the driven direction. AWD vehicles send power to both the front and rear axles. This means that they can break traction at any of the two axles, and this can make the driving condition more dangerous. 

However, automakers can locate the engine in the crash zone just ahead of the passengers to make the system safer. 

AWD systems also have a neutral weight balance and do not result in inertia that can cause oversteering or understeering. This way, if an AWD or RWD system has a mid-engine, it is safer than a FWD system. 

AWD vs. FWD: Up-Front and Maintenance Costs

FWD systems are cheaper compared to AWD systems. The lower cost is due to the low number of components used to manufacture the vehicle. When creating an AWD system, there are more components and more labor required, and this means a higher cost. 

AWD cars have differentials, which distribute power to all the four wheels while FWDs do not have these parts. Today, it is easy to create 2WD systems that can update to AWD system and FWD systems that can update to AWD. You will only need to add a few components, and you are good to go. 

Car maintenance is costly. Some of the maintenance costs that you incur include oil changes, tire replacements, engine checks, and replacing wiper blades. Tire changes and engine checks will depend on whether your car is AWD or FWD. 

AWD vehicles are heavier, so they weigh more on the tires and hence cause more damage. You will replace tires more if you drive an AWD vehicle. Repairs are more costly when you drive an AWD than when you have a FWD vehicle. 

The engine in an AWD system takes more toll and is costlier to repair. However, the FWD vehicle takes more beating on the physical parts. If you drive both a FWD and an AWD vehicle in icy conditions, the FWD vehicle will take more beating in its physical aspect. 

AWD vs. FWD: Resale Value and Performance

FWDs will cost you less to buy and maintain. They help you get more legroom. FWD systems have many advantages over the AWD systems except on performance and traction. 

Looking at it, you might think the FWD system is better in every aspect, but there is still so much that the AWD offers. For instance, the AWD system holds its value for many years after purchase. Ten years after, the vehicle will still offer you more value than the FWD system

The AWD system is safer and offer power than the FWD. The higher cost of buying and maintaining an AWD system will help you in the long run if you ever need to trade your vehicle or resell it. 

Which Car Runs Better Between an AWD and a FWD? 

Both these vehicles will run smoothly in different conditions. Your driving style and the driving conditions will determine which car drives better. When driving on the highway and uphill, the FWD system will perform better. 

When you venture off the road, the AWD system will perform better. 

Which System Should You Choose? AWD or FWD?

Both these systems have their pros and cons. The AWD system is what you need if you live in an area with adverse weather. Because power goes to all the wheels, the vehicle has more traction, and it drives better on slippery terrain. 

However, the AWD system will consume more fuel, it is more expensive to buy, and will cost you more to maintain. Even then, it is still a better option if performance is what you are looking for.

There are still conditions where the AWD system will not meet your needs. If you live in an area with deep snow and huge rocks, the AWD system may still not deliver. This is where you need a 4X4 or 4WD system. 

The FWD is more fuel efficient than the AWD system, and this makes it ideal for daily driving. If you only drive on the highway and in dry conditions, you need this system as it will save you money. You will pay less in initial costs and maintenance, and you will also have more cabin space. 

The choice will depend on your preferences, driving conditions, and environmental conditions.

Closing Thoughts 

When shopping for a vehicle, you need to compare the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems in relation to your needs. While at it, do not forget about the other two systems; the RWD and the 4WD. If neither the AWD nor the FWD can meet your needs, then you need to consider the other two. 

If you need the best of both worlds, you can pick a part-time AWD system. This is a system that converts to a 2WD system (can be RWD or FWD) when you do not need traction. The system has sensors and a computer that detects changes in the driving conditions. 

With such a system, you will enjoy high fuel efficiency most of the time and better traction when driving on slippery ground. 

Kern Campbell

I've had a passion for four-wheel-drive vehicles since I was a kid riding in the back seat of my Grandfather's Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I have owned a lot of vehicles over the years. They each have their pros and cons and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you so you can find the vehicle that's just right for your needs.

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