Difference Between AWD and 4*4 technology

Four-wheel drive technology or 4WD has a history almost as long as the history of internal combustion engine-powered cars. The technology since 1903 Spyker 60-HP, the world’s first 4WD, has developed by leaps and bounds. The technology that was initially limited to commercial and military vehicles, has now filtered down into mass-produced cars. The luxury brand Range Rover has built a legacy for itself based on this technology alone. These days, the 4WD technology is not limited to the heavy and clunky manual system that compromised the transfer case. The technology has separated into several branches and now has become more sophisticated and polished. AWD or all-wheel-drive system is the next generation system based on the old 4WD technology, that primarily aims at providing maximum grip over large road surface levels. There are many debates over all-wheel drive vs 4×4, let us understand the difference between them better in this article.

“Rock Corps 4X4 Toyota Rock Crawler (Marion Cruise-in July 2016)” by @CarShowShooter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

AWD and 4WD- the difference

Though on paper, they might be theoretically doing the same job, mechanically, they are poles apart. The 4WD system can send torque to all the wheels of the vehicle, but it does so in a manual fashion, where the user has to activate the system himself. In the AWD system, the job is done automatically by the system, which is based on many sensors in the car. The 4WD systems are bulkier and more complex, as they have a separate transfer case, through which you can select low range and high range. The transfer case is missing in the case of the AWD system. AWD systems at best can divide the torque between the front and rear axles, not multiply it. 4WD drive systems being more robust, they are mostly used in heavy commercial and hardcore off-roading conditions. The AWD system is best suited for a more urban environment and light off-roading.   

Which system is the best?

Now when it comes to the question of which system is the best between the 4WD and AWD, there cannot be a straight answer. The loyal fans of both systems can debate on all wheel drive vs 4×4 topics all day long, but the truth of the matter is that each system is suited for a different set of circumstances. For example, 4WD has a low range, so it can be used for hardcore off-roading including rock crawling, deep mud/slush, and nonexistent roads. AWD on the other hand is focused more on providing greater road grip when the road conditions become slippery due to the weather and other environmental factors such as snow and heavy rains. They are also used to provide maximum grip during cornering and other demanding road maneuvers. So the question boils down to the requirement of the user, both the systems cannot be used interchangeably and both have their unique advantages.

Do you need an AWD or 4WD system?

This question also depends upon the personal requirements of the road user. If you live in a remote area where the roads are demanding or are nonexistent, then you need a 4WD vehicle. Or if you live in an urban environment and face harsh weather conditions such as snow and heavy rains, then you can choose the AWD system. However, if your driving includes a normal urban commute, that doesn’t face any challenge, then do not waste money by going for these systems. Some people just want to have maximum technology packed in their vehicle, or it appeals to the macho looks of the car. These systems will consume more fuel and will be heavy on maintenance too. The systems are there to assist you on the road and cannot make you invincible on the road, and you still have to respect the basic rules of physics.


So in conclusion, the difference between AWD and 4WD technology is a massive one. But we can’t say that one system is inherently better than the other system as both of them have different benefits and uses, and they cannot be interchanged with each other. When it comes to all wheel drive vs 4×4 debate, both are the winners, actually. Both of the systems provide torque to all wheels but mechanically, they are different. The requirement of the user will determine which system is best for the user.