What's The Difference Between AWD & 4WD?

Subaru AWD System
Subaru AWD System in the rain

The lines between AWD and 4WD have been blurred slightly since over the years both systems have become more sophisticated and the difference between them may not always be clear since the terminology can be confusing.

However, the main distinction between the two systems is that all-wheel drive systems send power to both the front and rear wheels all the time while four-wheel drive also sends torque to all four wheels but allows for selectable settings. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but with these systems becoming more advanced, some of the disadvantages may not be as much of an issue as in the past.

Let's run through what each drivetrain system offers and how to decide between them.

Four-Wheel Drive

Four-wheel drive is generally associated with off-roading vehicles because they allow for more fine-tuning. 4WD systems come in either full-time or part-time types. Full-time 4WD means that all four wheels are receiving power on a continuous basis. Some full-time 4WD systems allow you to choose how the power is distributed to the front and rear axles by using selectable modes.

Part-time 4WD is the more traditional type, allowing the model to drive in a two-wheel drive mode and then change into 4WD at a push of a button or a lever shift. Some models allow the driver to lock the differentials for extra traction while off-roading.

The four-wheel drive system's high and low ranges allow the driver to use their discretion when driving in certain conditions. The high range is best used in slippery conditions that involve snow, ice, loose sand, or gravel. The low range is helpful to maximize traction during off-roading.

Four-wheel drive is generally a top pick for those that like to do extreme off-roading since there is more room for customization. However, if you are used to everyday driving with the occasional rough patch and don't have much experience with selectable 4WD modes, then this drivetrain may be more difficult to handle.

With the part-time 4WD, you may run the risk of running into slippery conditions when you weren't expecting it, too.

All-Wheel Drive

Subaru WRX STI AWD System
Subaru WRX STI AWD System

All-wheel drive systems generally operate with no driver input even though there are some selectable modes on certain models. All-wheel drive systems use features like multiplate clutches, viscous couplings, and a series of differentials to optimize traction and help to distribute power. You can expect to find full-time and part-time options for all-wheel drivetrains as well.

When you have a full-time AWD system, both front and rear axels are sent torque and power all the time to improve the vehicle's traction in both dry and slippery conditions. In part-time, the all-wheel drive system will use other systems to sense a loss of traction or slippery conditions by using electronic sensors. The system will automatically engage the other wheels when the situation calls for it.

The great thing about all-wheel drive systems is that you don't have to make any decisions about switching between modes or determining the right range for the right driving conditions. The advanced systems and sensors can determine the best use of the drivetrain for you. You will have less choice, but unless you're an off-road driver that prefers the customization, AWD could be best for you.

What is Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive?

Subaru Symmetrical AWD System
Subaru Symmetrical AWD System

The Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system earned its name because the powertrain is symmetrically laid out in a straight line. This allows for an even distribution of weight and balance for all four wheels. This also helps to reduce inertia so that turning and braking are easy and handling is better. The power conduction is smoother as well since the engine, transmission, and transfer case are all lined up.

With the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system's superior balance and design, you can expect more torque and traction when you need it as well as better handling.

If you want to learn more about the cutting-edge traction and stability features for our Subaru inventory, just browse our selection or speak with our sales team!

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