How to choose FWD, RWD or AWD

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One of the many aspects that you have to consider when choosing a car is the way the wheels are set in motion. Front-wheel, rear-wheel, or all-wheel drive?

For some, this might be an easy decision, but for others, who don’t know how to choose, it might become the cause of frustration. One major reason that makes it hard to select is, of course, the mechanics behind each option. But in the end, it all comes down to your preferred driving style.

How to choose FWD, RWD or AWD

Your choice will depend mainly on your driving habits, your performance expectations, and driving conditions. Some helpful information to make a decision follows right below.

Front-wheel drive (FWD)

PROS:

The front-wheel drive is probably the most popular and practical choice for most drivers today. Most modern sedans in the mid- and low-price range have front-wheel drives. Simply put, the front wheels are the ones moving the car forward once they are powered by the motor.

The motor in an FWD is transversely mounted. It means that the engine and the wheels have parallel rotation axes. The entire powertrain – the engine, transmission, and differential – is positioned in one unit which drives the front wheels. Such configuration allows for more efficient production and brings the FWD to a lower cost.

The FWD is less costly because it uses fewer components, which also means lower weight. Therefore, the FWD becomes more efficient. It allows for better fuel economy since it doesn’t need that much energy to power the engine.

Moreover, the FWD allows for enhanced space efficiency since all powertrain components are in one unit, which leads to more room available for passengers and cargo.

The placement of the powertrain over the driven wheels makes the vehicle more stable on wet, snowy, or icy surfaces and allows for better traction when driving uphill. It also increases the crosswind stability.

CONS:

What may bother you about FWD is the amount of work that has to be done by the front wheels. Even though it is more convenient in inclement weather conditions, the constant load that the wheels handle cause parts attached to them to wear out much sooner than those of the rear wheels.

Even though the single powertrain unit may allow for more space, it leads to uneven weight distribution, which might lead to poorer cornering performance. This disturbance of the center of gravity may be the reason why front-wheel cars understeer. Moreover, the lack of weight shifting will limit the acceleration, which is a major “no-no” if you are an enthusiast driver.

Sometimes, FWD may cause the car to veer to the left or right causing a problem known as torque steer. It happens when you accelerate and don’t get a good grip on the steering wheel. You will notice how it twists to one of the sides. From a technical perspective, this occurs due to the placement of the powertrain.

In FWD, the positioning of the transmission and the differential lead to the unequal length of the half shafts, which then react to torque loads differently. It causes one of the wheels to work more efficiently and get slightly ahead of the other, thus causing the steering wheel to turn.

FWD could be a problem for novice drivers who are not familiar with the car yet. If you are a driving enthusiast, you would also want less torque steer, so that you can go faster straight in the direction you want. The most common technique that drivers use to deal with the problem is to tune the power-steering program to compensate or hide the effect.

Rear-wheel drive (RWD)

PROS:

Pickups and old-school, truck-based SUVs are the most common cars with rear-wheel drive. Car enthusiasts know that most high-performance cars and sports cars also have RWD. In these cars, it is the rear wheels that move the vehicle, while the front ones provide steering.

The biggest advantage of rear-wheel drive is the balance of the weight across the whole body of the car. RWD cars have almost perfectly even weight distribution because of the front-mounted engine and the rear-mounted transmission and differential.

This allows for higher durability and reliability, especially in trucks and heavy-load vehicles. The heavier the load, the greater the traction. Car enthusiasts should opt for an RWD when they are insisting on higher engine outputs.

Acceleration is also better in cars with RWD because the front wheels lose grip quickly and allow the rear ones to gain more. The more you accelerate, the more traction the rear wheels get, which allows for even more acceleration.

Also, the RWD provides an improved cornering response and more stable braking performance. All because of the even weight on all wheels.

CONS:

Because there is never enough room for your legs. Leg room is probably the disadvantage of RWD that everyone in the car can feel.  The transmission tunnel and the drive shaft take up interior space that is available for all passengers who are in an FWD. Also, the drive shaft which connects the engine at the front with the drive axle in the back adds weight. The trunk space is decreased as well because of the components that go into the back of the vehicle.

Since the car is pushed, rather than pulled, it is more difficult to operate on low grip surfaces. Since the rear wheels don’t carry as much weight as the front, it will be easier for the rear wheels to spin, possibly causing the car to fishtail. Thankfully, electronic systems today are capable of dealing with most of the disadvantages of RWD. Stability and traction control are only two of the many functions that make the driver feel more comfortable in an RWD.

As a whole, RWD gives the driver a higher degree of control, but at the same time, it is harder to master. Even though technology has taken away some of the driver’s responsibility, the RWD still feels less intuitive to many. This is why RWD is better for more experienced drivers. There is no surprise that NASCAR race cars all have RWD, after all.

All-wheel drive (AWD)

PROS:

It seems that the AWD solves many of the problems that one can experience with FWD and RWD. Most AWD cars started either from an FWD arrangements or an RWD platform and had been transformed to transmit power to all four wheels at all times. Because of the difference in the basis of the system, there are numerous designs of AWD that vary by manufacturers. This is why different AWD models have different advantages.

In terms of acceleration, the AWD is definitely your best choice. It allows for quickest start with almost no slip. It requires virtually no effort from the driver since the system automatically sets all wheels in motion as soon as the car starts.

CONS:

One of the biggest disadvantages of the AWD is its cost. We can’t expect to have a great solution at a lower price, right? It requires tons of sensors and computerization to create the AWD, which makes the whole system quite complex and expensive. Moreover, this means that maintenance costs will also be more pricey.

You can’t have four wheels in motion at the same time without having enough power to get them going. This requires more fuel than the two-wheel drive vehicles, and thus makes the AWD less fuel efficient.

The weight of the AWD also adds to the amounts of fuel necessary to set the whole system to motion. Even though it makes the vehicle more stable, the weight is a factor that affects its braking distance too. Once all wheels are in motion, it makes it harder to stop them. If the vehicle is heavier, a collision is more likely to occur.

AWDs are highly appreciated for their performance features, in particular, their good acceleration. Experienced drivers, however, might be better off with either an FWD or an RWD, because AWD vehicles are more difficult to manipulate.

This is a classical trade-off case – you either have the convenience or the fuel efficiency, you either have the acceleration, or the safety and stability. So think about all that when choosing and buying a new car. It feels like this is just another sign that sometimes you just can’t have everything.

 

Vehicle Type Advantages Disadvantages
FWD Practical & less expensive

Fuel economy

Space efficiency

Good traction, less slippery

Uneven weight distribution

Front wheels wear

Understeer

Torque steer

Costly maintenance

RWD Better traction with heavy loads

Better braking performance

Acceleration

Cornering response

Less costly maintenance

Increased weight

Less stability on slippery roads

Fishtail

Less interior space

More expensive

AWD Better traction

Acceleration

Convenience

Higher price

Increased weight

Lower fuel efficiency

If you can’t find your dream car locally, consider looking for one online. Your perfect FWD, RWD or AWD may be waiting for you across the state lines. Not sure how to get it home? Worry no more, get in touch with Corsia Logistics and let one of our auto transport experts explain how easy it is to move a car between any locations in the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska.

You can always reach us at (818) 850-5258 or request a quote online.

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About the Author:

Dilyana Dobrinova is a nature & travel enthusiast. With a heart for books, scarves and vintage. She runs a brand consulting agency, while also running 10Ks between meetings. Dilyana holds an M.A. in International Marketing Management from the Berlin School of Economics and Law in Germany, and two B.As. in Journalism & Mass Communication and in Business Administration from AUBG.
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