AWD vs. 4WD vs. FWD vs. RWD: What’s the Difference?

A car’s drivetrain is a sophisticated system that helps power the wheels with the energy coming from the engine.  The type of drivetrain will determine how well the car accelerates, how fuel-efficient it is, and how well it can handle under different driving scenarios. There are four main drivetrains to consider when buying a new car. Let’s take a look at the differences between them.

What is Front-Wheel Drive?

Front-wheel drive (FWD) is used on many cars, small SUVs, and crossovers. Power from the engine is sent to the front wheels, which pull the vehicle down the road. The back wheels don’t receive any power with this system.

Because a FWD vehicle is lighter, you can expect better fuel economy. This system also allows for decent traction in mildly slippery conditions because the engine weight sits over the front wheels. With all of the equipment located in the front, there’s also no need for a drivetrain hump inside the cabin which allows for flat floors in the back seat.

What is Rear-Wheel Drive?

Rear-wheel drive (RWD) is another form of two-wheel drive, working opposite of front-wheel drive. This system sends all of the engine power to the rear wheels, pushing the vehicle where it needs to go. When you accelerate, the weight gets transferred rearward, helping to boost some traction in dryer conditions.

RWD usually has a more even weight distribution, resulting in better handling and balance. It can also increase towing capability and payload capacity, which is why it’s often offered as standard with pickup trucks and featured in max towing configurations.

What is All-Wheel Drive?

All-wheel drive (AWD) is found on a variety of vehicles, from SUVs to sports cars. In this configuration, the drivetrain will supply power to all four of the wheels at the same time. As one wheel begins slipping, the other three have the ability to step in and help.

The majority of all-wheel-drive systems deliver power evenly to the front and rear axles, but some more sporting brands bias the power to the rear to contribute to handling and sport characteristics. Furthermore, many current AWD systems use electronic torque vectoring to sense which wheels to send power to successfully complete driving maneuvers.

What is Four-Wheel Drive?

You will find four-wheel drive (4WD, 4X4) offered on many of today’s SUVs and trucks. 4X4 vehicles generally offer the benefits of four driven wheels with some added functionality of driver selection. The default mode in many of these systems is rear-wheel-drive, with a lever or button enabling four-wheel-drive. Furthermore, a number of full-size trucks and more off-road centric vehicles like Toyota’s 4Runner offer their 4X4 systems with a transfer case, allowing further gear reduction and manipulation of engine power to access steep grades and even more traction-limited situations.


Which type will you choose for your next car? With OneRequest’s proprietary search feature, you can filter results by AWD/4WD, FWD, and RWD, as well as fuel type, fuel economy, and number of engine cylinders, to find the car that meets your requirements. Search for your new car with OneRequest today!

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