It’s easy to get overwhelmed when shopping for a new car. For example, if you don’t know the difference between front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel drive, and four-wheel-drive, how can you know which car will suit you best?

Front Wheel, Rear Wheel, and Four Wheel Drive Cars

All about front wheel drive

Where better to start than in the front of your car? To allow for front wheel drive (FWD), automotive manufacturers secure a front wheel drive car’s powerplant (also referred to as the powertrain) underneath a car’s front hood to keep it closer to the drivetrain

Thanks to this positioning and the shorter axles connecting the powertrain to the wheels, your car doesn’t have to use as much petrol to turn, accelerate, or otherwise respond to obstacles on the road.

 When did front wheel drive cars find their popularity? Around 1970, automotive manufacturers realized that by shrinking a car’s drivetrain, they could ensure faster acceleration, traction and roadway safety. Not only that, but front wheel drive lightens your car, allowing it to accelerate more quickly and efficiently.

Front wheel drive vehicles aren’t perfect though. If the axles connecting the powertrain to your front tyres are offset, or you’re trying to make a sharp turn, one tyre may start to pull ahead of the other. This, called torque steer, makes your vehicle more difficult and even dangerous to drive on the road. 

Similarly, FWD cars don’t have as tight of turn radii as rear wheel or other wheel drive vehicles do. This means that it may be a little more difficult for you to avoid an accident while driving in a highly congested area.

Rear wheel drive: the basics

Unlike front wheel drive vehicles, rear wheel drive vehicles (RWD) keep their powertrains away from their drivetrains. This makes RWD cars heavier than FWD vehicles, but it also improves standing-start performance. You’ll accelerate much more quickly from a dead stop in a rear wheel car than you will in a front wheel car – so long, that is, as the weather’s nice. 

You won’t have to deal with issues like torque steer, either. Rear wheel drive vehicles are much beloved by rally drivers and international racers for this extra dose of control.

 However, an RWD vehicle comes with its own set of downsides. These cars are notably less fuel-efficient than their front wheel cousins. You’ll also lose interior space to the necessary driveshaft and rear differential.

For best performance, you’ll want to drive a rear wheel vehicle when the weather’s good. Their control on dry roads can’t be matched. Should it start raining though, you may want to head back to your garage. RWDs are prone to fishtailing, and without the help of front wheel control, you may find yourself sliding off the road

Four wheel and all wheel drive

If you’re not interested in compromising when it comes to control, then you’re going to want a car with four wheel drive. Both four wheel and all wheel drive vehicles equally disperse a car’s power between all of its wheels. That doesn’t mean, however, that four wheel drive and all wheel drive systems are the same. 

All wheel drive vehicles, for example, constantly provide power to all of your axles. Comparatively, a four wheel drive vehicle will disengage depending on your driving style, directing power to where it’s most needed.

 That said, both types of car are ideal if you want to go off-road for the first time. Four wheel drive vehicles and all wheel drive vehicles don’t blink when faced with rain-covered roads. While the distribution of the powertrain will make your car heavier and less fuel-efficient, you’ll have more control over your car as you drive and more power in case you ever want to tow a trailer or boat.  

Four wheel and all wheel drive

Which drive should you work with?

Obviously, 4x4 cars can overcome the downsides of both rear and front wheel vehicles, right? Not necessarily. Then which division of power will serve you best?

In the end, it comes down to what kind of environment you live in and what kind of power you want to commit to. Weighing the pros and cons, it shakes down like this:

Front Wheel Drive (FWD) Cars

  • Pros: these cars perform beautifully in all kinds of weather and lower your petrol costs.
  • Cons: the turn radii on FWD cars are lacking and there’s a risk of torque steering if your axles fall out of alignment. 

Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) Cars

  • Pros: if you’re looking to accelerate quickly without turn radii limitations, then rear-wheel drive vehicles will suit you well.
  • Cons: there’s a risk of fishtailing if you drive in the rain.

Four Wheel (4x4) and All-Wheel Drive Cars

  • Pros: these cars conquer roadway obstacles and off-road adventures without breaking a sweat thanks to their power distribution and flexible suspension systems.
  • Cons: you’re going to have to commit to an SUV or equally-large car, as four-wheel and all-wheel features demand the extra space. Your petrol costs will also increase.

What’s the takeaway, then?

 If you’re looking for a car to drive in the city, front wheel and rear wheel vehicles will serve you well. Drivers looking to lower their petrol costs will benefit from the efficiency of a front wheel vehicle, whereas drivers looking to take to the roads for fun will prefer rear wheel cars. Any driver looking to spend more time off-road than on-road will need four wheel or all wheel drive.