What Is the Difference Between 4-Wheel-Drive and All-Wheel-Drive?

August 14th, 2020 by

A new Chevy SUV, a gray 2021 Chevy Suburban Z71, is driving on a highway near Indianapolis, IN.

When it comes to looking at Chevy SUVs or any other cars on the road, many people begin to wonder about the different drivetrain options. Front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive are pretty self-explanatory, but what is the difference between 4-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive? Are they the same? Is one better than the other? In simple terms, the difference between 4-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive is that 4-wheel-drive uses a transfer case, and all-wheel-drive uses a differential; they distribute power differently. But there is so much more to it than that, so today, we at Blossom Chevy in Indianapolis, IN, are going to tell you everything you want and need to know about these different powertrains.

What Is All-Wheel-Drive?

An all-wheel-drive (AWD) drivetrain has been enhanced for on-road performance. It can send the power produced by the engine to all four tires consistently. So for those who live in a state that experiences frequent rain or snow, AWD is much better for the overall performance of your vehicle than FWD or RWD.

You will also frequently see AWD systems used in high-performance vehicles. This is because this particular drivetrain will efficiently transfer the torque from the engine to the road during the initial launch and high-speed cornering. Most AWD systems also can change the amount of torque sent to the front and back tires seamlessly. It can also revert to a two-wheel-drive (2WD) system when necessary. This helps to improve the overall fuel economy of the vehicle.

As we mentioned before, AWD is best for use on roads. This is because each individual tire can rotate at its own speed while coming into contact with solid, level ground. And because of this, most Chevy SUVs come with an AWD option.

What Is 4-Wheel-Drive?

On the other hand, 4-wheel-drive (4WD) is primarily designed for off-road use. Since 4WD is a part-time system, the driver needs to shift into and out of 4WD. This can be done by pulling a lever, pushing a button, or even turning a knob. It depends on the vehicle. It works by locking the front and rear driveshafts together. This forces both axles to turn at the same speed. In other words, the tires will not be functioning individually, like with the AWD system.

A 4WD system is best used in off-roading vehicles and trim levels because it slows the SUV to conquer snow, mud, and even sand easily. With a 4WD system, torque will always be sent from the engine to at least one front tire and one back tire. There is no need for a computer program to detect wheel-slip either, which means that a 4WD system is best for super-slippery surfaces as well. More power will be sent to the tires so that the vehicle stays firmly planted to the ground during the drive.

Remember, 4WD is not really designed to be used on paved roads. It was made specifically for off-roading and uneven/rough terrain.

A red 2021 Chevy Trailblazer is driving on a rocky path.

AWD vs 4WD

The main difference between AWD and 4WD is how the wheels rotate. Turning on a paved road requires all the tires to rotate at varying speeds. An AWD system allows this action to happen seamlessly. This is due to either the clutch-pack coupling or the center differential located between the root and back axles. Meanwhile, a 4WD system locks the front and back driveshafts so that they cannot rotate at varying speeds. In other words, you can’t turn very well with 4WD in use.

If you try turning in a circle while using 4WD, the driveline will seize up, causing a hard shudder sound and feel. You might even feel the front tire jump or hear them give off a chirping sound. This type of driveline stress will wear the tires out unevenly. It can also result in low-grip on slick, paved surfaces, which can cause you to spin out of control. This is very dangerous, so it is important to remember that 4WD is mainly intended for off-roading.

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

If you live in an area that experiences frequent inclement weather and you also enjoy off-raiding on the weekends, then you will be happy to know that you can find many Chevy SUVs that have the best of both worlds. Chevy offers some SUVs with AWD and some SUVs with 4WD. This means that you get to choose which best suits your driving style. So let’s break it down and look at which vehicle comes with which drivetrain to cut down on the confusion.

Chevy SUVs with AWD:

  • 2020 Chevrolet Trailblazer
  • 2020 Chevrolet Trax
  • 2020 Chevrolet Blazer
  • 2020 Chevrolet Equinox
  • 2020 Chevrolet Traverse

Chevy SUVs with 4WD:

  • 2020 Chevrolet Suburban
  • 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe

Notice that the compact and mid-size SUVs are the models with the AWD option. If you are in the market for a smaller crossover that can still handle a bit of off-roading, you have to choose a trim level optimized for handling rough terrain.

The 2020 Chevrolet Blazer, for example, has three different engines to choose from and two drivetrains. You can opt for the standard model with FWD, but that won’t do much for you during inclement weather or off-roading. However, if you choose either the turbocharged 2.0-liter or the 3.6-liter V6 engines with AWD, these will be much better for your driving needs.

You should look particularly close at the RS and Premier trims. They both come with the Advanced Twin-Clutch system, which essentially acts as a 4WD system. It works by independently transferring torque to either the left or right wheels for the best traction. This means that you don’t have to get a full-size SUV just to go off-roading on the weekends. You can manage these adventures with a smaller vehicle as well.

A red 2020 Chevy Blazer RST is driving on a city street.

The Limits of AWD and 4WD

Have you ever seen a large truck or SUV on the side of an icy, snow-laden road and wondered how they got there? Well, one common misconception about AWD and 4WD is that they can help you get out of an ice-covered ditch during poor road conditions. This, unfortunately, is not the case.

AWD and 4WD systems send power to all four tires. That means that they are more useful for accelerating over slippery surfaces because they provide twice the amount of torque that a 2WD system offers. That won’t do you any good once you’ve lost control of the vehicle or gotten stuck in the snow. The AWD and 4WD systems also have no benefit for stopping on slippery road conditions. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see 4×4 pickup trucks in the snowy ditch. The driver gets excited about the control they have over the slippery road, but they don’t think about how they are going to stop.

For the best performance on ice and snow, you’ll need to get a set of winter tires to go with your AWD or 4WD vehicle. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need to switch to your all-terrain tires when you want to go back to off-roading. AWD and 4WD do help in rough conditions, but a good set of tires will help your vehicle perform even better.

Finding the Right Chevy

There is a difference between 4WD and AWD, and it can largely impact your driving. So if you want to further explore the AWD and 4WD Chevy SUVs, head over to our dealership here in Indianapolis, IN. Our experts here at Blossom Chevy will be more than happy to explain the difference to you and let you take one out for a spin!

Posted in Chevy SUVs