Let’s just get one thing straight from the start: AWD is not equal to 4WD. An all-wheel drive system is almost always constantly engaged, controlling power and torque distribution to each wheel through electronics. Four-wheel drive systems, however, can be disengaged and engaged with a lever or a button, and are mostly used on larger, off-road capable SUVs and pickups. AWD systems are usually reserved for manufacturers like Subaru and Audi.
Now with that out of the way, we can delve deeper into the real topic. Although the answer may seem simple at first, it’s anything but.
Despite what you heard on the internet, all-wheel drive systems do have their drawbacks, not just pros.
It all depends on the situation and the application. What you, the user, intend to do with the car has more to do with whether you need all-wheel drive or not rather than anything else. With that said, there will always be a debate about this, no matter how many arguments and counter-arguments people shout.
The first and most obvious pro is, naturally, the added safety an all-wheel drive system offers. Come rain or shine, AWD offers significantly more traction than 2WD when it comes to accelerating and cornering. Good tires are still the biggest factor, but AWD certainly plays its role in it. Then there’s the matter of security. One great thing about all-wheel drive systems, despite their slight understeering tendencies, is that they’re predictable and inspire confidence in the driver. Often that can be more important than actually providing any more usable grip and traction.
Come winter time an all-wheel drive equipped car is less likely to get stuck compared to a two-wheel drive equivalent. Double the amount of driven wheels, double the chances that you won’t get banked in snow deeper than a few inches.
AWD Vehicles cost more to buy initially, regardless if you’re buying new or used. They also require more maintenance since you’re actually dealing with double the driveshafts, half axles and any other drivetrain components sending power to the other two wheels. That’s before you factor in the complexity advanced AWD setups bring. Be aware that they’re not easy nor cheap to fix. If anything major goes bang, you’ll have to spend a good amount of money just to fix it.
All those driveline components we just mentioned add weight. Weight, which if you’re not using the all-wheel drive system 99% of the time, results in decreased fuel economy and increased wear and tear (stress) on the remaining suspension components.
If you live in an area where it snows a lot or you get frequent rain and want the added benefits an AWD system brings, then go for it. The truth is most people won’t notice the difference between a 2WD and an AWD vehicle in dry and even mildly rainy road conditions. An estimate is that if you’re seeing a genuine advantage from the all-wheel drive system around 20% of the time or more, then it makes sense. Otherwise, you’re better of without it, saving money on both maintenance and gas bills.