Many SUVs are offered with AWD or 4WD, but there are fewer choices when it comes to normal passenger cars. The new Mazda 3 hatchback and sedan, several Audis and BMWs, and a selection of other normal cars are offered with AWD options in the range.
Is AWD overkill in a normal car or is it useful for when you live in an area that receives snow in winter? Is it an unnecessary expense in a normal car that cannot go off-road? How much will you actually use it?
Besides Mazda, Audi, and BMW, several brands offer their normal sedans and hatchbacks in AWD. Take note that these systems don’t all operate in the same way and can be of various configurations. Some part-time systems use multi-plate clutch packs to distribute drive to the secondary axle.
These systems can often be switched on or off, or set to an automatic setting. Other systems are permanent and distribute drive to all wheels all the time by way of a center differential.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of AWD:
- Better traction and acceleration and less wheelspin in slippery conditions
- More sure-footed handling on loose or slippery surfaces
- More even tire wear, especially in comparison to FWD cars
- Less or no torque steer compared to FWD cars
- Usually exacts a fuel economy penalty
- Adds weight to the vehicle
- Adds mechanical complexity, more potential failure points, and added maintenance
- Is often completely unnecessary.
Do I Need AWD?
On dry tarmac, AWD confers virtually no advantages whatsoever unless your car’s engine is very powerful and able to tax the tires’ traction even on dry surfaces. Such high-performance cars benefit from the extra traction when the power is used to the full, but this can hardly be done on public roads.
On wet roads, vehicles get a lot closer to their tires’ traction limits and when setting off from rest, towing, or going up steep grades, front-wheel-drive cars especially can suffer a loss of traction. However, under most driving conditions, wet or dry, you’ll never need more than front- or rear-wheel drive.
However, AWD becomes far more useful in slippery conditions where mud, ice, and snow come into the equation. If you live in an area where you have to traverse gravel roads in the rainy season, or snow-covered roads, an AWD car might be necessary.
Just keep in mind that tires are extremely important and tests have shown that a 2WD car with winter tires has better grip and traction in snow than a 4WD car with summer tires. However, if you hate changing tires every year and your area only experiences light snowfall, an AWD car with all-season or all-weather tires might allow you to keep going, whatever the weather.
If You Opt For AWD, Here Are Your Choices
If you’ve decided that you want an AWD car and you don’t need the height and ground clearance of SUVs or crossovers, here are a few examples of AWD sedans and hatchbacks:
- Audi: Audi is credited with popularizing AWD for mass production with the 1980 Audi Quattro and today, virtually all Audi’s sportiest models feature Quattro AWD as standard. Quattro is standard or available as an option on every Audi car model currently for sale in the USA.
- BMW: The xDrive AWD system is available on all BMW’s ranges, including even the small 2 Series.
- Mazda: Of course Mazda offers AWD on its crossovers and SUVs, but now you can buy a Mazda 3 in AWD as well in both sedan and hatchback guises, the drivetrain being optional on all but the base model of both and standard on the flagship hatchback. Unfortunately, no such option is available for the Mazda 6 sedan.
- Mercedes-Benz: Mercedes offers all-wheel drive on the vast majority of its normal sedans, coupes, and convertible with only a few exceptions, such as the outgoing SLC hardtop convertible.
- Subaru: Subaru is synonymous with AWD and all models are offered with the drivetrain, except for the lightweight sports car, the BRZ, which is rear-wheel drive only.
- Kia: AWD is offered in Kia’s SUVs but in short supply in its sedans and hatchbacks. However, the K5, which replaced the Optima, is available with AWD, as is the Stinger performance sedan and K900 luxury car.
- Tesla: AWD goes with all Tesla’s dual-motor cars and is offered in all its models, although single-motor RWD models cannot be specified with AWD at all, such as the base Model 3.
- Genesis: All three Genesis sedans – the G70, G80, and G90 – are offered with AWD.
- Porsche: All Porsche’s front- and rear-engined models are offered with AWD, as well as all hybrids and EVs. Only the 718 is rear-wheel drive only.
- Dodge: Dodge offers its Charger sedan in AWD but only with the base V6 engine. None of the tire-melting V8s are available with it.
- Infiniti: The aging Infiniti Q50 is available with AWD across the range, as is the Q60 coupe.
As you can see, finding a normal sedan or hatchback with AWD if you’re not into crossovers and SUVs is not difficult at all. In fact, there are many models available in nearly every size, from compact hatchbacks and large sedans to coupes and even convertibles from a multitude of different brands. In some cases, AWD is only fitted to performance models and in other cases, it’s offered as an option on all models in the range.
The question is whether you should buy an AWD car or not and whether it’s the best option for you. If you regularly traverse muddy, slippery, or snow-covered roads, AWD might certainly be of benefit to you.
Opting for a normal AWD car instead of a crossover or SUV means to get the advantages of a car – better handling and superior gas mileage – with AWD traction in adverse conditions. Just be sure you don’t need additional ground clearance because, in that case, you’ll be better off with a crossover or SUV.