I had a listener to my radio show contact me and was very confused. I told a caller that I thought she should get an all-wheel drive vehicle. Shortly afterward, I told another caller I would not recommend it. So what gives? Simply put, it was the difference in location. The first caller was from Grand Rapids, Michigan and the second caller was from Austin, TX. Other than location, who is right for all-wheel drive and what is it all about?
Not too long ago, only expensive, upper scale cars came with all-wheel drive, like Audi’s famous Quattro system. They were as much about handling on dry streets as getting through a snowstorm. Much has changed as all-wheel drive (AWD) has gotten cheaper, lighter, and more common thanks to automakers like Subaru who continue to refine AWD in more common cars and SUVs.
For most people, inclement weather is an easy determining factor in whether to consider AWD for your next vehicle. Generally it will give you all the traction needed to get to and from work safely, even in areas where there is a lot of snowfall. To be clear, if you are a serious off-road driver, four-wheel drive is going to be better for you. For some people, the decision to all-wheel or not is not so clear.
For instance, many of our listeners in Sacramento would not use AWD often since their weather is fairly mild, but many of them go to Lake Tahoe often, and so you can easily make the case for all-wheel drive. Having all-wheel, instead of having to rent one, will probably work out cheaper.
If you have never driven an all-wheel drive vehicle, you can feel subtle differences when on clean road surfaces, but most will not notice the difference. In fact, with the newer all-wheel systems, even in poor road conditions, most cannot tell when the system is engaged. In the simplest of terms, all-wheel drive distributes power where needed to give the best traction, without any action taken by the driver. Some of the newer systems even anticipate the need to engage the system before any actual slippage is detected.
You will pay more for an all-wheel drive equipped vehicle, but usually you will get that premium back in resale value, especially now that more and more people are wanting AWD. In some models, you may lose 1 to 2 miles per gallon in fuel economy, but in other cases, there is no loss at all when driving on roads that are dry.
It is important to note that all-wheel drive is more of a performance feature than a safety feature. Of course, an all-wheel drive car will be better in snow, ice, or mud. It will allow you to go faster in those conditions too, which is not always a good thing. You must realize, too, that AWD does not help you stop, especially on ice and slippery road conditions.
Having all-wheel drive is not bad for anybody, even people who live in Southern California or even Hawaii. AWD vehicles generally sit up a little taller, have a better view of the road ahead, and enhance the driving experience. For people who battle the elements often, I think it is a must.