“All-wheel drive” is one of those terms that everybody has heard of before, but not everybody can describe exactly what it means. In part, this is because all-wheel drive systems differ from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, but it’s also because modern all-wheel drive, such as Volkswagen’s 4MOTION® All-Wheel Drive, are technologically advanced systems with lots of moving parts and integrations with various car technologies. The basics of all-wheel drive are simple—each wheel can be employed to maximize performance—but there can be a lot of fuzziness about the details. With that in mind, here are 5 common misconceptions about all-wheel drive, and the truth behind each.
1. All-wheel drive is the same as four-wheel drive
Most cars have four wheels, so thinking all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are two terms for the same thing is a totally forgivable misconception. And the truth is that the difference between the two systems isn’t exactly vast. Four-wheel drive, though, is usually found on larger trucks and SUVs because it was initially designed to help vehicles handle more extreme off-road conditions. Most four-wheel drive systems are manually turned on or off, because you wouldn’t want an SUV to tackle an asphalt street with the same intensity it would take to muddy slopes. All-wheel drive cars, however, can adjust the distribution of torque between the front and rear axles depending on the road conditions. Volkswagen 4MOTION® All-Wheel Drive, for example, can intelligently read the road and calibrate each wheel to maintain maximum performance.
2. Every all-wheel drive system works the same way
Simply put, all-wheel drive systems control the distribution of torque between the front and rear axles, but that’s basically where the similarities end. As mentioned above, many all-wheel drive systems are always on, but others are only part time. For simpler all-wheel drive systems, this often means that in a majority of road conditions, the car is basically running like a standard front-wheel drive vehicle, and then the rear axles kick in when a little extra grip is needed—say, in a thunderstorm. More advanced all-wheel drive systems can adjust the ratio of power between the front and rear axles to be able to respond to more complex conditions. To oversimplify things a bit, it might distribute 90 percent power in the front axle and 10 percent to the rear in one scenario, and 80 / 20 in another. Volkswagen 4MOTION® All-Wheel Drive takes this one step further by integrating with other technologies present in a Tiguan, Atlas, Golf Sportwagen or AllTrack, such as anti-lock braking and traction-control systems.
3. With all-wheel drive, you can drive the same way on dangerous roads as you would under regular conditions
No technology, all-wheel drive included, is a substitute for safe driving. Just because a vehicle outfitted with all-wheel drive—or four-wheel drive, for that matter—can handle more intense road conditions, is not an excuse to get complacent or risky behind the wheel. All-wheel drive can help drivers on high-risk roads respond to sudden changes in conditions and maintain a more solid grip on the road, but no combination of technology will keep your wheels on the ground if you’re intent on taking a 90-degree turn at 80 miles per hour.
4. All-wheel drive is a marketing gimmick, or doesn’t work any better than simply winterizing your car
There are lots of ways to prepare your car for winter, whether or not you’re outfitted with all-wheel of four-wheel drive. Snow tires, sandbags in the trunk, chains—these are all helpful and simple modifications you can make to prepare for winter driving. But applying modifications to a vehicle, generally speaking, is simply no substitute for a vehicle that’s finely to handle road conditions. Most all-wheel drive systems, including Volkswagen 4MOTION® All-Wheel Drive, are integrated into both the mechanics and the technology of a car, and these computers and engines are capable of responding to conditions faster and more accurately than any human. So by all means, prepare your car properly for the season! But just remember that
5. All-wheel drive vehicles are more difficult to maintain than front- or rear-wheel drive cars
It’s certainly true that all- and four-wheel drive cars require a little more attention than two-wheel drive cars. These systems have more moving parts and more advanced technology, which means mechanics need to take a closer look during inspections. Simply put, if your car is constantly sending power to your rear axles, you’ll want to watch those axles to make sure they stay in shape. However, modern all-wheel drive systems, like Volkswagen 4MOTION® All-Wheel Drive, are always ready but only run when they need to. So, unlike an always-on four-wheel drive system, for example, a Volkswagen car with 4MOTION® All-Wheel Drive will only send power to the rear wheels when needed, which reduces wear and tear, and extends the longevity of the vehicle. Its system is designed to intelligently read the road, which means the performance is there when you need it, but not running when you don’t.
All-wheel, four-wheel, front-wheel, rear-wheel—each drive system is different and has multiple variations. All-wheel drive systems often contain the best of all worlds, balancing performance and efficiency, but remember that all all-wheel drives are not created equally. But with a little bit of research, and some facts to cut through the misconceptions, you’ll find there’s a right system for you.