Drivetrains Made Easy for Canadian Drivers
Written by DriveAxis.ca July 26, 2023
Drivetrains are a huge factor for many drivers when they’re busy choosing their next vehicle. In fact, certain drivetrains are so well-suited to a particular driver’s tastes and demands that they’re practically non-negotiable. At their core, drivetrains are the mechanism by which cars transfer power to the wheels, which has a major impact on a car's performance, handling, and distinct capabilities.
The four major drivetrain groups consist of Front-Wheel Drive (FWD), All-Wheel Drive (AWD), Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) and Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD), all of which change the dynamics of a car in various ways. Before choosing your next car, it’s good to understand the differences between these four drivetrain options so you can become better informed regarding their advantages, disadvantages, and on-the-road driving experiences.
Front-Wheel Drive (FWD)
Front-wheel drive is perhaps the most common drivetrain setup, thanks in large part to how straightforward and balanced it is when driving on the road. This drivetrain refers to the location of the engine’s power output to the front wheels only, leaving the two rear wheels to spin by momentum. This design is widely utilized in compact cars, sedans, and many entry-level vehicles, mostly due to how easily the car is able to handle itself in a variety of road and weather conditions. This is because the weight of the engine at the front of the vehicle adds extra downforce to the powered front wheels, providing strong traction and grip.
Other advantages of FWD include increased fuel efficiency due to a simple layout and lighter components, and increased cabin space, thanks to the mechanical components being situated at the front. This is often why smaller vehicles are given FWD drivetrains. And of course, FWD is generally less expensive to produce, contributing to lower overall vehicle costs and secondary considerations. FWD drivers should be aware of a few caveats, however, such as reduced traction in certain conditions (especially during acceleration) and limitations in handling and cornering performance due to the distribution of weight and power solely to the front wheels.
All-Wheel Drive (AWD)
All-wheel drive has been experiencing a massive surge in popularity for years at this point, due to how it offers a balanced distribution of power to all four wheels, instead of just two. With all wheels active at the same time, AWD is a popular choice for a wide range of cars such as SUVs, crossovers, and luxury performance cars.
AWD is not to be confused with 4-wheel drive, however, as we’ll touch on later. Rather, the systems can vary between vehicles, with some models keeping all four wheels active at all times, while others apply power to the rear wheels, while activating the two front wheels only when ultimate grippage and stopping power is required. Because of this, AWD offers a massive boost in traction and stability, especially in adverse weather conditions such as rain, or those torrential Canadian blizzards and massive snowfalls.
AWD systems also provide a huge boost to cornering and handling dynamics, not to mention launching the car off the line and maintaining control during aggressive driving. Because of this, AWD is becoming more popular in certain types of sports cars and high-performance vehicles. On the flip side, however, AWD systems are far more complex, and require a more intricate distribution of parts and programming. They also contribute to the overall weight of a car, which can reduce fuel efficiency when stacked up against a FWD or RWD car.
Four-Wheel Drive (4WD)
Four-wheel drive is a system most commonly associated with off-road vehicles, trucks, and SUVs designed for rugged terrain and off-road adventuring. Many drivers mistake 4WD for AWD, but they’re different in many aspects. Unlike AWD, 4WD is typically selectable, allowing the driver to engage or disengage the system as needed, such as when rocky or harsh terrain proves to be an otherwise-insurmountable obstacle. This is because 4WD provides exceptional traction and power distribution to the wheels, enabling cars to navigate through heavy mud, sand, and rocky terrain with relative ease.
It’s also worth noting that trucks and SUVs equipped with 4WD drivetrains tend to boast higher towing and hauling capacities, making them suitable for heavy-duty tasks such as towing heavy trailers, boats and other items without succumbing to the strain normally associated with a two-wheel drivetrain. Add in the fact that 4WD can be manually engaged when needed, and drivers can take advantage of an extra level of control as they see fit. The downside, however, is that 4WD systems can be more complex and cumbersome to operate compared to AWD or FWD, and may lead to reduced fuel economy and increased maintenance requirements.
Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD)
Rear-wheel drive is a very popular drivetrain configuration popular with “true” sports cars and high-performance luxury vehicles demanding the ultimate in steering, cornering and acceleration prowess. In this configuration, the engine's power is transmitted to the rear wheels only, as opposed to the front. This offers better weight distribution, contributing to more balanced and responsive handling, acceleration and dynamic driving.
The downside to RWD is the challenge often associated when trying to control the car in certain conditions, such as slippery or snowy roads. That’s due largely to the situating of the engine in the front of the car, which cannot contribute any weight-based downforce to the rear wheels. While perfect for dry conditions requiring the ultimate in takeoff performance and cornering, it can be difficult to handle in snowy conditions requiring sufficient grip to maneuver comfortably. Adding extra weight to the trunk in the form of objects like salt or sandbags is a common solution many drivers turn to in order to deal with harsh winter driving conditions.
Your choice of drivetrain depends largely on your particular preferences, driving needs, and the intended use of the vehicle. Each drivetrain system offers unique advantages and caveats, which you’ll need to weigh before you can make an informed decision. Whether you prioritize fuel efficiency, off-road capability, sports car-level performance or everyday practicality, understanding these differences will empower you to make an informed decision when selecting your next vehicle.
If you find yourself in such a scenario, it’s time to contact DriveAxis, where you can select from a wide array of quality pre-owned vehicles backed by a rigorous inspection process, and one of the best warranties in the business. We’ll help you decide which drivetrain is best for you, so you can drive off in the car of your dreams. Worried about financing? Don’t be! DriveAxis handles all financing in-house, which means we approve everyone, regardless of their current credit score or history. Now’s the time to choose your next vehicle!