AWD vs. 4WD: What’s the Difference?

2021 Honda Pilot Elite AWD Off-Road


Ryan Family Dealerships is your premier dealer group in North Dakota, with locations in Bismarck, Williston, and Minot. Because we service so many areas, we’re pretty well-versed on the questions our customers are asking, and one of them is, “What is the difference between AWD and 4WD?” For starters, AWD is short for “all-wheel drive,” and 4WD is short for “four-wheel drive.” Basically, both of these technologies refer to automotive driveline systems — the components of a vehicle that send power from the engine to the wheels — but the way each works is different. Read on to learn more, or contact us at Ryan Family Dealerships anytime!

What is AWD?

AWD is an acronym that refers to “all-wheel drive,” which itself is a driveline configuration under which torque is directed from the engine to the front and rear axles to all four wheels via differentials. Several types of AWD systems exist, including full-time AWD and part-time AWD. 

Torque is sent to both front and rear axles all the time with full-time AWD. Meanwhile, with part-time AWD vehicles, sensors keep tabs on driving behavior in order to decide when it makes sense to send torque only to the front axle or both. Usually, AWD is found on unibody vehicles including crossover SUVs, while 4WD is found on more traditional body-on-frame SUVs or trucks.

What is 4WD?

4WD, otherwise known as “four-wheel drive,” is a more traditional 4×4 driveline system. Whereas 4WD systems can send power to the front and rear axles like AWD, they’re also able to direct a specific amount of power between the left and right wheels. Generally speaking, 4WD systems are designed for maximum off-road performance.

Which is Better: AWD or 4WD?

Is 4WD better than AWD? Is AWD better than 4WD? Generally, that will depend on your needs. If you’re looking for extra traction during inclement weather conditions or over rough roads, AWD — especially intelligent, part-time AWD — is probably best. If, however, you’re looking to do some serious off-roading, 4WD will likely suit your needs better.

Browse Our AWD & 4WD Vehicles for Sale!

Take a look at our new vehicles for sale, and you’ll find plenty of AWD vehicles and some 4WD models, too! Curious which is which? Call anytime! You can also simply visit us in Minot to take a test drive or speak with one of our expert salespeople!


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