Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Zane asks: Curious what your thoughts on everyone needing AWD. I used to be one of those people until I’ve experienced driving in the snow with RWD vehicles with snow tires and my current truck is default RWD (and I can’t go past 55 in 4WD High).
Almost all my friends are rather smart, but despite me explaining to them that instead of getting say a gimped V6 AWD Charger, they could get the V8, they prefer the AWD version.
Everywhere I look in the area, all the German luxury cars have some badge proudly displaying the added weight and false sense of security of AWD. Sorry if it’s a bit rambling, just figured I’d ask the real expert about this. Also can’t wait for your GLI review, those are good cars, got a job years ago while on a solo test drive in one.
My reply: I agree with you – AWD isn’t needed in most areas, most of the time – and given the driving most people do. It is also a lot less fun. You can’t hang the tail out, slip-slide away from a red light – enveloping Teslas in tire smoke.
But it has been marketed – very successfully and very profitably – as a saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety must-have. Hausefraus (and men) have been convinced it’s almost like driving on bald tires while drunk to commute to work on a summer day in car without AWD.
The hilarious thing is that probably two-thirds of the AWD cars on the market lack enough ground clearance for AWD to make much difference in any significant snowstorm. And most of these also have tires meant for dry/paved roads; many even have “summer” performance tires – which practically negates any advantage of AWD when it snows.
In the rain, AWD does enhance traction – chiefly while cornering at high speed. How many people actually corner at speeds high enough to break traction? At speeds within 10 MPH of the posted speed limit, the additional lateral grip that AWD provides is mostly theoretical. It is of little or no practical advantage.
Same – even more so – on dry roads.
You generally have to be really moving before any modern car – RWD/FWD or whatever drive – begins to reach the limit of adhesion while cornering. I am talking about SCCA-style driving, which almost no one does except those who do SCCA race, in which case, they have the skills to deal with controlled slip and often want/enjoy that.
Yes, you can push it even more if the car has AWD. Drift them. But do the people generally buying AWD drift? Or even push it much?
I doubt it.
The main everyday advantage of AWD is power distribution during hard acceleration in a powerful car; there’s less wheelslip, obviously, so the car bites harder and accelerates more quickly, especially if the road is a little slick. A good example of this is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk vs. the Hellcat Challenger. Both have the same 707 horsepower supercharged Hemi V8, but the Jeep is AWD while the Challenger is RWD. The Jeep – even though it’s much heavier – accelerates almost as quickly on dry pavement and more quickly on wet pavement because it has more traction.
But that is an extreme case – of vehicles and driving. How many cars run a 10 second quarter mile? How many people use that capability regularly?
For most people, a RWD or FWD car with good snow tires will do the job of dealing with the occasional bad weather day. I find it slightly silly that people will spend the extra money for equipment they might get some benefit from a handful of days each year, but the rest of the year, they drag around uselessly. Plus, the added weight of the AWD usually incurs a mileage penalty and adds one more maintenance/repair item to the car’s cost of ownership.
If a person lives in an area where there is a lot of really bad weather – and really bad roads – then, sure, AWD (and 4WD) makes sense. Especially if you buy the right kind of vehicle to go with the AWD, such as a Subaru – which will have 8 or more inches of ground clearance.
But for most people, most of the time, AWD is a feature they’ve been convinced they need rather than a feature they actually do need.
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