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Car Buying Tips: Should You Buy Front-, Rear-, or All-Wheel Drive?

All passenger cars have four wheels, which come in three different configurations: front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. So which one should you buy?

If you’re a casual driver, you may not pay that much attention to which of your wheels are powered–nor would you need to. But if you want to get the most out of your car’s performance, choosing the right setup can make all the difference.

Rear-wheel drive

A rear-wheel drive car is when the rear wheels push the car forward, and the front wheels only have to steer. Many driving enthusiasts prefer this setup because the weight of the car is transferred to the back, giving the wheels a better grip on the road. It is for this reason that many sports cars tend to be RWD by design. This configuration is also commonly found on pickups and truck-based SUVs, because it provides better traction for heavy loads. However, RWDs are less efficient on wet and slippery roads.

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive is pretty common in city cars and hatchbacks, and offer better drivability in certain situations–such as on wet and slippery roads–than their RWD counterparts. That said, the biggest advantage of FWD is that it makes a vehicle cheaper and lighter, since it requires less hardware to operate. No more big bulge in the middle of the cabin to accommodate the driveshaft required for the engine to power the rear wheels. This also means that FWD vehicles have more spacious interiors.

Of course, FWDs also have their disadvantages–two to be exact. One is that it dampens the driving experience somewhat. If you’ve tried pushing and pulling a shopping cart before, you probably prefer the former. This is a great analogy as why many people prefer the RWD configuration. Secondly, FWDs can only handle so much power, and it is for this reason that supercars and hypercars are almost always rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.

All-wheel drive

First, a little clarification. Although four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are used interchangeably, these are two completely different configurations, and the distinction lies in the differential used: 4WD use two differentials and a transfer case, while AWDs employ three differentials in all, one at the front, one at center, and one at the rear. 4WDs are also optimized for extreme off-roading situations.

Since most drivers don’t come close to needing the full capabilities of 4WD systems, then what’s the advantage of buying an AWD car? Better traction, that’s what. Dirt roads, pothole-ridden roads, wet roads, oily roads–you name it, AWD will make your car easier to control, and you will notice the difference. Not just when cruising, but also when you’re braking or turning a corner. As for the downsides, AWD adds considerably to the vehicle’s weight, thereby compromising fuel economy and price tag.

So now we come to the bottom line:

  • If you value spaciousness, lightness, and affordability, go with FWD.
  • If you want optimum performance, acceleration, and drivability, choose RWD.
  • If you’re looking for extra traction and improved vehicle stability and control, then it’s AWD all the way.

Happy car shopping!

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