By on August 2, 2017

2015 Dodge Charger V6 AWD Rallye (8 of 13)

Politics, the man once said, is downstream from culture. It applies to cars as well. Maybe cars are in fact downstream from both politics and culture. You never know.

Everybody who was alive in the 1950s tells me it was kind of a dicey time. Children kneeling beneath a combined 1.25 inches of plywood that was supposed to have some sort of palliative effect on a locally detonated hydrogen bomb with a thousand times the power of Little Boy. The Iron Curtain clamping down across Europe, hundreds of millions of people disappearing into a regime where twisted social science operated a political machine lubricated liberally by the blood of kulaks and a generation of Soviet O’Briens insisting they could float off the ground if they just wished it so. Meanwhile, the United States was grinding through the task of reintegrating a few million young men who had often gone directly from their shoeless rural existence to the meat grinders of Iwo Jima and Normandy Beach.

Yet I defy you to look at a ’57 Chevrolet and not tell me somebody was feeling optimistic. The roads were covered in pastels and chrome and the good times were surely just around the corner. It was as if the styling chiefs of the Big Four (or however many there were) looked at the world around them and said, “Oh, the hell with this, let’s PUT FINS ON CARS!”

Sixty years later we’ve got all the Netflix and chill we can handle but most people look at the future as something that will impoverish, assail, endanger, or boil them. The climate and the economy seem to have more malevolence than the old Soviet shoe-bangers could ever muster but, instead of responding with Bel Airs, we’ve all decided to lock ourselves into tall, tippy metal boxes that promise to isolate us from every possible contaminant or concern. Each box must be sufficient for all imagined tasks, whether it’s clearing the Rubicon or circling the Nurburgring.

Most of these things scale half a ton more than a ’76 Cutlass Supreme Brougham with the 403. They are chock full of features we neither need nor want, and the hunchback king of those assembled unnecessaries is called All. Wheel. Drive.


Jed writes,

Why are car companies building cars with AWD? In some models, AWD isn’t an option, it’s the way all trim levels are built. Most of these cars aren’t ever gonna see anything rougher than a gravel road. Supposedly winter tires provide more traction for sedans.

Ah, what an excellent question. After thinking it over for some time, I’ve concluded that AWD exists because front-wheel-drive has a marketing problem. My long-time readers know that I am a fan of front-wheel drive. It’s the perfect choice for 95 percent of automotive tasks. Only when applied to a dedicated off-roader, a devoted trackday toy, or a really massive luxury car does FWD fall short. Since you could take every serious track rat, every real-deal Moab fanatic, and every credit-qualified customer for a new S-Class-sized car in the whole country and probably still not match the number of people who are playing “Candy Crush” at this precise moment, it seems obvious that the auto industry shouldn’t waste too much of its time developing anything that is not front-wheel drive.

The problem is that FWD has a bad rap because it is associated in the public mind with cheap, crappy little economy cars. If you ask the celebrated man in the street to name a front-wheel drive car, he’s not gonna say “Obviously, the European Audi A8 3.2 — no, wait, the Citroen SM — cancel that, I’m gonna go with the RAM ProMaster.” Instead, he will tell you that the Toyota Corolla is FWD. This is mildly ironic because the Corolla was, like, totally the last small car to adopt a transverse FWD platform.

There was a time when FWD was considered very exciting and modern and, as a result, Audi managed to eat everybody’s luxury lunch with the super-sleek aero second-generation “5000”. Almost immediately afterwards there came a time when FWD was seen as poisonous. Audi’s response was to heavily market their quattro AWD system as being superior to the RWD offerings from Benz and BMW. In truth, quattro is really only useful when you have one of the really powerful engines and you’re trying to haul ass on a wet road or something — but every other manufacturer that was saddled with suddenly un-marketable FWD platforms realized that they could fix the problem with an extra tailshaft and some badges.

Much of the marketing done to promote AWD cars was absolutely shameless — and it was also hideously effective. That’s why all the transportation boxes out there, all the C-ROGUE-V-4-QUINOX things that your female neighbors drive, have AWD. Because without AWD you might die. Someday there will be a horrible winter day that can only be adequately faced with a dinky-ass extra drivetrain hanging off the back of a transverse gearbox, turning wheels through an open differential and clamping the life out of them with a hyperactive traction-control system.

The AWD hysteria has gotten so bad, apparently the majority of S-Class sedans are now sold as 4Matics, as are the majority of 7 Series sedans. The irony here is that adding FWD probably improves the real-world foul-weather dynamics of those cars — but as I’ve said before, part of the FWD magic comes from the fact that all of the weight is up front. So, the vehicle naturally goes straight when you stop yanking at the wheel like you’re having a seizure, and the big-body Germans are usually weight-balanced in a manner more befitting a C Street Prepared autocross car.

AWD, as it is sold in most vehicles, has no use whatsoever besides serving as a security blanket. If you want to be safe and secure in bad weather, get a FWD sedan with winter tires. This is not the perfect solution for everybody. If you want to go off-roading, buy an old Wrangler and leave it behind your house until the long-awaited day of off-roading day comes. If you spend all winter skiing, get an old Cherokee. If you want to plow driveways for a living, buy a plow truck. But most people just want a car that is reasonably trustworthy if there’s a bit of snow on the ground. For that, the low center of gravity and outstanding weight balance of a conventional transverse-packaged FWD car is absolutely the best and safest bet. Period. Point blank.

When traction conditions are low, you want the back wheels doing nothing, not pushing you faster towards certain doom. Trust me on this one, okay?

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185 Comments on “Ask Jack: All (Wheel Drive) or Nothing at All?...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    Win-ter?

    Also, towing with FWD is lame.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Right, he totally omits trucks. I guess Ford and GM should just concentrate on FWD cars and discontinue their trucks and SUVs that, ya know, sell extremely well and pay bills that the FWD cars don’t.

      “When traction conditions are low, you want the back wheels doing nothing, not pushing you faster towards certain doom.”

      And the title pic is a RWD car with optional AWD. Quite the example for such a conclusion.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Ironically, I’d say that a Charger is one of the best examples of a car that benefits from AWD. Yes, you can buy expensive winter tires for it. And you can roll around on black steelies for five months a year (or drop a bunch of money on alloys for the winter tires as well), and deal with the time and hassle of swapping the tires out twice a year.

        F**k that noise. I’ll take the AWD model, thanks.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Wish we could get the Hemi with AWD.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            You used to be able to get AWD and the Hemi on the 300…not sure about the Charger.

            But either way, around here (Denver), there’s no way I’d do that car without AWD, and I don’t care what the #wintertire4everFTW folks say.

          • 0 avatar
            turbo_awd

            You COULD get Hemi (5.7) with AWD in the pre-15 Charger (with the old 5-speed). Or maybe pre-14 or something like that.

            I want an SRT-AWD charger with the 6.4…

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          And your attitude is exactly why so many AWD vehicles end up in the ditch along Snoqualmie Pass east of Seattle every winter.

          Tires matter. I’ll take a FWD with the proper tires over AWD with crappy all-seasons, or worst-yet, “performance” tires any day all day long.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Here in Colorado, folks end up stuck (or crawling) on uphill stretches, which backs traffic up like you would not believe. That kind of situation is the one where AWD/4wd is most useful.

          • 0 avatar
            brandloyalty

            Yes, many drivers with awd drive too fast on slippery roads. They also are unaware of the traction implications of weight shift cornering with a higher centre of gravity and stiffer suspension.

            Another factor is locking center differentials for highway driving on slippery surfaces. They assume this must be better, but it actually results in some tires breaking traction while cornering. Because they are rotating at the same rate when it is better if they rotate at different rates on corners.

          • 0 avatar
            Mandalorian

            Here’s the thing, when it comes to winter driving, it’s not about what I “need”. It’s about what the lowest common denominator of driver “needs” to keep from crashing into me.

            Do I trust a gearhead with 2WD and winter tires? Sure. Do I trust a 16 year old or great aunt sally? No.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            And the fact that AWD/4WD means you don’t have to stop and strap on chains when you are heading over Snoqualmie or any of the other passes in WA is one of the reasons they are so popular. I now my first choice for heading over the pass is one of our AWD or 4WD vehicles when I head over in chain season.

          • 0 avatar
            Ermel

            AWD with summer tires (or whatever you call them — non-winter tires) might work just as well as FWD with winter tires to make you go. But when it comes to stopping and turning, you really want winter tires in snow. All AWD does is make you too fast too quickly for bad tires.

            Someone mentioned inexperienced drivers. They’re the ones I wouldn’t want to notice it’s slippery for the first time when they need to stop.

          • 0 avatar
            bunkie

            Why is this an either-or proposition? Yes, I’m a dedicated winter-tire person. My last four cars have all had a set of Blizzaks mounted on minus-one rims (with TMPS even) that go on in November and come off in late March.

            AWD with winter tires is really great for those uphill situations where you need those rear wheels to use some of the winter tire grip to keep you going. Living in the northeast, I won’t go back to 2WD.

            The car I drive now is AWD. I’ve driven the FWD version and it suffered from awful torque steer. The AWD version completely eliminates that problem, which means that there is a benefit even in non-slippery conditions. And, yes, I do realize that it’s a fix for a problem that could be engineered away without AWD.

  • avatar
    omer333

    Oh how I wished the people Utah got this message. To be fair, I understand having AWD if you’re commuting from Park City into Salt Lake City, but the guys on Everyday Driver went so far as to put snow tires on a Toyobaru and do that same commute with no troubles.

    Sadly, the unwashed masses don’t read TTAC or watch Everyday Driver.

    • 0 avatar
      Caboose

      +1, Man, those Everyday Driver guys are absolutely fantastic! The reviews are solid, prettily filmed, and fun to watch. Their podcast is baller, too.

      I have no affiliation to them; I’m just a big fan of their work and their brand.

  • avatar
    Boff

    Another issue is that AWD can lull a driver into thinking there is more grip than is actually available: you zip away from a stoplight while everyone else is spinning tires, but then receive a rude awakening when you have to stop or steer.

    • 0 avatar
      John R

      This

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      You could make the argument that since a FWD compact is going to be RADICALLY better in the snow than something with RWD, it also makes the driver overconfident. I don’t buy that.

      As someone who’s lived in snowy climates for pretty much his whole life, I can say there’s no shortage of idiots who have no idea how to drive in snow. They can learn the right way, or they can learn the “I just had to shell out $500 in deductible money because I drove like an idiot in snow and wrecked my car” way. Either way, they do learn.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        FWD is only better in the snow than RWD until you reach your first hill. Once the weight starts shifting from the front axle, you start expiriencing issues. A few years ago, we had a decent snow storm. My parents live on a steep hill. They had issues making it up with their Accord with winter tires. My RWD E class wagon had no issues. The desclaimer would be that the ESP system in Benz is pretty much better than anyone else’s.

        • 0 avatar
          PenguinBoy

          Fair comment. One place where I find AWD shines is going up a steep snow covered hill – which is something I find myself doing several times every Winter. I do, of course, run four dedicated Winter tires on all my Winter driven vehicles. But there are cases where AWD (with Winter tires) is better than FWD (with Winter tires)>

        • 0 avatar
          carguy67

          “FWD is only better in the snow than RWD until you reach your first hill.”

          Yup. I was in SF once on a clear, dry day in my Austin-Healey and decided to take my then-GF down Lombard (the ‘the most crooked street in the world’). Coming up Gough, the backside approach to Lombard, there is a 4-way stop at every crossroad. On one, a Volvo station wagon was in front and, figuring the car might roll back some I stayed about 20 feet behind her. When the Volvo’s turn to proceed came, she couldn’t get any traction at all and, with front tires spinning–I was surprised the Volvo was FWD–she used up 19 of the 20 feet clearance I had allowed before the front wheels finally got enough grip to pull the big Volvo up the hill (tires still spinning and smoking madly). Healeys have an aluminum shroud and if she’d rolled into me the insurance company would have likely totalled it.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Now imagine that Lombard was covered in snow and/or ice. That’s what we deal with here in the south a few times per winter.

            Look up the “W-road” in Walden, TN on Google Maps and be sure to look at the street view. Good pics but they don’t convey the steepness of it. Robert’s Mill Road near Falling Water, TN is another. Really steep.

            I don’t live there but I visit. I often tow a trailer up and down those roads.

            Winter tires won’t work b/c the temp keeps swinging up and down over the course of our winters. Plus some of us deal with steep gravel roads, muddy places (weekend camping or sports), wet grassy fields, etc.

            That’s why AWD gets the job done for my family. We’ve have several FWD only vehicles.

            We also have a pair of AWD vehicles and AWD makes the difference between walking home or driving home when a storm comes through during the work day.

            We visited the Smokey Mtns one weekend and were caught off guard by a snow that turned the roads white for 100 miles on the way home.

            The number of nitwits who thought their truck or Jeep were not subject to the laws of physics was incredible. They were passing everyone at dry highway speeds.

            Saw five of them in 15 minutes crashed in the median.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        FWD isn’t radically better than RWD, assuming you are driving a well balanced car and not something with a boat anchor engine in front and nothing in the back AKA a RWD pickup or a ’70s American bomb. My 328i wagon actually has slightly more weight on the rear wheels than the front wheels, and goes just fine in the snow. The FWD car will have a slight advantage in going, my car has a slight advantage in turning and stopping, tires being equal between them. The 328i replaced a Saab 9-3SC with the same winter tires on each, so I actually have direct experience with this.

        I agree with Jack that FWD has all sorts of advantages from a production and packaging standpoint though. The Saab was a pretty great car to drive, but the BMW is a whole bunch better yet at the cost of a good bit of interior space and added cost.

        AWD just gets you coming and going – you pay more upfront, you pay more in fuel, and you pay more to maintain and fix the thing. Just no.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          Fix what? One of my AWDs has 300K miles on it. All the AWD ever needed was oil changes and two universal joints.

          There is a 1 mpg difference between AWD and FWD in both of my AWD vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          Flipper35

          FWD does not spin you into the ditch when you accelerate through a corner and lose traction so there is a safety factor for the great unwashed who just stomp and steer (both pedals).

          I would take snow tires over all seasons any day since it is nice to be able to stop and steer.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I admit that overconfidence nearly got me in trouble a couple times when I had a saabaru last evade.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Very nice piece.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Since market dominating CUVs need AWD as at least an option to give them the true SUV vibe, the cars that share the same platform can also offer it at minimal extra engineering and manufacturing expense. Combine that with 95% of car owners that have poor winter driving skills, especially with “dangerous” rear-wheel drive, and/or too lazy to change to winter tires, then the extra $49 per month for the AWD option seems like a life-saving bargain. The fact that AWD does not help you stop in slippery conditions, doesn’t help much in starting or turning when using wide summer tires, typically costs 1 to 2 miles per gallon, and increases tire replacement and maintenance costs is irrelevant to the those that think AWD saves them from all disasters that mother nature can throw at them.

  • avatar
    wintermutt

    WRONG! There is one reason i must have AWD – and AFAICT you never mention it in this article. In California, to go up interstate 80 or Highway 50 in the winter you have a choice. #1. chains on tires #2. AWD
    I messed with chains for years – OMG i hate them. you can only go low speed, PITA to put on and take off, the list goes on and on. AWD? They Caltrans workers wave as you drive through the checkpoints. Now you can argue this these Caltrans rules are BS – but to quote Mr. Wilde
    One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is, that things are what they are and will be what they will be. Oscar Wilde

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “WRONG! There is one reason i must have AWD – and AFAICT you never mention it in this article. In California, to go up interstate 80 or Highway 50 in the winter you have a choice. #1. chains on tires #2. AWD”

      http://www.tirerack.com/content/tirerack/desktop/en/winter_snow/tires.html

      it’s like you people refuse to believe these things exist. A set of Blizzaks on a FWD car will do wonders. But no, you can’t be arsed to spend a few hundred bucks on snow tires, instead you’ll blow a few thousand on AWD and leave the borderline useless all-seasons on.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Who wants to screw with winter tires, though?

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          o_O

        • 0 avatar
          Stanley Steamer

          I agree. I’ve done both, winter tires on front wheel drive and all season tires on awd. The awd set up (with TC) certainly can keep pace with the winter tires, is less expensive, more comfortable driving and more convenient than dealing with winter tires, and has advantages in the wet and muddy, which is more frequent than you think.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Me, because I like to be able to stop in snow too. Even on my AWD Land Rover. Which on all seasons will accelerate like a top fuel dragster in the snow, but will then proceed to sail on through the sunset when the time comes to stop.

          It’s really not much hassle. You need to have the tires rotated a couple times a year anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        stevelyon

        You’re missing his point – due to the way the laws are written, if you don’t have four- or all-wheel drive, you have to run tire chains. Tire type doesn’t matter.

      • 0 avatar
        stevelyon

        I live in Yosemite – we get the same R1, R2, R3 chain restrictions here, too. One season of messing around with the bullsh!t of tire chains was enough to convince me to buy a beater 4×4 pickup truck for winter use.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        But no, you can’t be bothered to consider his post as literal. You’re too busy shunning him to realize that 4WD/AWD *OR* CHAINS ARE REQUIRED BY LAW where he is talking about.

        They will not allow you to proceed in your Camry even if you have the most amazing winter tires ever.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          *proceed without chains

          I’ve been through those areas several times on my frequent cross country road trips. If I lived there or was a frequent enough visitor, you bet I’d drive something 4WD. Chaining up is for the birds. $#¡Г on that. An AWD commuter would work just fine, if not a (real) SUV or maybe an Element (or the Toyota remake of it, if they build it).

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I’m guessing that law pre-dates modern winter tires. and being California, they’ll do whatever they can to alter reality instead of modifying the law.

          • 0 avatar
            carguy67

            “I’m guessing that law pre-dates modern winter tires. and being California, they’ll do whatever they can to alter reality instead of modifying the law.”

            Ignoring the unnecessary dig at California–do you even live here?–you are probably correct. I have never heard nor seen any movement towards allowing FWD with snow tires, and if there was such a political push the law would be changed. Winter storms in the Sierras can be brutal–when we do get rain–and most people understand when a bad one comes they’ll end up in a ditch if they try to push it. Note that the vast majority of traffic in the Sierras in the winter are flatlander skiers, who never need snow tires 99.9% of the time.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “Ignoring the unnecessary dig at California–do you even live here?”

            No. I’ve been there a few times, and that’s more than enough for me.

      • 0 avatar

        One data point. RWD car with a set of snow tires was better than my AWD car with all seasons.

        Everyone is amazed that I have RWD cars….I’m amazed they lug around a transfer case and second differential…and most AWD cars don’t have the steering feel of the RWD variant. Subtract 2 mpg for the needless gear spinning.

        I like having an AWD car because it pulls my jet ski up and down an unimproved dirt ramp, where I can see the system use all four wheels…… I can also see it if you have a car that needs it, like a GT-R, where you might need to improve traction for the 600 hp.

        Most normal commuters are just fine with FWD or RWD, provided they buy snow tires….which are under $1000 with wheels for most cars, and take mileage off your summer tires….

        I always think of SAAB. Years and years….FWD only….never needed AWD.

      • 0 avatar
        PenguinBoy

        See my comment above; I run four Blizzaks on my Subaru in Winter. Although I also run Winter tires on my MINI and Focus in Winter, the Subaru is head and shoulders above the other cars when goind down unplowed back roads or steep icy ski hill access roads.

        Agreed that not everyone needs AWD, and that if you can only have one FWD with Winter tires is better than AWD with “all” season tires, but in some cases AWD *AND* Winter tires is the right answer.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy67

        ““WRONG! There is one reason i must have AWD – and AFAICT you never mention it in this article. In California, to go up interstate 80 or Highway 50 in the winter you have a choice. #1. chains on tires #2. AWD”

        http://www.tirerack.com/content/tirerack/desktop/en/winter_snow/tires.html

        it’s like you people refuse to believe these things exist.”

        I believe mutt was saying that THE LAW (CHP) requires tires/chains or 4/All wheel drive. Sometimes, 4/All-wheel drive AND chains are required, but they usually close 50 and 80 when it gets that bad (a half-dozen times/year typically).

      • 0 avatar
        wintermutt

        I take it you do not live in California? Along with AWD Caltrans insists on M/S designation on all 4 tires to avoid chains. Blizzaks on a FWD are still going to require chains per Caltrans going up 80 or 50 when it snows or is icy (notice i did not say “need” chains). Coincidentally this is also when the best skiing occurs.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The reality is it is the law, the progression is

        Traction tires advised
        Traction tires required, 4WD/AWD exempt
        Chains required, 4WD/AWD exempt.

        And CalTrans and some other state DOTs can elevate to AWD/4WD and chains as the only way you can leave a area that is being closed to non emergency traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        And winter tires wear quickly above mild temperatures. Many of us live in places where the temps swing from below freezing to 60F in the same week. In my area the temps hover around 45F and fluctuate from there.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      This isn’t quite the case, at least by the letter of the law.

      You can get through R1 with snow tires as long as you are carrying chains in the car.
      R2 requires snow tires AND AWD, or chains.
      R3 is chains for everyone, but I think they just close the road before enforcing that.

      Not that caltrans is pretty lenient in what they consider a snow tire – M&S is good enough, the severe service mountain and snowflake symbol is not required.

      http://www.dot.ca.gov/cttravel/chain-controls.html

      Anyway, that’s the letter of the law. I’m not sure how it is enforced in practice as we try to avoid making the trip in a storm, so I’ve never had to stop at a chain control checkpoint. In addition, we don’t make it up to Tahoe often enough to justify winter tires. I’m not swapping tires when those tires will spend 98% of their time on the SF Bay peninsula.

      That makes AWD and all-season tires the easiest solution, especially since my wife prefers CUVs anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        wintermutt

        i live Sacramento area, have a season pass to Sugar Bowl. I am constantly going through checkpoints. There are basically two choices before the roads close. 1. chains 2. AWD or 4wd with M/S designated tires. there are no other choices in reality. BTW i found myself once in a 1988 Landcruiser with m/s tires all alone on 80 on my way to a ski race at Royal Gorge. Caltrans had shut down 80 behind me. I did fine, and won my age group (cause the competition never made it to the race). YES!!

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      So something that applies to what, 1% or 2% of the population means that everyone should be lusting after AWD like it is the new secret to getting laid?

      If I lived on top of a mountain I would want AWD and snow tires too. Because it can’t be said too often, AWD helps you go, it does absolutely nothing to help you stop. It’s a whole lot safer to not be able to go.

      • 0 avatar
        SirRaoulDuke

        Having actually lived on top of a mountain, I can assure you 4×4/AWD and winter tires are the way to go. Real 4×4 with low gears is better, because without that you will eventually piss your pants coming downhill; brakes are not your friend when traction is very limited and gravity is trying to kill you.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        So go slower when the roads are slick – that’s what we do here. I’ve driven in our wildly fluctuating weather for 35+ years now on M&S tires. I’ve never had a wreck – even unexpectedly towing a trailer through a snow/ice storm over TN mtns.

        Slick? Go slower.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I think you can partially blame Subaru. I don’t know how many people I’ve seen ask for recommendations for a car which is “good in snow.” If you respond that all they need is a set of winter tires, they look at you as if you just offered them a lightly-grilled weasel with a side of asparagus.

    Subaru has put it into people’s heads that you need AWD for an inch of snow. and never mind the low-rolling resistance hockey pucks that are the factory tires.

    IMO Subaru is the second-biggest automotive cult behind Tesla.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I think “Cult” would have been a great model name for the Crosstrek.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      This is an excellent point – the manufacturer can make more money by promoting the hell out of an extra feature, but they don’t profit much if you buy snow tires (although the dealer might – I guess their goal is to sell both the AWD and the tires).

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Or advertise how AWD helps the sporty CUV corner better. Never mind that you’d be slinging the family plus CUV through the twisties at tire howling speeds to trigger the AWD assistance.

        I have one of those SUVs and no thanks. Don’t need any car sick passengers or brow beating from the wife for driving that hard.

        Also not spending the price of a starter house on a vehicle and then drive it like an idiot. That’s what $1500 cars are for.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      “IMO Subaru is the second-biggest automotive cult behind Tesla.” Indeed. A very successful cult which actually makes money from the products it produces.

    • 0 avatar

      Also payment mentality. The AWD can be rolled into the “easy monthly payments” but $900 to Tire Rack in one shot is a big nut, even if the AWD is $3k over the life of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      @JimZ: Agreed on all your points.

      Jack – excellent article.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    This is one of the few times I think Jack is being a little hysterical in his conclusion.

    Although I would agree that we were more optimistic in the 50’s – how many of those returning vets started their own businesses? How many do now?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      One of the major roadblocks to being able to start a business today is simple: lack of anything even remotely resembling affordable health insurance. It’s certainly deterred me.

      At least vets who want to start a business can go to the VA for health care. As bad as the VA is these days, it’s light-years better than “you will pay thousands of dollars a month for coverage that isn’t worth a s**t.”

      Everyone talks about how poor folks would benefit from single payer coverage, but I’d argue small businesspeople would benefit even more.

      • 0 avatar

        I know quite a few folks, most of whom are middle or upper, who are in “job lock” due to an ill family member. You can’t work for a startup, you MUST get into a “big corporation”. So much for innovation or taking chances.

        One of the reasons the big 3 and others assemble in Canada is because they don’t have to carry the employees health insurance.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        In the 1950s health insurance was affordable because if you had a serious medical problem all they could do was help you with the pain until you died. Now they can revive and keep alive indefinitely just about anyone that gets to the hospital still warm. Been smoking heavily for 30 years and get lung cancer? We can now offer you a $200,000 lung transplant and maybe keep you alive a few more years. Been living on greasy foods and put on an extra 200 lbs? We can now offer you a $50,000 gastric bypass to help you lose weight or a $75,000 heart bypass to keep your fatty heart pumping a few more years. The sickest 10% of the population consumes over 50% of all medical spending because we can now provide expensive miracles to anyone no matter how old, how poorly they have taken care of themselves, or how unlucky they were in the genetic lottery, and someone else (taxpayers or insurance companies) almost always pays for it. Until people are forced to take more responsibility and pay for their own health care and life choices, the medical system will never have any incentive to cut costs. The only parts of the medical system that have kept costs down are the parts where most patients pay with their money – Lasik and Cosmetic Surgery.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy67

        “Everyone talks about how poor folks would benefit from single payer coverage, but I’d argue small businesspeople would benefit even more.”

        Absolutely. Some economists think it would add a point or two to the national GDP.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Jack’s front driver have 240 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpms and would never spin the tires in the wet or slush when trying turn onto a busy street and make the only gap.

      Did that Town Car have snows on it? :-/

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Hm ;
    My first FWD was a 1971 Peugot, then I got a 1984 VW Rabbit Convertible .

    The Pug plowed mercilessly on canyon corners and was (IMO) unsfae to drive spiritedly .

    The Rabbit was vastly better but being a Rag Top only had the tiny 1600CC engine when the lighter Sedans all got the 1800CC engine .

    I liked the Rabbit but was able to out run any Rabbit in the twisty bits in a well tuned Beetle .

    BTW : Mercedes ‘4Matic’ means four speed slushbox, not AWD .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      3XC

      “BTW : Mercedes ‘4Matic’ means four speed slushbox, not AWD”

      You are exactly wrong.
      https://www.mbusa.com/mercedes/benz/performance/4matic

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        That’s funny, every time I look at the 4matic badge my default reaction is still “4 speed automatic” despite knowing full well it references the AWD system. I’d have chosen a different name.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          It’s funny that you all mention this, because in both Daft Punk’s “Technologic” song and Busta Rhymes’ “Touch It” song that sampled the former…my ignorant ears heard the lyric “format it” as “4MATIC”. I was like, but why would they be talking about a Mercedes-Benz AWD system?

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        I think Nate was kidding. But I thought the same thing for years, when a 4-speed automatic was worth bragging about.

    • 0 avatar
      John R

      “4Matic (stylized as 4MATIC) is the marketing name of an AWD four-wheel drive system developed by Mercedes-Benz. It is designed to increase traction in slippery conditions.”

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4Matic

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Because if I was a premium luxury sedan marketer, I’d want people to know that our new 2017 flagship has a cutting edge (in 1981) transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The only Rabbit (and A1 Jetta) with an 1800cc motor was the GTI in ’83 and ’84 (GLI), and the late convertibles. Otherwise, 1700cc, which made minimal more power than the 1600, but a bit more torque. And the really early 1500s of course.

      That must have been one REALLY well-tuned Beetle. I suspect it just felt a lot faster, in the same way that my Spitfire feels like you are strapped into a missile while being outrun by 3yos on tricycles. Lots of noise and drama, minimal actual speed. Way more fun that way though.

      4matic most assuredly means the front wheels are driven occasionally in MB-speak.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Oops ~

        When I asked for a ‘4Matic’ badge to dress up one of my late 1970’s Mercedes Diesels with twenty years ago I was given a stern tongue lashing by the parts guy about it being the current S Klasse four speed automatic, _NOT_ the ancient but still very good and long lasting four speed automatic thing in my antique Diesel Merc .

        Sorry ’bout that Chief .

        My Beetles are hot necessarily Hot Rods but they are all very sharply tuned and I know how to drive them properly unlike 90 % of to – day’s VW Nutters who either lug or over speed their engines constantly, making lots of noise but little actual rapid progress .

        I never had a Rabbit sedan, only the two rag tops and they were fun but not really Hot Rods, more like Sports Cars in that they were super fun to drive in the chop if not particularly fast .

        Not quite true as my Brother managed to break the crank in my Rabbit DHC so I bought a $250 GTI and yanked the crank out of it and discovered to my dismay that 1600 and 1800 cranks don’t interchange, I scrapped the GTI in spite of it’s overall good condition because I didn’t want to re assemble the engine and so on .

        If there’d been an Internet back then I could have asked first and saved my self enormous effort .

        I’m still learning as I go .

        -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        In Italy my friend had a ’82 or ’83 Golf convertible (same as my Rabbit convertible) with a 1.2L. That car came with alot of different drivelines if you take into account the international markets.

        Surprisingly – even with a 1.2L the car was still quite usable.

  • avatar
    poggi

    When others ask how I “get by” in winter with the RWD 335d, I respond, “I drove for decades with “1WD” without a hitch.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Same goes for 4×4 pickup trucks. Sure, you need 4wd to haul a large animal carcass across a stream and through a half mile of mud to get to the nearest logging road. A task performed by an ever decreasing number of pickup owners but performed equally well by that Moab bucket Jeep. Yet even our esteemed author placed 4wd as a requisite for his recent pickup purchase because the not inconsiderable acquisition cost is dwarfed by the depreciation hit taken by failing to tick that box.

    Every bit of 90% of new full-size pickup inventory in my local area is 4wd. I used a 2wd pickup for daily commuting, towing, and hauling duties for over 13 years. Sure it sucks in snow (never used winter tires). No I never went off-roading (east coast areas pale in comparison to the open west anyway). It still works, and for maximum towing it arguably works better especially compared to solid-axle 4×4 trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I don’t think you can get a Silverado crew-cab with the 6.5′ box and the 6.2-liter *without* 4WD. You either have to get a different cab style, a different box length, or forego the 6.2 if you want RWD.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Boat ramps.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep plus as a guy who has driven 2wd an d 4wd trucks in winter in New England there is a huge difference even with good tires.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          In Canada I would agree that a 2wd pick-up is not particularly useful for much of the year. Unless you are willing to use up much of the bed to carry sand/concrete blocks.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        I’ve managed boat ramps for nearly 20 years with 2WD only. Including some purely sand ramps down in the FL Keys. 4WD would be nice, but its not a requirement. Even better then 4WD at the ramp is a power winch, you just dip the trailer into the water and then winch the boat onto it. In general if your feet are getting wet loading/unloading your doing it wrong. I think for many people their trailer isn’t setup right which is why they struggle.

        I believe 4WD is just like having 4 door coupes – people *think* they need something extra because twice a year it would have been helpful.

        • 0 avatar
          Coopdeville

          The main lake I would use around here has ramps so shallow that you’ll be up to your knees before the bunks are 3/4 submerged. Slight exaggeration but not much. With my SUV I would have to be in the water solidly up to the rear axle before I could winch in all 5k lbs by hand. Went to a full size truck and I only had to have the rears touching the water, which was an improvement. Then my feet only got wet when I was clumsy.

          Only thing I knew to do differently was to go to a roller trailer (not my thing when the boat lives on the trailer year round.)

          I know you say you did it with 2wd but I don’t know how. I kept tow straps in the truck and would have to help pull someone with 2wd up a ramp at least twice a year. If I bought another truck I would want 4wd just because the thought that I *might* buy another boat would be worth it.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Around here the boat ramps are so steep I think a FWD car would have trouble pulling itself up a wet ramp. I have never seen too many 2WD pickups launching here – if at all.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          I agree, a lot of it is mental. The false sense of security is an issue, but there’s no stopping idiots from being idiots. If they are doing 70 in a blizzard, better that they’re in an Outback when they inevitably plow into someone.

          The MPG is typically not that much worse than a FWD equivalent, and it handles better than an SUV. It drives like a car, but when its a uphill gravel driveway and its snowing like crazy, you bet they’re thankful for AWD. I don’t care how good of a driver or how good your winter tires are, they are no match for being able to move the opposite wheels when the primary wheels get in a rut and you bottom out or otherwise get them stuck.

          That’s why “AWD doesn’t even work most of the time”, because its not needed most of the time.

          That is when AWD is handy, and worth every penny. As is additional ground clearance of a crossover, if so applicable. Its all the SUV they need.

          People complained about soccer moms in BOF SUVs, said they should just have a wagon. Now they have a blend of both and its still all wrong. The Country Squire won’t be back. That’s not a bad thing.

          Now its worse if they still choose a B&B-approved sedan, albeit with AWD. Because they don’t NEED it. We know every place they go. They don’t need it.

          And we all know, people shouldn’t buy things they don’t need. That’s why all of you complaining drive a Versa S (or a base Caravan *only* if you have more than 3 kids), correct?

          The Alliance should reintroduce Datsun here and sell you guys an Indian-built LHD Go and Go+. Exposed metal on the inside pillars! Don’t need trim. All 6 they sold here would be loved and cherished.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            See here is the thing. I at least am willing to admit that my wants and needs are two entirely different things. I need a well-used Golf or maybe an old Volvo wagon. Just one.

            I want a RWD six-speed German station wagon at one home and a hotish German six-speed hatch at the other, with an olde British crocke or two to keep them company, and a turbo Saab wagon to run to the airport in and go to Home Depot and the dump. I indulge my wants, but I am honest enough to admit they have nothing whatsoever to do with my needs.

            The number of people who genuinely NEED AWD in a vehicle that is exclusively used on pavement is minimal. If you want it and can afford it, great! But please don’t delude yourself that AWD is a substitute for the correct tires for the conditions. Which is my biggest gripe with this particular topic.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I drove in a heavy snowfall in Washington state with a V-6 Tempo with 50 series summer performance tires on it, and saw Subarus in the ditch along the way.

      I also drove a 2wd 4.0L Ranger in decently heavy snow, and I managed not to crash or get stuck.

      That doesn’t mean I would want my mom, or an inexperienced driver, doing it.

      We are car guys, naturally we take driving seriously. The mass public does not develop the skills we do, because they pay less attention, they buy and use their car like they would a washing machine. Why not buy a washing machine that makes life a little easier?

      Its like asking why they would buy a Corolla S automatic because they wanted a sporty car. We know its about as “sporty” as a shopping cart, but that doesn’t occur to them. They see bumper/rocker panel extensions, spoiler, and fog lights and then think, oh, its an M3 for 50% off.

    • 0 avatar
      Frylock350

      I owned a 2WD pickup truck once. It sucked hard in the snow even with 300# of stuff in the bed. I hated having to get out and shovel myself out of getting stuck in 12+ inches of snow. Next truck was a 4×4 and what a difference it makes. Haven’t gotten stuck yet. Plus with 4LO I was able to pull bushes out when I re-landscaped and I could now use unpaved boat launches.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I think getting 4X4 on a truck makes sense, just so you don’t crater your resale value. Anybody looking for a 2-wheel drive truck is expecting something cheap.

      • 0 avatar
        cdotson

        TMA1, I don’t dispute the veracity of the resale values, but you’re clearly contributing to and not thinking about the underlying assumptions driving the disparity in resale values. The nearly universal prevalence of 4×4 pickups in the modern pickup market, which rivals if not surpasses peak pickup in 2004, is a relatively new development. Into the early 1990s 4×4 was a far less common option. Go back to late 1960s pickups and 4×4 is even a rare option.

        In the 13 years I daily drove a 2wd pickup I encountered 12″ snow precisely once and over 6″ another two or three times. Those times I found the truck handled the snow fine if I filled up the bed with shoveled/brushed snow. It’s the 3-day old melt/refreeze where the truck struggled, but it was still manageable. Being in central Virginia it is neither excessively hilly nor common for snow to stick around for more than a few days.

        I’ll admit to having not considered boat ramps, which in most circumstances are valid locations to use 4wd. I know precisely nobody who currently owns a boat larger than a canoe (despite living adjacent to “the River City”), and before my brother-in-law sold it he launched his center console fishing boat with a 2wd 4cyl stick shift Frontier without issues.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    To be fair, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have AWD systems that are designed to enhance handling and traction, so there is some benefit to having them. Ditto for any Quattro Audi that’s not transverse-engined. I read somewhere that the current M550i, which can now only be had in xDrive form, accelerates faster to 60 than the previous M5. I’m sure that’s *not* the reason people buy AWD luxosedans, though. They buy them because they think AWD is necessary.

    But the AWD systems in your typical transverse-engined crossover? Yeah, those are worthless, if you ask me. They only engage the rear wheels when the front wheels start to slip—and sometimes not even then—so the majority of the time, you’re carrying around extra weight and complexity for no reason, not to mention the additional tire expenses.

    Even Subaru’s excellent AWD system was quietly crippled for the latest round of H4-engined products.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Here in Denver, where we get a LOT of smaller, annoying snowstorms, AWD is handy for getting around – it does provide more useful traction in certain situations (example: stuck in traffic in three inches of snow on an uphill incline). But any storm capable of putting something like an Accord or Camry on the sidelines will do the same thing to the hordes of AWD crossovers out there as well.

      The last time we had a storm that bad (winter 2006), the only vehicles moving were serious off roaders, like jacked up Jeeps and pickups. There was a guy with an H1 Hummer in my neighborhood who was taking folks to the grocery store and pharmacy for emergencies. Everything else – and that includes standard issue 4wd SUVs and pickups – was just as f*cked as my old Focus was.

    • 0 avatar
      manny_c44

      This is false, at least the most recent iterations of the Haldex systems are predictive. In my A3 when I floor it into a turn I can immediately *hear* (and feel) the power going to the back through the Haldex clutch, it is not responding to slip. Also the only two times I’ve had the car slip in the wet was when the back started to go wide from too much power in the rear, before it corrected itself. Meaning it was sending power to the rear before detecting slip.

      Also in the RS3 you can just simply go into the car settings and tell it to be rear biased. So the electronic systems I think or no longer inferior to the mechanical systems.

      In general I like the Haldex Quattro setup very much. I would say it is useful even for the 230 Hp you get out-of-the-box with a 2.0T.

    • 0 avatar
      HEOJ

      The H6 system was crippled as well, in the previous generation Legacy and Outback it was AWD at all times but with the 2015 redesigns the H6 gets the same FWD until it slips system as the H4…booooo!

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      “Even Subaru’s excellent AWD system was quietly crippled for the latest round of H4-engined products.” Perhaps this is true for the CVT cars, but manual cars still use a viscous (non-electronic) center differential with a 50-50 front/rear split under dry-road conditions, as has been true for many years.

      Whether Subaru is a “cult” today, or just successful marketing, I wouldn’t know how to distinguish. My family’s been driving them for 31 years, and we have two 5-speeds and an (inherited) old-style automatic.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Agreed, AWD on FWD platform cars is completely unnecessary from a winter-driving standpoint – any storm capable of putting a properly-tired FWD car on the sidelines is going to take down something with AWD.

    But it’s not unnecessary on powerful FWD platform cars –
    imagine the torque steer on something like a 400-hp 3.0TT Continental. Scary. Give me AWD on that car, for no other reason than not wanting to veer all over the road when the turbos kick in.

    But I’ll argue all day for AWD on RWD platform vehicles. Yes, you can get winter tires, but who wants to f**k around with that, particularly on a luxury car? I mean, really…you’re going to drop thousands of dollars on winter tires and steelies (or thousands more for alloys) for a 7-series BMW, and then take the time to get them mounted and then dismounted a few months later? Nonsense.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      I am assuming that was ‘tongue in cheek’.

      As discussed many times, purchasing another set of wheels and winter tires, eliminates the need for tire rotations and extends the life of the tires.

      So in reality no extra cost unless you drive so little that the tires will actually ‘dry out’.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        And that’s perfectly relevant to people who care about stuff like tire life, who also tend to be the people who buy cars and then drive them into the ground. Good on them.

        But most car buyers don’t do that. Many of them won’t even keep the car long enough to wear out the first set of tires (likely scenario on a lease). And if you go the winter tire route, you’re going to be screwing around with buying a second set of wheels and tires for a car you aren’t keeping forever. It makes more sense to just buy a car with AWD.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          the problem is that AWD only helps address one winter problem; which is getting moving and avoiding being stuck.

          AWD will not help you stop or steer in snow. Winter tires will. and IMO, those two are far more important, as every 4WD/AWD SUV driving idiot who puts their truck shiny side down because they were driving too fast for conditions on their rock-hard all-seasons. because, you know, “I’ve got 4 wheel drive!”

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Not every place is snowed in for as long as most of Canada typically is. You won’t need snow tires for half the year, so extending the life of the non-winter tires is inconsequential compared to the price of another set of wheels and tires.

        Buying some steel wheels and winter tires for a Corolla is simple and not expensive. For a premium luxo barge, not so much. Price a set of correct off-set and sized wheels for the example he gave. Or just the tires, assuming you’re cool with hauling some nasty, wet, smelly tires in your $70k Bimmer sedan, or I guess you can buy a tire machine to use twice a year, maybe it’ll eventually “pay for itself” by the time your great grand children are the ones using it.

        Sure beats paying a slight premium up front, likely getting it back when sold, and not worrying about any of it.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          High performance snows, on nice alloys, with tire pressure sensors, for my M235i were about $1600. Not really much of an issue when you are putting them on a $52K car, and extending the life of the very spendy summer Pilot Sports in the bargain.

          If a car of mine is going to see snow, it is getting snow tires regardless of which or how many wheels are driven. Again, I like to be able to STOP in the snow.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        Some car owners have no way to store a second set of mounted or unmounted tires. We don’t all live in single-family homes with garages.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I stored the summer tires for my ’84 GLI under the bed in my dorm room. What is your excuse again?

        • 0 avatar
          PenguinBoy

          Some tire stores and car dealers will store off season tires and rims, for those without room in their garage – or under their dorm room bed.

          In some situations, AWD is a useful suplement to Winter tires. But it’s not an alternative to them.

      • 0 avatar
        EMedPA

        I agree, but not everyone has storage space for 4 extra mounted tires.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    Well first off, on cars the mantra is now all the safe, all the time. So ya a FWD with snow tires CAN handle it. But again, all the safe, all the time. If your kids are in the back of anything without AWD and 27 airbags, you’re a horrible parent and everyone is going to die horribly.

    Cars are just a manifestation of the larger plotpoint of society where everything is out to kill your kid and no accident should ever occur again. I’ll see your craggy ol’ rwd pick-up story and raise you a kids use to be able to go places without their parents following behind in a CUV. Hell, people used to ride IN THE BACK of a 2wd pickup and they didn’t instantly die (it’s probably good that they have laws about that now though).

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, there’s “safe all the time,” and then there’s “I have no choice but to go to work all the time.” Plenty of folks fall in the latter category – hospitals, fire departments, police departments, utilities, etc don’t shut down because of snow.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        That’s why “the guy that drives the snowplow, drives a VW Beetle”.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        So again, 1% of the population? How ever did we manage back in the day when even FWD was exotic and everyone managed to get around in nose-heavy RWD bombs? Of course, as Arthur says, the plow guys drove Beetles. And my Mom drove a 911, which was WAAAAAAY better in snow than Dad’s Grand Prix.

  • avatar
    John R

    I’m of two minds on this. For the majority of drivers who have as much interest in the automobiles as I do in dishwashers a FWD Camry will serve them fine.

    For me, cars like the Evo, STi, Focus RS and so on are ways to have you cake and eat it, too. I guess the qualifier is that if the AWD system improves the performance potential of the car, I’m down.

  • avatar

    Funny from a guy who owned an early CUV and just bought a 4wd pickup.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’ve retired to the Sonora CA area and will be experiencing my first snowy winter in my FWD TSX Sportwagon. Of course I’ll put 4 good winter tires, but probably not studs. If it doesn’t go well then I’ll see about a AWD car. I won’t have a lot of choices considering I don’t want a SUV and want the price under $40,000

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      Used to live in Sonora. If you live in town, you won’t see snow. If you live up in the hills, you’ll see a little. Just slide down the hill into town, the snow will melt and then go home later.
      There are some awesome back roads between Sonora and Murphy’s; had a blast back there on many occasions.
      I don’t miss the motor homes on 108 though. Not one bit.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    If you just putt around, Jack’s right. Where AWD does make a difference is getting as much power to the ground as possible and it becomes more important as available power increases. In winter, real winter tires matter more than drive train.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Having experienced enough crappy driving characteristics from FWD in my relatively low-powered TSX (torque steer, poor directional stability under acceleration over bumps, plowing in turns) my next car will not be FWD. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance it won’t be RWD either, simply because there are fewer and fewer RWD choices every year (in my price range it’s basically pony cars and 3/C classes), so that leaves AWD. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the alternative.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I’m reminded of the time I took a small 60mi trip, while it was raining but the temps were just at freezing. Ice had formed all over the road – very spotty but it looked like rain.

    I saw any number of CUVs/SUVs and trucks off in the ditch. I managed to keep on the road in my RWD BMW – with a set of Blizzaks – by keeping my speed to a sane level. And that’s the thing with RWD – when that back end starts to slide, it sends a message to my brain to let go of the gas pedal so the nose straightens out. I generally prefer RWD (heck, I generally prefer BOF cars but *shrug*) just for that (and other things) feedback. Even my Roadmaster was a good enough winter car – that weight! -with some all seasons out back.

    My wife’s FWD Mini – with Pirelli snows – is a wonder in the white stuff. Provided the roads are plowed. It’s never been stuck – but hey – it sure felt close on a few occasions when the snow was deep.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      It’s the depth of the snow that ultimately kills you with FWD – your typical compact or sedan doesn’t have a lot of ground clearance, so you end up high-centered. I’ve found you can still get around fairly well with FWD in around a foot of snow, give or take. Anything over that, and you’re in for a rough ride. If you get two feet, you’re pretty much staying home, and that’s true of AWD crossovers as well.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Good ‘ole JB guaranteed himself lots of clicks with this one. AWD is a very divisive issue among the B&B.

    Tests prove that FWD with winter tires outperform AWD.
    AWD helps you to go faster in winter/bad conditions but does not help you stop faster. So when some other vehicle without AWD slows down, we get the dreaded ‘traffic wave’ occurring which generally results in an accident either a rear ender or someone swerving off the road.

    And vehicles with a higher centre of gravity are more likely to ‘flip’.

    Better to learn how to drive in winter/bad weather than depend on an AWD system. Better yet to learn how to drive a standard to learn how engine speed, etc can help or harm traction.

    Anecdotally after over 4 decades of driving and well over a million miles. 1) In my neck of the woods, during/after the first snow fall each year, we get stuck behind German sedans sliding up/down the slightest inclines/declines, usually over Highway 407. 2) After commuting along the most dangerous stretch of Highway 401 (2.5 hours each way) for 2 of the worst recent winters, the majority of vehicles I passed in the ditch/median were pick-ups and vehicles with AWD. 3) My friends who are Police Officers in Muskoka/Kawartha confirm point #2 stating that AWD and ‘big truck’ provide a false sense of confidence and lead to people driving ‘too fast’ for the conditions.

    As for the optimism of the 1950’s we discussed that yesterday and JB is largely correct, except the troops had predominantly returned by 1946 (a mere quibble).

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “Tests prove that FWD with winter tires outperform AWD.”

      Sure, but winter tires are a hassle. And they’re expensive. Thus, AWD.

      I mean, who’s going to drop $90,000 on a RWD S-class Benz and then screw around with buying and mounting winter tires (not to mention rolling around with steelies five months a year, or spending thousands of dollars on alloys for the winter tires) when you can just check the AWD box on the options list?

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        So you weren’t kidding?

        Again, you eliminate the need for tire rotations.
        It doesn’t cost any more as you double the life of your existing tires.
        And the wheels generally depreciate less than your vehicle.
        So no extra cost, no extra time, no extra hassle.

        No problem.

        • 0 avatar
          ktm525

          The solution is AWD with winter tires. For me:

          Canada + mountains + boat ramps + forest service roads = AWD.

          Sure I can limp through a 6 month winter with FWD or RWD (with proper tires) and modulate the throttle and creep away from lights OR I can drive hammer down. lol

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          No problem IF you’re planning on keeping a car for 10 years. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But as a guy who’s leasing his car, I can tell you that spending upwards of a grand on a second set of tires and wheels so that they don’t need to be replaced or rotated (which costs me all of $10 to do at Jiffy Lube and gets tossed in gratis if I take the car in regular service at the VW dealer) is a giant waste of money. That’d change if I were planning on keeping my car longer than October 2019, of course.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        If I was wealthy enough to drive a new S-class, I’d have the sense to pay the dealer or tire place to store my snow tires (and maybe nice alloy wheels that they are mounted on) and drop off the car for a quick tire swap in the fall and spring. Heck people do that with much more plebian vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Gearheads would do that…but I can tell you about 96.4% of S-class buyers are anything but gearheads. Ditto for most luxury car buyers in general. They don’t have the time or inclination to mess with that kind of thing. That’s why AWD appeals to them.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            I dunno, I think having excellent control of my vehicle in inclement winter weather as a pretty ‘luxurious’ privilege, I suppose the US might be the exception but I’m sure in most of Europe said wealthy person would have this arrangement.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            interesting how hard people will work at being lazy.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            FWIW:

            http://www.mercedesbenzofdenver.com/tire-storage-program.htm

        • 0 avatar
          Frylock350

          I have a friend who does it with a Camaro. But he’s a gearhead.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          If was wealthy enough to drive an S-class I wouldn’t let it ever get exposed to the salt.

          I’d buy a used Ford or GM or whatever.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            If you were wealthy enough for an S-Class you would probably have an equally nice luxury SUV to go with it. Why slum it in some used American turd?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Snow tires are generally cheaper than an insurance deductible payment.

        Of course, many people are penny wise and pound foolish.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      “Better to learn how to drive in winter/bad weather than depend on an AWD system.”

      Agreed. Those that live cold climates may want to consider a Winter driving school is offered in your area. We did this one a couple of years back: http://www.beyond.ca/2017-sasc-winter-driver-training/23832.html, and I recommend it highly – it was fun for the whole family!

      Of course, that doesn’t eliminate the need for Winter tires. Or the (occasional) advantages of AWD…

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Most insurance companies in Canada offer a discount of around 15% for vehicle equipped with snow tires. For my vehicles/insured drivers, that means that my break even is 3 years.

        And I can sell the wheels when I trade in the car.

        Most garages/dealers will also store your tires for a set fee.

        And if you lease for 4 years and drive close to the general lease allowance (24k per year) then you will need to purchase a new set of tires before returning the vehicle or pay a penalty. So purchasing the winter tires, saves you that. Therefore not costing you anything.

        And if you are driving a ‘performance’ sedan/vehicle you probably have ‘performance’ tires, meaning useless on ice or slush. And they generally wear faster. So installing winter tires is actually a money saver.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          “And if you are driving a ‘performance’ sedan/vehicle you probably have ‘performance’ tires, meaning useless on ice or slush. ”

          Most luxury sedans are fitted with all season tires. You’ll find the kind of dedicated “summer” tires you’re talking about on cars like the M3 or an AMG Benz.

  • avatar
    Promit

    I’ve had to climb snowy and icy inclines – patchy driveways in particular – where momentum isn’t enough to get you the whole way up. In a FWD car, I’ve sat there watching the front wheels spin on sheet ice while the rear tires sit idle on perfectly good pavement where some salt or sand wound up. There’s something convincing about actually being stuck in the exact situation in which AWD would casually push you out.

    • 0 avatar
      doublechili

      Yup. Inclines. AWD. Getting up my street and especially my driveway is really what convinced me to switch from winter tires/FWD to all-season/AWD. The latter does the trick every time where the former did not.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    I drove for years in Canadian winters (up and down the 401, to/from Kw/Toronto) and all around. A little RWD (’79 Dodge, yikes!), a few VWs.

    So then I moved to Norcal and bought my first AWD car – and it’s seen maybe 3 days below freezing in its 12-year life. But, getting 300+ hp down to the ground – never a squeal unless I launch it, no torque steer, etc.. Our ’15 T&C – chirps the tires every time I get 5% too much throttle off the line.. If I have to choose between FWD and (real) AWD for performance/fun driving – AWD everytime..

  • avatar
    Reuleaux

    FWD is absolute sh*t if you’re trying to get up snowy and icy hills in the winter, all of the weight transfers to the rear and you go nowhere. Then people abandon their sh*tbox on the side of the road (or just as often the middle) and cause snowpocalypse traffic jams. Or they chain up and then drive 55 MPH on the plowed and dry freeways and destroy the roads.

  • avatar
    HEOJ

    On one hand I feel unqualified to comment because I live in area that rarely gets bad wintery road conditions, but on the other hand one week after getting my Legacy we did have one of those rare moments and I got to drive by all the various cars, trucks, cuvs & suvs that were having trouble or getting stuck. It might have helped that the H6 of that generation actually has fulltime AWD and not a system that only sends power to the rear when it slips. Of course that was 4 years ago and the weather hasn’t been that bad since, but AWD isn’t why I got the car anyhow. Now when it comes time to replace it there will be a conundrum I don’t really need AWD but the Legacy has been my best driving car ever and I want another AWD car, but most of them are FWD or RWD until they slip, I want(irrationally) fulltime AWD!

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I’ve had two RWD cars, two FWD cars, and two AWD cars.
    The only cars I have spun were the RWD cars, the ’64 Riviera and the ’89 Supra Turbo. Well, I was a teenager with the Riv, so perhaps that doesn’t count! I spun the Supra twice in wet weather – the first week I had it (after being used to FWD), and ten years later on the last week I had it (after having gotten used to AWD) – no damage to the car in either case, I was very lucky!

    So it would appear that FWD and AWD do have wet weather advantages to RWD, not just in winter.

    I do wonder whether my AWD Audi with all-seasons is better or worse in the snow than my wife’s FWD Mini which has snow tires – but she didn’t bother getting the snow tires installed on the car last winter, so there is that.

    I will grant you that the RWD cars were more fun to drive, though, as they took a bit more skill.

  • avatar

    BRAVO!

    Or as I always put it:

    “AWD is for housewives and people with heart problems.”

  • avatar
    bortlicenseplate

    I always laugh at these ridiculous “hot takes” about FWD/RWD with snows besting AWD with all-seasons, because they always conveniently gloss over third and most obvious option: AWD *with snows*. As other commenters have mentioned above, in hilly, slippery conditions, there’s nothing better than AWD+snows. Yes, it costs more, but you get the best performance. This should surprise no one – as in everything, you get what you pay for.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      While I agree with you (my winter vehicle of choice is a snow tire shod AWD Land Rover Discovery I), it is an expensive convenience. And completely unnecessary for most of the population. I have other reasons to have the Rover, so the snow use is just a bonus, I would be perfectly content to drive my RWD wagon with snows all winter. But if someone slides into that I would cry. If someone slides into the Rover it just adds “patina”.

      There just aren’t that many people who actually NEED the level of winter performance that AWD and snow tires brings. Certainly the number of folks driving weak sauce Subaru Imprezas in Florida makes me chuckle. They need AWD to get that mighty power to the ground!

      • 0 avatar
        bortlicenseplate

        That Series I LR is a sweet winter ride. You’re right of course; AWD is overkill in many instances and locales, esp. in that Florida example, haha. I also agree it’s an expensive convenience – to wit, I don’t even *need* snow tires to survive in the PNW, per se, I just happen to ski a lot and want easy, fast, safe access to the mountains, ergo I rely on my awd car + snows, because they offer the best performance. I know I’m in the minority, but I take exception with the absolutism of Jack and others, who proclaim FWD with snows as being ideal in all instances – which he does – because it’s inaccurate, dishonest and only in the service of a convenient soundbite.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          You’re reading things that are not in the article.

          • 0 avatar
            bortlicenseplate

            You sure about that, Jack?

            “But most people just want a car that is reasonably trustworthy if there’s a bit of snow on the ground. For that, the low center of gravity and outstanding weight balance of a conventional transverse-packaged FWD car is absolutely the best and safest bet. Period. Point blank.

            When traction conditions are low, you want the back wheels doing nothing, not pushing you faster towards certain doom. Trust me on this one, okay?”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In the Pittsburgh area, we get maybe 5 days a year where AWD would help. In 38 years of driving, I’ve abandoned my FWD exactly once due to poor snow traction.

    In really bad conditions, you shouldn’t even be going out, AWD or not.

    Another important detail: An ironic correlation with the rise of AWD is the community demand for salted roads. On most snowy days, the roads are like summertime by 9 am. The salt then destroys your car and its resale value.

  • avatar

    I was a fan of front wheel drive before Jack was born and while I’ve driven just about every kind of layout and drive system and only gotten stuck twice in over 40 years of driving in Michigan winters, I wouldn’t mind if my Honda Fit had the HR-V’s AWD system.

    My ’91 Chrysler minivan with AWD was superb in the snow. Likewise the ’00 Ford Explorer we had.

    To be fair, back then my ex and I were taking our kids rustic camping in the Upper Peninsula, occasionally having to cross small streams overrunning the two-tracks we often found ourselves on, but even without driving in the boonies, for Michigan weather it’s nice to have all four wheels providing motive force.

    Sure, good winter tires are like night and day and when the crappy, no-grip, wearing-fast OEM Firestones that Honda price pointed onto my Fit hit the wear bars I’ll get some performance summer tires and another set of rims with Blizzaks for winter driving. Still, with amount of snow around here, I prefer AWD.

  • avatar
    Dan

    I don’t see how mass market AWD can survive the looming extinction of CAFE 2025. The compromises that manufacturers are baking in in pursuit of fractional fuel economy advantage are beginning to become obvious even to non car people. They can’t leave 200 pounds of rear driveline bits and 3 MPG of fleet compliance on the table for low to no margin products. So it will be interesting to see the marketing spin as the option goes away downmarket.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Fwd is inherently unstable during engine braking.

    Fwd makes cars more nose heavy.

    Fwd cars can have more interior volume with a lower floor and be lighter. But people don’t like crawling down into them.

    Fwd cars shift weight off the driving wheels during acceleration.

    Awd fixed some of these problems and was normalized by marketing so people paid more for more elaborate cars. While growing traffic jams suggested few were having trouble getting around.

    Traction and stability control helped also, but can only do so much.

    Separating human factors from technology, awd rally cars are faster than 2wd. Awd cars with winter tires are more capable in winter than fwd cars with winter tires.

    Car journalists are supposed to promote car fetishism, not knock it.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Though relevant to few drivers, engine braking down a steep slippery road with awd locked in, either in low gear or low range, is vastly superior to doing the same relying on the brakes with awd or 2wd. And learning that abs goes awol in these circumstance comes as an unpleasant surprise.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I had an 11 w body impala for a short while. Nice enough car, had the 300 hp v6 and it hauled the mailso to speak. Torque steer was off the charts.

    Fast forward. I now drive a 14 lacrosse AWD with what i suspect has the same 300 hp v6. This car drives god like. Does not have the torque steer like the w body impala did, and oddly gets better mpg, barely, but better.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I drive on slippery winter roads every day for three months a year or more, and I only need FWD and a set of studded Gislaveds.

    But only because I’m poor. If I weren’t, I’d be winter driving something like an Audi S4 or Subaru Legacy GT – still on factory-studded European winter tires, of course – like my buddies who continue to put effort into this life. Then in summer, I’d park it and drive something RWD so I could maximize driving enjoyment in wet/dry conditions as well, just as they do.

    0-60 in 8 seconds with the tail hanging out is a far more pleasurable way to get around the city throughout a dreary winter than 0-60 in 20 seconds with nothing but power understeer at your disposal. Especially so when it’s the difference between merging into traffic effortlessly and immediately instead of waiting a few minutes for an attempt to scratch and claw your way into a gap.

    Not that you can’t have fun with FWD. I’d still take FWD and no nannies over some half-a$$ed part-time AWD with non-defeatable nannies; even if it is slower.

    I think drivers would appreciate FWD a lot more if limited slip differentials weren’t so rare.

  • avatar
    nvinen

    It rains in summer. Wet roads can be slippery. I’ve owned multiple RWD, FWD and AWD vehicles. Merging into freeway traffic from a short, steep, curved onramp in heavy rain is much less pants-soiling in the AWD cars compared to the others. The FWD cars tend to spin their wheels, scrambling for grip, while the RWD cars feel unstable and I have to back off so I don’t spin them.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    I’m blessed to live in the South, so snow is a rarity here, and even a “bad” winter is one deepish show and maybe an ice storm and that’s it. Since we don’t do winter, everything basically stops, so you just wait it out.

    I did spend 5 years living near the southern border of Iowa, and had a 1993 Ford Taurus at the time. As long as the snow wasn’t so deep it couldn’t push through, on good all seasons she did just fine.

    My wife’s pickup is a true 4X4 with locking rear differential and we’ve driven it on snow exactly once in the three years we’ve had it, and I turned off the 4WD after a block because it wasn’t needed. I bought a 4X4 because they hold their value better and we do have some friends that live out in the stix down a nasty road and it occasionally comes in handy.

  • avatar

    Ha, I happen to own the enthusiast-despised CRV…that so happens to come with AWD.

    I love it, and in Seattle, steep hills + rain + AWD = not having to worry about rolling back into the person behind me.

    It was a different story with my old RAV…

  • avatar
    whitworth

    Early front wheel drive was absolutely terrible. A lot of that has been engineered out of it, but this idea it got a “bad rap” is not how I remember things at all. I remember a good several decades where it really was an inferior drivetrain choice. It took a LONG time to get a front wheel drive car that didn’t exhibit a lot of what people complain about.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    But…there are a few reasons newer AWD systems are better…like the Acura system.

    Just like Baruth, I love FWD. And I have used his writing on FWD in many discussions or when advising friends and family on what kind of car to buy.

    And I laugh every time I see the long hoods required for the RWD car.
    It’s like the image from the 1930s is still driving the image of manhood, money and power.

    But you lose all that space!

    FWD has always performed for us through years of Chicago winters. And this is why I used to love the old VW Bugs in HS and college…the engine was over the wheels providing the power and we never got stuff.

    My only issues are 1) the ability to produce transmissions able to take the power of my kind of engines.
    My MKS 3.5 TT, and the SHO for that matter, cannot be had without the AWD. I wish they could, but they can’t.
    Or 2) the new ways they are using all wheels to provide stability when driving. I understand the Acura system and others similar provide very complicated power changes to each wheel based upon the computer sensing what is happening.

    Now like it or not…that is a great safety development.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Can’t answer regarding snow here in Texas but of our RWD, FWD and AWD stable I much prefer the Outback in the rain. And yes I can tell a difference.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Often times it isn’t just about Fwd vs AWD vs RWD but when it comes to traction in adverse weather conditions, particularly snow, it becomes a car ( regardless of drive wheels) vs SUV or truck. Those 4-5 inches extra of ground clearance really matter. A good friend of mine had an Audi A4 Quattro with snow tires. Car was too low to the ground and a CRV FWD would embarrass him most of the time because snow was too high for his 4 inches of ground clearance.
    I’ve lived in Halifax for 5 years and downtown at least is like a Canadian San Francisco. Nothing but AWD or 4×4 helps there. I’ve seen Civics with Blizzaks not being able to make up the hill, while my Honda Rudgeline with good all seasons would be like a freight train. So there’s a time and a place for everything.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Jed, I have a serious advice for you: watch Initial D. The question of AWD is well illuminated in it, and from an angle of high performance driving too.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Haha yes! My single foray into watching any sort of anime, it was truly excellent stuff.

      • 0 avatar
        Pete Zaitcev

        I think it should be pointed out that Initial D was surprisingly well founded. Not just in the practical effects of AWD, but even the racecraft (for a story where the main character has to win no matter what). Remember TTAC’s own one-time author Thomas Kruizer, who was actually on the scene and is a witness to Initial D’s veracity. Also, not all car-driving anime has this fidelity, or not even the most. Look no further than EX-driver for something that you cannot take seriously, or use to answer your burning AWD questions. In fact, I showed Initial D to actual club racers and one said that the moves on the track were completely plausible, but the show was “too serious for a cartoon”. So yeah, I think Jed could benfit from watching.

  • avatar
    AoLetsGo

    Running my Focus with performance tires in summer and snows in winter, sure.
    Putting snows on my RAM Hemi RWD, F-that. I just park it to keep it out of the salt.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Some of us live where there are real hills and AS tires are better than FWD and winter tires.

    AWD or 4WD does help you turn. Some time ago Jack himself wrote an article about how a tire only has so much grip and you can use that grip for only so much. Take away some of the power delivery from the front tires and then can do more turning.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I grew up on a hill, braking a 4000+lb 4WD/AWD vehicle downhill with all seasons is a white knuckle experience. ABS chattering away and you just keep sliding at what seems like a perpetual 5mph towards the intersection. Yes going up was a piece of cake. But on balance, I’d take our FWD Honda Fit on snow tires over the MPV on all seasons in terms of overall safety and capability. Now, the logical end to my story is that we put snow tires on the MPV and turned it into an absolute unstoppable beast in the snow. I showed up my brother’s XL7 on Cooper AT3 All terrain tires climbing a steep unplowed (14 inches or so) PA fire road with that MPV on snow tires.

  • avatar
    EAF

    Thank you Jack for the entertaining read!!!

    I always look at this topic from the perspective of someone who does all of his own repairs & maintenance.

    -2 extra axles
    -1 extra driveshaft w/ associated yokes, guibos, center bearings
    -1 extra differential w/ fluid maintenance
    -1 transfer case w/ fluid maintenance
    -Several additional sensors, solenoids & modules

    Add to this list the extra cost of fuel due to drag and weight. A FWD Tucson is 386lbs lighter than an AWD Tucson. That’s the equivalent of carrying 2 additional mid-sized passengers everywhere you go.

    Is all of this extra crap worth the $3000 price hike in MSRP? What about increases in repair or replace costs because AWD components occupy the same space?

    I drive 365 days a year. I had to park my fwd car for 4 days last year because the roads were not passable. For myself, and for the large MAJORITY of other drivers, AWD helps in 1.09% of the time.

    P.S. Subaru cars are complete pieces of over hyped and over priced trash. ;-)

  • avatar
    Netsy

    “All Or Nothing At All”… The kids are sure to go nuts over that timely song title reference in the headline!

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    I’ve lived in the center of the Northeast Ohio snowbelt for quite some time, and in the last few years everyone in the area seems to have decided they “need” all wheel or four wheel drive vehicles. I’ve yet to own one–although I nearly bought a Legacy GT a while back–but have gotten through a lot of nasty storms and road conditions using front wheel drive cars with good tires, and winter tires can make me feel like a superhero during a snowstorm.

    So every winter there are a couple days where I help out someone who owns a four wheel drive SUV because he or she couldn’t get somewhere, but I could.

    Still though, I am occasionally attempted by the siren rumble of a Legacy GT or hatchback WRX.

  • avatar
    texheim

    I was looking at AWD for light off roading in deep sand at a recreational property.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    I own a quattro Audi (real quattro, not a that BS Haldex crap) and a Jeep with full-time 4WD. Love them both for the incredible traction in any conditions or situation. The ability to lay down the power at any time, dry or wet, is what I love about AWD

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Hey Bark! Your brother says you bought a security blanket for your Focus. I think his Accord needs a lesson in physics.


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