By on December 14, 2017

winter driving snowy road (public domain)

Tuesday morning, as a fresh dumping of snow blanketed your author’s region, we discussed a crucial (and obvious) ingredient for safe winter driving: winter tires.

Far less crucial for day-to-day safety, though still valuable, is another automotive feature — one that regularly sees new car buyers slap down several thousand dollars extra at the dealer. In many cases, the feature immediately goes to drivers’ heads, instilling them with a foolish overconfidence in their vehicle’s mastery of the laws of physics.

We’re talking about all-wheel drive/four-wheel drive.

On the first slick night of the season, following barely an inch of the slippery stuff, the degree to which AWD/4WD tricks drivers into feeling like Superman was made abundantly clear by a very crowded on-ramp. Crowded, but not moving. As I passed the ramp, heading home late one night, I could see three premium crossovers doing what all-wheel-drive premium crossovers shouldn’t. Sitting motionless, costing their owners money.

It seems the first driver didn’t anticipate the vehicle’s lack of grip while navigating the tight curve, leading to a spinout. The second driver, piloting a very similar vehicle, was apparently unable to stop in time, leading to an expensive steel kiss. The third driver, obviously trailing the first two a little further back, didn’t make contact, but the road condition was not sufficient for the driver to bring the CUV to a safe halt. No, this one left the road and headed off into the bush, where it sat dejected, unable to extract itself.

Four-wheel traction did nothing to help prevent this crack-up, but grippier tires and reduced speed could have saved the day. Still, when the snow grows deep and the time it takes to claw your way up to speed grows longer, all two-wheel-drive vehicle owners long for extra traction. For all four of their vehicle’s wheels to work as a team. For the ability to pull and push all at once.

So, today’s question is this. With so many vehicles in our crossover-heavy world offering four-wheel motivation, which model’s missing out. Which vehicle offered only in two-wheel drive needs an AWD sibling?

There’s a few obvious suggestions. For example, the popular Kia Soul doesn’t have an AWD option, and seems to sell quite well without it. The recently introduced Toyota C-HR also shuns a rear differential. The upcoming Nissan Kicks? Front-drive only. But maybe your suggestion is less obvious. Perhaps your desire for AWD isn’t motivated by the thought of driving in deep snow — no, you’re thinking of powering through that bone-dry corner without oversteer or understeer, leaving all others in your dust.

Let’s hear your suggestions.

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68 Comments on “QOTD: Which Model Needs to Get a Grip?...”


  • avatar
    Eggshen2013

    This morning here in northern NJ with 1″ of new snow: My Mustang GT

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      As a guy who grew up driving 60s V8 RWDs in NEOhio, I say “go out and ride the cushion like Steve Kinser at Eldora.”

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I used to drive ’60s V8 RWDs in Rhode Island, and remember the advice offered by one radio station whenever roads were slick: “slow down, turn your headlights on, and keep a greater distance from other cars. If you can’t do that, make sure your will is up to date.”

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    There are plenty of AWD offerings now to satisfy prospective buyers. While I empathize Eggshen2013 I am not interested in an AWD Mustang and find the idea of an AWD Challenger silly. Sometimes, you need a beater.

    • 0 avatar
      Eggshen2013

      I do have a beater, my 96 Nissan Altima with 225,000 miles. The problem is the beater, due to my own negligence, has a dead battery.
      So I had a choice, jump the beater or drive the Mustang though this morning snow. I chose to drive the Mustang.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      The Challenger SRT 6.2 and the Hellcat are both very much traction-limited, so I could see AWD on those.

      I don’t think of the Challenger as a pony car – it’s got a big enough back seat and trunk, and a comfortable enough ride, that it’s more of a “personal luxury coupe” in the mold of the 70s Thunderbird or Monte Carlo.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I’d like to see a multi-mode 4wd system on Toyota’s 4Runner and Tundra. IE one that allows 2Hi/4Hi-unlocked center diff/4Hi-locked/4Low locked. The Sequoia has the hardware to swap right over to the Tundra, and 4Runners had this arrangement as far back as 1999 IIRC before dropping it for 2010 (Limited 4Runners are fulltime 4wds with no gas-saving 2Hi mode). For mixed pavement driving in the winter when there are occasional slick spots and drifts mixed with dry pavement it’s a very useful functionality.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    I’m gonna go all “bah humbug” on this article and suggest that FEWER cars require AWD. In everywhere but the snow belt, carrying around that extra weight and amortizing increased associated maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle just don’t make sense. Yet, plenty of people in the South buy AWD for their commuter vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      When you get I not that turbocharged torque while turning out into traffic on a rainy day you think otherwise.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I pretty much agree on your view. Marketers know how to market though. Heaven forbid we get delayed on our jaunt to Costco.

      In other considerations, I wonder if autonomous cars will know how to “rock” out out stuck conditions?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      @cognoscenti: Totally agree. AWD could help me maybe 3-5 days of the year, but I’ve managed pretty well without it here in the snowy hills of western PA, for decades.

      But now AWD has become a mandatory feature to prevent early death, or some such thinking. We can thank Subaru for their excellent marketing.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        I’m willing to bet that AWD or 4×4 gets people into trouble much more often in the winter than it gets them out of it!

        Getting stuck or spinning out is an inconvenience. Sliding off a corner because AWD gave you a false sense of adhesion *is* trouble.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      I agree, even here in Wisconsin there are only a day or two every few years where you would actually need AWD to go with your winter tires. 2WD and winter tires would have helped the people in the article here better than AWD, other then maybe the on in the ditch. As said, it adds weight and complexity on something you wouldn’t use 784 days out of 790 days. JMNSHO.

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      Two wheel drive with winter tires all round beats all wheel drive with all season or (even worse) summer tires. Nothing beats all wheel drive with winter tires. Whether you need it the rest of the year depends on how much torque you apply to the pavement. A 4,000 pound vehicle with more than 400 horsepower definitely can benefit from all wheel drive.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I would be interested in any AWD system that uses an electric motor(s) for the rear wheels coupled with FWD for normal conditions. So we’re talking some kind of hybrid here. For packaging purposes getting rid of the drive shaft connecting the rear wheels to the tranny frees up a lot of space. Also, the battery should be thin and fit under the body for better weight distribution. This type of system would help with normal acceleration in dry conditions as well as for wet/snowy roads.
    I’m not aware of anything like this on the market today, but correct me if I’m wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      IIRC that is how Toyota’s 4WD-i system in their Hybrid Highlanders and Rav4s works. Not very good for anything more than the most basic slick-on-road use (which is good enough for most I suppose).

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      My Envision has a flat floor and AWD that can see 32 mpg with a 2.0T, what more do you need?

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      The hybrid AWD system is popular in Japan, Mazda, among others offering it on most of their cars, including the 3.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      The Ford Escape Hybrid with awd (half of them had awd) uses a drivetrain while the comparable and newer Rav4 Hybrid has a rear electric motor.

      Due to the ride height the packaging is very similar. Mileage is very similar. The Escape certainly works well in tough situations. So far I’ve heard no reports of how well the Rav4 Hybrid does in light off-roading.

      The Escape’s battery is only 4″ thick and sits under the cargo floor. The spare is in the usual place under it. The only loss is a small under-floor cargo bin. The large rear batteries actually improve weight distribution and traction on these normally front-heavy cuv’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      Volvo’s T8 works this way.

  • avatar
    John R

    I feel like the newest RWD and FWD cars have become so sophisticated that I’m not sure – even in performance applications – they are necessary as an option; the VCD systems in the GS-F and the Quadrifoglio for example.

    Naturally cars like the GT-R, Evo, 911 Turbo, etcetera are exceptions as AWD is a part deliberate part of their nature, not an afterthought.

    I imagine the GS-F in snow mode on a set of winter tires would be grand.

    • 0 avatar

      Lexus’ traction and stability control is very quick to cut in though. Have to turn that right off.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Regardless of the drivetrain complexity, If you only have 50% of the weight of the vehicle on the drive wheels, you can still only accelerate half as quickly in slippery conditions as the CUV with AWD and similar tires. Putting up with a 16 second 0-60 mph time in traffic gets old after a few months.

      However, I was happy to see a newish RWD 911 ripping around on snow tires while I was out for a walk on a heavy snow day a couple months ago. Good to see it used for fun instead of pure performance.

  • avatar
    vvk

    My AWD car is in the garage today, while I drive my RWD V-8 sedan in the snow. When I used to have SAABs, both I and my wife routinely preferred driving them on slippery roads instead of the AWD Subies we had at the time. I had also discussed this issue with Subaru engineers during the mid-90s enthusiast sessions Subaru hosted at its headquarters. They said it was a challenge for them to achieve consistent handling with their “sporty” Impreza/WRX/STi lineup. The AWD is ultimately unpredictable at the limit of traction. In the same exact situation it may respond differently to driver input.

  • avatar
    drmoomoo

    I’d love to see a Mazda3 with AWD . . .

    . . . and the turbo engine from the CX9

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Anything FWD would be better with a (good) AWd system. Anything RWD should stay RWD.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Current generation HEMI V8 AWD LX Platform cars!

    Given that AWD is seen as a premium feature by more than a few people it seems a curious omission from the V8 Chrysler 300.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Ford C-max. Too late though.

  • avatar

    ALL MY CAR R 4WD.

    But I’m going to commit heresy, and suggest the Corvette needs an AWD option like the 911.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    John Rambo, “I always believed that the mind is the best weapon”

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Bring back the awd caravan.

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    Many times my FWD/RWD cars would skid wheels on wet or snowy pavement: much less with AWD. However, tire choice is critical. One cold winter day 3 people pushed a wheel-spinning, helpless summer-tired Subaru WRX STI through our iced-in parking lot, which my own winter-tired Forester navigated with few problems.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Unless there are locking diffs present, all of these SUVs that have “AWD” are still just 2WD vehicles.

    What people need to do is learn to drive and not rely on technology to get them to where they need to go. RWD taught people how to drive cars. You drove slower because “AWD” wasn’t masking the actual road conditions.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      You don’t need lockers necessarily, as SH-AWD and some of the more advanced Quattro versions demonstrate. I’m sure there are other examples as well.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      You really don’t want a locking differential in snow and ice anyway. You want any of the 1000 variations of limited slip differentials. Even modern SUVs with completely open differentials with no additional traction devices will typically use the stability/ABS system to create a brake-lock differential to move traction around. Thing is, none of that matters if the tires suck.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “Unless there are locking diffs present, all of these SUVs that have “AWD” are still just 2WD vehicles.”

      You’ll have to elaborate a bit. By that same notion, a FWD car is just a 1WD vehicle under certain slippery conditions. As lame as I think the “slip then react” AWD systems tend to be (with very strict limits on how much torque can be shuttled across that rear axle using brake-based traction control), it’s still a big leg up on FWD other things being equal.

  • avatar
    Zipster

    Yesterday, in a moderate snow fall, the only vehicle I saw in the ditch was a late model Ford Pickup, extended length, factory jacked-up, UPSIDE DOWN. Anyone want to be that it was not AWD drive?

  • avatar
    danio3834

    AWD options that typically cost upwards of $2,000 up front and a few mpg in fuel economy throughout the life of the vehicle are a big waste for the majority of drivers. Combine that with added maintenance costs associated with the risk of driveline damage and it’s silly. Gotta make sure all four tires are rotated regularly (how many Nissan Rogue owners are doing this?). Got one with sidewall damage? I guess you need all 4. Yes, everyone here does impeccable maintenance, not a problem for them. Owners of 5 year old Escapes and Journeys throw on whatever tires they can find and blow up the PTUs.

    Getting the FWD or RWD version of said AWD optioned vehicle and a good set of winter wheels/tires is way cheaper and more than adequate to make the vehicle safe in treacherous weather. As the OP notes, many AWD CUVs come with performance All-Seasons. You can put running shoes on your hands and feet but still won’t be able to move well down an ice rink.

    AWD systems are very well marketed, so consumers think they can’t do without them. Which is fine, because people spending money makes the world go ’round. But many people get disillusioned with the costs without realizing that it doesn’t have to be that way.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      No, you don’t have to buy four new tires for your AWD car if you damage the sidewall of one. You buy one new tire and take it to a shop that will shave it down so that its tread depth matches the other three. I’ve done this with one of our Subarus and it works fine.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Sure you can, if you can find a place that will do it, but it’s still an added expense and taking perfectly good life off a tire. Most shops will sell the average person 4 tires and not give them that option.

    • 0 avatar

      In general I agree with Danio AWD not worth the added issue. That said I have owned 2 AWD cars (and a bunch of 4wd SUV’s and trucks). It really is amazing how much better in a hilly area the AWD versions work. My snow tired Golf caused me to almost not get home several times when it couldn’t climb a hill or a ramp. (luckily I managed to find alternate flatter routes after backing down) Never an issue with my Volvo or Subie AWD on all seasons. The subaru which had a LSD as well was truly amazing stop dead on 6″ of fresh unplowed snow on a 16% grade pulls itself right up with nary an issue.
      Even my Aunt who has a number of times over the years told me AWD was a waste now drives an Outback thanks to retiring on a hill in the Berkshires. (note not really a subie fan for reliability reasons but the AWD did really work)

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        This basically right here. For the 1 or 2 times a year (if that), the average flat-lander encounters this type of situation, they’ve convinced themselves that all the added expense is needed.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Note that what AWD taketh at purchase time, it generally giveth at resale.

  • avatar
    PwrdbyM

    US drivers still can’t come to the realization that tires make all the difference. With an AWD system unless you’re actually applying throttle there is no power going to the wheels in order to do their magic. In this story the drivers let off the throttle and coasted or applied brakes which rendered the drive wheel irrelevant, obviously the no season tires weren’t up to the traction needed to negotiate the ramp. Winter tires folks! But then I’m preaching to the choir.

    • 0 avatar
      markf

      “US drivers still can’t come to the realization that tires make all the difference. With an AWD system unless you’re actually applying throttle there is no power going to the wheels in order to do their magic. In this story the drivers let off the throttle and coasted or applied brakes which rendered the drive wheel irrelevant, obviously the no season tires weren’t up to the traction needed to negotiate the ramp. Winter tires folks! But then I’m preaching to the choir.”

      YUP. AWD doesn’t do anything when you hit the brakes and I am willing to bet most accidents/lose of control occur during braking. Winter tires are key.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Install AWD in everything you want to sell more of, unless said sales come from cannibalizing something more profitable already on your showroom floor.

    The allure of AWD is intoxicating, whether buyers will use it or not. A family member traded in a low mileage FWD sedan for an AWD crossover solely for the AWD. Scared of the occasional winter storm. This person has never put snowtires on the CUV and is still afraid of the snow and never drives if there is any. It was a complete waste of money from multiple angles, but the manufacturer scored a sale of a profitable product.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Honda Civic Si or Type R.
    If it’s essential for the WRX and departing EVO it
    ought to be a option on the performance models of the Civic.
    AWD ought to lessen the torque steer issue as well.

  • avatar

    No vehicle NEEDS 4WD – On anything other than a vehicle designed to go off road, most AWD systems add weight and reduce the amount of power that makes it to the ground (thereby reducing fuel efficiency as well).

    What ALL vehicles need are good tires that operate in low temperature ranges and on ice, if the roads the driver drives on are likely to see such conditions during that time of year.

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    I suggest you get together with everyone in your community and buy more snow plows.
    Then buy a small disposable FWD car to deal with the ICE.

  • avatar
    Landau Calrissian

    Too late now, but I think if Honda and Toyota offered AWD on the Accord and Camry, the Subaru Legacy wouldn’t have taken off like it did. The Subaru cult is too strong now; they’ve missed their chance, and dealers would rather steer those customers toward some CUV anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Good point. An AWD Camry could really obliterate the Legacy, and would give it extra staying power in the face of the relentless CUV onslaught. When I visit Siberia I get to see all of the cool (and quite common) configurations of older Toyota Carinas, Corollas, etc with the “Fulltime 4WD” sticker on the rear door. We got a very rare Alltrac Camry (sedan and wagon) in the ’88-91 generation and then it was gone. LIkewise we got a Corolla Alltrac wagon (Carib bodystyle rather than the fwd wagon), and a Corolla alltrac sedan (’88-’92). Those old Toyota AWD systems are very legit in terms of capability, but are nowhere as fuel efficient in terms of drivetrain drag as these new systems.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    This is the wrong question. One of the reasons I was attracted to Mitsubishi is they do transverse economy AWD properly, by allowing it to be switched off completely, (by the driver!!), put in an auto slip and grip mode, and have a setting that puts 60% to the rear up to something like 30 kph, for deep snow and donuts. Even though I hate transverse layouts, this selectability is a fantastic feature for a guy with a malfunctioning brain like mine. I like it even better than the technically superior longitudinal symmetrical Subi AWD.

    Lots of cheap AWD systems can barely put enough power to the rear wheels to pop over a curb. The question should be who even values this. THIS is the real marketing gimmick.

    Example, you say? Pretty much any GM transverse AWD except the Regal, which to my understanding has a more robust PTO and feeds power to the rears on acceleration. Ive seen way to many Terrains and Acadia’s stuck in snow with their back wheels twitching like the legs on a bug you just hit with poison.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Three winters ago, I drove my RWD Cressida 50KM on the freeway, in a blizzard, at -25C, in about 4-6inches of snow. I was able to cruise at 80-90kph for the 50KM journey. During that trip I counted 11 vehicles in the ditch, three upside-down. Every single one of those was AWD/4WD. WTF!

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