Difference Between All-Wheel Drive and 4-Wheel Drive

2022 GMC Terrain AT4 Parked

Is there a difference between AWD and 4WD, or is AWD the same as 4WD? While many Raleigh drivers believe these terms are interchangeable, all-wheel drive cars and 4-wheel drive cars are different. Hendrick Buick GMC Cary takes a look at the differences between the two systems and also compares some AWD vs. 4WD advantages and disadvantages. Before you peruse our inventory, it’s a good idea to learn the basics. Let’s get started on answering “What is the difference between AWD and 4WD?” in the guide below!

AWD and 4WD: The Basics

With all-wheel drive vehicles, power is constantly sent to both the front and rear wheels. AWD typically works without any input from the driver. However, in some vehicles, you will find selectable driving modes that let you determine how much power is generated and where that power is distributed.

With 4-wheel drive, torque is sent to each wheel to boost traction when necessary. 4WD systems are usually designed to handle the toughest terrain. Most systems allow the driver to select from high or low ranges. Drivers choose the low range for the highest level of traction when off-roading. High ranges are best for slick road conditions, whether that be from snow, ice, gravel, or sand.

AWD vs. 4WD: Advantages and Disadvantages

We’ve covered the technical difference between AWD and 4WD, but when you’re deciding between AWD or 4WD for your next upgrade you should consider the advantages and disadvantages that exist within both systems:

AWD Advantages & Disadvantages


  • Full-time traction and requires no driver input
  • Increases the resale value of a car
  • Added peace of mind


  • Weight and gas mileage
  • The complexity of the system
  • While it costs less than 4WD, it’s more expensive than FWD or RWD

4WD Advantages & Disadvantages


  • Typically the better choice for technical off-road conditions like boulder crawling and water crossing
  • Added weight from 4WD components helps with road grip


  • Costs more than AWD, FWD, or RWD
  • Added weight from 4WD components decreases fuel economy

2022 GMC Sierra towing a boat
2022 GMC Yukon
2022 Buick Enclave Parked in Driveway
2022 GMC Terrain driving through a river


Which is Better: AWD or 4WD?

Is AWD better than 4WD? One system is not inherently better than the other — rather, AWD or 4WD may be better for different types of drivers. If you are trying to decide which system is best for your own driving needs, keep the following information in mind:

  • If you want precision control of your vehicle’s driving dynamics on off-road trails or you plan to tow on slippery surfaces, you may want to opt for a 4WD truck like the GMC Sierra 1500 or a 4WD SUV like the GMC Yukon.
  • If you want the system to do all of the thinking for you and added confidence during poor road conditions via full-time traction, AWD may be your best choice. We recommend exploring AWD SUVs at our dealership, such as the Buick Enclave or the GMC Terrain.

Test Drive Vehicles with AWD and 4WD at Hendrick Buick GMC Cary

Contact us to plan your visit to Hendrick Buick GMC Cary, where you can test drive our AWD and 4WD vehicles and compare AWD vs. 4WD capabilities in real time! We’ll do whatever it takes to help you choose your next truck or SUV with confidence.

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