The Difference between All-Wheel Drive and Four-Wheel Drive


Whether you’re shopping for a GMC Sierra truck, a GMC Yukon SUV, or another GMC vehicle well-known for exceptional performance and design, at some point you’ll be faced with an important question: all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD)?


Of the two drivetrains, AWD is newer and more complex. AWD also features on a larger variety of body styles, from economy sedans and luxury sedans to compact and midsize crossover SUVs. Another difference between AWD and 4WD is that the former is on virtually all the time and requires no driver engagement. On the flipside, 4WD systems are part-time systems that must be engaged and disengaged by the driver.

AWD systems deliver power to the wheels with the most traction at any given time – this is done by splitting torque to the individual wheels via the front and rear differentials. This type of “on-demand torque” is very useful in slippery conditions, when at any given time one or two wheels might grip the road better than the other two.


4WD is prominent on vehicles classified as “off-road”, or which have a significant level of off-road ability. Two good examples are truck-based, full-size SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe, and pickup trucks such as a GMC Sierra.

Unlike AWD, where power is delivered to individual wheels as needed, a 4WD system is designed to transfer torque (via a transfer case) evenly to all four wheels. This is a huge benefit when negotiating rough terrain, but it isn’t as adept as AWD when it comes to making sharp turns and maintaining momentum. To counteract this, today’s 4WD systems offer multiple settings, including “limited slip”, which delivers more car-like turning and handling.

For more information, contact Okotoks GMC

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