When shopping for a new car, one of the key decisions buyers face is whether to get a vehicle with all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD / Quattro). While these systems sound similar, there are some important differences that impact performance, capabilities, and cost. Understanding the pros and cons of AWD versus Quattro can help determine which is the right fit for your needs.
AWD and Quattro have become increasingly popular options in all types of vehicles from sedans to SUVs. AWD provides enhanced traction and control in slippery conditions by sending power to all four wheels. Quattro also sends power to all four wheels but is optimised for off-road activities with extra gearing and features. The Quattro system pioneered by Audi is one of the most well-known AWD technologies and highlights the performance benefits this type of drivetrain can provide.
In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into AWD and Quattro to reveal how each system works, their capabilities, and the types of vehicles they are best suited for. Factors like weather, terrain, towing needs, and driving style all impact whether AWD or Quattro is the better choice. Understanding the key differences will make it easier to pick the ideal drivetrain to match your priorities.
What is AWD?
AWD, or all-wheel drive, refers to a vehicle drivetrain capable of sending power to all four wheels. This is different from a traditional two-wheel drive vehicle that only sends power to either the front or rear wheels.
The key advantage of AWD over two-wheel drive is improved traction and handling, especially in wet, snowy, or icy conditions. By powering all four wheels, AWD helps maintain control and forward momentum whereas a two-wheel drive vehicle might lose grip and spin out.
How AWD Works
There are a few different AWD systems, but most work via a centre differential that can actively distribute torque between front and rear axles as needed. This allows the wheels with the most traction to receive the most power.
AWD systems can be full-time, always engaged to the front and rear axles. Or they can be part-time and have the ability to disconnect the rear axle when AWD is not needed, improving fuel efficiency.
Some key advantages of AWD include:
- Better traction and acceleration on slippery surfaces like snow, mud, or gravel
- Improved handling, cornering, and braking on wet or icy roads
- Increased control and stability at highway speeds in inclement weather
- More capability light off-roading or on unpaved surfaces
While adding complexity and cost, AWD improves safety and performance for many drivers, especially in areas with frequent rain or snow. For this reason, AWD has become a very popular option on all types of vehicles from small cars to SUVs.
Comparing AWD and 2WD
Compared to two-wheel drive, AWD provides:
- Better traction in low-grip conditions like snow, mud, or gravel
- Improved handling and stability by powering all four wheels
- Increased capability off-road or on unpaved surfaces
- More consistent power delivery to avoid wheel spin
However, AWD systems do come with some downsides compared to 2WD:
- Higher manufacturing costs and complexity
- Potentially lower fuel economy and increased weight
- More maintenance and higher repair costs
- Not needed for normal dry pavement driving
For most everyday driving in ideal conditions, 2WD is perfectly adequate. But for drivers who frequently encounter snow, ice, mud, or other low traction situations, AWD can provide a significant performance and safety advantage.
What is Standard AWD?
Standard all-wheel drive (AWD) refers to a basic four-wheel drive system that sends power to both the front and rear wheels of a vehicle. Unlike more advanced AWD systems, standard AWD typically operates in a fixed 50/50 torque split, meaning power is distributed evenly between the front and rear axles at all times.
Common Features of Standard AWD
Most standard AWD systems have the following components:
- A transfer case that splits engine power between the front and rear differentials
- Front and rear differentials to allow each wheel to rotate at different speeds
- A simple viscous coupling or open differential in the centre
- No electronic controls or sensors to actively distribute torque
With a basic mechanical AWD system, there is no ability to dynamically shift power between the front and rear axles as conditions change. The static 50/50 torque split provides consistent all-wheel drive traction but lacks some of the performance benefits of more advanced systems.
Examples of Standard AWD Vehicles
Many crossover SUVs and trucks use a standard AWD system to provide improved traction and stability in inclement weather. Some examples include:
- Toyota RAV4
- Honda CR-V
- Subaru Forester
- Jeep Cherokee
- Ford Escape
- GMC Terrain
- Chevrolet Silverado
While basic in design, standard AWD offers proven capability in low-traction conditions like snow, ice, gravel, and light off-roading. It provides an affordable AWD option for drivers looking for increased traction without the complexity of high-tech systems.
What is Quattro?
The Quattro all-wheel drive system was first introduced by Audi in 1980 and revolutionised the automotive world. Quattro, meaning “four” in Italian, refers to the permanent four-wheel drive that provides enhanced traction and handling.
Unlike other all-wheel drive systems at the time that were part-time, the Quattro system was unique in that it was permanent. This means power is constantly being distributed to all four wheels, not just when slip is detected. The Quattro system was also the first to utilise a torque-sensing centre differential to actively distribute torque between front and rear axles.
Some key features and benefits of the Quattro system include:
- Torque vectoring – Ability to vary torque to each wheel for improved cornering
- Limited slip differentials – Help maintain traction during wheel spin
- Up to 70% rear torque bias – For increased rear-wheel drive feel and dynamics
- Predictive active control – Proactively adjusts torque distribution
Compared to traditional all-wheel drive systems, Quattro provides superior traction and handling in poor conditions, better high-speed stability, and a more dynamic driving experience. The active nature of Quattro allows it to respond faster and more effectively distribute torque than passive “on-demand” AWD systems.
Some key differences between Quattro and standard AWD systems include:
- Permanent vs part-time AWD
- Torque-sensing centre differential vs open differential
- Active distribution vs reactive distribution
- Higher rear bias vs balanced 50/50 torque split
In summary, the Quattro system pioneered a new generation of intelligent AWD systems and remains a leading benchmark for performance and capability over 40 years later.
Benefits of Quattro AWD
Quattro all-wheel drive provides enhanced traction and stability in poor weather conditions. The system can transfer torque between the front and rear axles to maintain grip on slippery surfaces. This results in better handling and control compared to two-wheel drive vehicles.
In dry conditions, Quattro improves handling and cornering capabilities. By sending power to all four wheels, the system allows for better acceleration out of corners. The all-wheel drive enables the vehicle to take turns with less understeer and oversteer.
Quattro positively impacts the overall driving experience and safety. Drivers report feeling more confident driving in challenging environments like rain, snow, and gravel. The increased stability gives peace of mind and allows the driver to better focus on the road. This leads to a more comfortable and secure driving experience.
In summary, Quattro all-wheel drive brings key advantages through enhanced traction, improved handling and cornering, and a safer, more assured driving experience. For drivers needing stability in poor conditions or wanting better performance on dry roads, Quattro can be a worthwhile investment.
Enhanced Traction and Stability
Quattro improves traction and stability compared to two-wheel drive systems. Its ability to transfer torque between axles helps maintain grip on slippery surfaces like snow, ice, rain, and gravel. This allows the driver to accelerate and steer with more control.
Improved Handling and Cornering
By sending power to all four wheels, Quattro reduces understeer and oversteer when cornering. The all-wheel drive enables better grip and acceleration out of turns. Handling feels more precise and responsive.
Impact on Driving Experience
With Quattro, drivers feel more confident and in control when driving in poor conditions. The enhanced stability provides peace of mind and allows the driver to focus on the road. Overall, it creates a more comfortable and secure driving experience.
Benefits of Standard AWD
Standard all-wheel drive (AWD) systems offer key advantages for drivers looking to take their vehicles off-road or use them for heavy-duty tasks. While more advanced AWD systems like Audi’s Quattro focus on performance and handling, standard AWD provides versatility and capability where it counts.
Versatility for Off-Road Adventures
With the ability to send power to all four wheels, standard AWD gives drivers the traction needed to confidently tackle uneven terrain, muddy conditions, and steep inclines. This makes standard AWD a top choice for those who enjoy outdoor adventures and need to access remote locations off the beaten path.
Standard AWD systems are designed to be rugged and durable, able to withstand the knocks and jolts of driving over rocks, ruts, and other obstacles. The components are built to last even when subjected to harsh environments.
Increased Towing Capacity
The inherent stability and traction of standard AWD enables these vehicles to safely tow heavy loads without losing control. For those who need to haul boats, campers, livestock trailers, or other substantial cargo, standard AWD provides the pulling power required.
With the entire drivetrain engaged, standard AWD makes starting, stopping, and maintaining speed while towing much easier. This gives drivers confidence when towing large loads up steep hills or on loose surfaces.
Considerations for Heavy-Duty Use
For commercial applications like construction, farming, and other job sites, standard AWD has distinct advantages. The robustness and torque distribution help vehicles like pickup trucks power through tough working conditions all day long.
Standard AWD trucks and vans can haul heavier payloads without wheel slip. They can also plough through mud and snow to access remote work locations. For businesses and workers who rely on their vehicles, standard AWD delivers the brute force they need.
AWD vs Standard AWD: Which is Right for You?
When choosing between AWD and standard AWD, it’s important to consider your specific needs and driving habits. Here are some key factors to think about:
If you live in an area with frequent rain, snow, or icy roads, AWD can provide better traction and stability. The ability to send power to all four wheels helps AWD vehicles maintain control in slippery conditions. Standard AWD may struggle more in challenging weather.
For enthusiasts who enjoy performance driving, Audi’s Quattro system offers better cornering capabilities and handling. Its ability to dynamically shift power between axles gives Quattro an edge in terms of responsiveness and grip when navigating turns at higher speeds.
For off-road adventures, standard AWD has some advantages. Its part-time 4WD mode can send equal power to all wheels for better traction on loose terrain. Standard AWD also tends to offer greater ground clearance. Quattro is designed more for on-road performance.
If you need to tow heavy loads like boats, campers, or construction equipment, standard AWD offers greater towing capacity compared to Quattro. Its rugged transfer case is built for high-torque applications.
Standard AWD systems are generally more affordable compared to Audi’s advanced Quattro technology. For buyers on a tight budget, standard AWD can deliver capable performance at a lower price point.
By weighing factors like weather, driving style, off-road needs, towing requirements, and budget, you can determine whether AWD or standard AWD is the best choice for your needs.
In this blog post, we explored the differences between standard all-wheel drive (AWD) systems and Audi’s advanced Quattro AWD technology. Understanding the unique capabilities of each system is key for consumers looking to purchase an AWD vehicle that fits their needs.
Standard AWD provides increased traction and stability in slippery conditions compared to two-wheel drive vehicles. It allows drivers to confidently tackle snow, rain, and light off-roading. Standard AWD is a versatile, affordable option suitable for most daily driving scenarios.
Quattro AWD takes performance to the next level with proactive, intelligent distribution of power to each wheel. Quattro gives drivers enhanced control and grip for tackling sharp turns and challenging weather. For driving enthusiasts who want a thrilling ride, Quattro delivers a dynamically engaging experience.
When selecting an AWD vehicle, consider your budget, intended usage, and preference for performance driving. Test drive different AWD systems to get a feel for their capabilities. An informed buyer can find the ideal AWD technology to take on any adventure.
This blog aimed to educate readers on the critical differences between standard AWD and Quattro. There are advantages to both systems – the key is choosing the one aligned with your priorities. We hope this overview has shed light on the AWD options available so you can make the perfect selection for your next vehicle.