Many drivers think that an all-wheel drive (AWD) system is better but few can say why or how. Manufacturers have often emphasized when their vehicles are AWD while front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive rarely gets mentioned. Subaru, long known for its AWD system, was a niche in the industry when AWD wasn’t common with other manufacturers. Nowadays, most manufacturers have some vehicles in their fleet with AWD technology.
So what is AWD anyway and what are its advantages over the conventional front-wheel/rear-wheel drive systems? It’s important to know that when we speak of these systems, we’re talking about power distribution to each wheel. Front-wheel drive (FWD) has power from the transmission going only to the 2 front wheels. In essence, the two front wheels are pulling the two rear wheels. In a rear-wheel drive (RWD) system, power is going to the two wheels in the back and they are pushing the vehicle. Ever been skating? If you only ever use one leg to push (giving you power), while the other foot always stays on the ice gliding then you are a One-Leg-Drive!
AWD has power from the transmission going to each wheel (all wheels) so the vehicle has an easier time getting out of challenging terrain compared to FWD/RWD. In the winter, an AWD will be able to get out of snow and slush easier. If you’re stuck in a mud patch, the AWD will be able to handle getting you out better than a FWD/RWD.
Generally speaking, AWD systems cost more (as this is an additional system that you’re paying for, there are extra parts involved), use more fuel, and you have added maintenance costs. Nothing significant, but they are costs nonetheless.
Some manufacturers have systems that are ‘partial’ AWD. They’ll call them different names for marketing reasons but essentially, they distribute power to 2 wheels during normal drives and when the computer senses that more traction is needed, it will then send power to the remaining wheels. That way, you’re not using so much fuel and power when it’s not needed.
If I was comparing an AWD system to the FWD/RWD, hands down the AWD would perform better in terms of driver control and getting through challenging terrain. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that FWD/RWD vehicles are bad. It really comes down to what you need.
Are the costs worth the benefit of better traction and control? Maybe. It depends on how many times you think you’ll need that system to work. AWD systems aren’t popular in the southern states (California, Florida, etc) for obvious reasons. In our Canadian climate? It’s something to consider. Do you have the option to not drive on very snowy days? Do you live in rural areas where the terrain varies? Or are you in a city with lots of hills?
As time goes on, advances have been made to AWD systems. For example, Mazda has entered the game with its i-ACTIV AWD system. One thing I love is when manufacturers take a traditional system and enhance it. In my opinion vehicle systems (engine, transmission, brakes, etc) have pretty much been established and proven over the years. The only thing left to do is to fine-tune these systems. Mazda has introduced an intuitive and predictive AWD technology – it basically uses data given to the computer such as internal and external temperatures, windshield wiper use, vertical position sensors, steering wheel input, etc and anticipates when and how much power to send to the wheels before you hit that patch of slippery road. The advantage is that there is little to no lag when the AWD system kicks in, the idea is to get the power distribution to feel seamless for the driver. That way, the driver experiences consistent control of the vehicle. I drove the Mazda CX-5 back-to-back with the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V, and you know what? All had winter tires, all had AWD but the Mazda i-ACTIV AWD system tracked much better than the other two. I was very surprised, especially with the Subaru because, as I had mentioned, they are traditionally known for their AWD system. For me, it showcased the potential of an intuitive and predictive AWD system.
One last thing you should know about AWD systems: they don’t replace the use of winter tires! By now you’ll know that drive systems (AWD, FWD, RWD) are exactly that… they DRIVE the vehicle. Winter tires are about traction and stopping ability. In fact, let’s leave winter tires aside for now. If I pair up an AWD vehicle with poor all-season tires, I’d wager that my FWD with good all-season tires will perform better. So tires work hand-in-hand with your vehicle’s technology. No sense in sending power to tires that can’t grip the road.
This season if you’re in the market for another ride, give weight to the cost and benefits of an AWD vehicle!
I’m not really anti-outdoors, so much as I just happen to like climate controlled environments very much. I also enjoy concrete and structures, my ideal vacation is being somewhere that has great architecture or a place that is rich in history. Having married someone who is from small town Ontario, well let’s say I’ve had to make a few compromises. Getting outdoors is not my first choice, but where there’s engines and combustion happening – ok, that makes it a bit better for me.
I agreed to go to Muskoka with Honda to explore their power sports lineup with some hesitation. Did I mention that I like climate controlled environments?! Also, I can’t stand anything with more than 4 legs (or 0 legs for that matter) – ok I’m a wuss! Total city girl, I know. My husband? He’s a country boy so Muskoka was definitely up his alley. Our two boys are a mixed bag… they used to love going out for bike rides and such, but for now video games capture their hearts. Maybe we can convince them otherwise...
What I do like about Honda is that they are the only manufacturer with such a varied lineup of power sports. It may seem like their strength is in vehicles (with their Honda and Acura brands), but it may surprise you to know that Honda started out in motorcycles before building vehicles. I suppose they did well with a single-cylinder engine and figured, let’s add a few and get into the auto industry too! If you trace back far enough in Honda’s history, the company actually started out as a supplier of engine components for Toyota.
My boys have previously attended the Junior Red Riders courses that Honda runs so dirt bikes were top of mind for them when they arrived at Muskoka. I was happy about that... anything to get them off their electronic devices!
If you have kids who are at all interested in dirt bikes or motorbikes, the Junior Red Riders program is really good at introducing them to safety and provides them with a foundation to build their confidence in handling a bike. My oldest son isn't as much of a dirt bike fan as my youngest, but you know what? There's something to be said about learning a new skill, and it helps with his confidence in knowing that he can handle a motorized bike if he wanted to.
We had fun riding in the Muskoka trails with Honda’s ATVs. It was my first time on one and we went through some great landscape. We also had the opportunity to go off-roading in a side-by-side, it was so good to have our boys together with us going through the trails! There is nothing like being able to conquer terrain in an off-roading vehicle. You can imagine by now that my husband’s country side kicked in. So really, I had three kids to take care of in the woods!
Did you know that there is so much emission control on vehicles today, yet other power equipment (such as lawn mowers, boat engines, etc) have little regulated emission control and are capable of polluting much more than your vehicle? I was happy to know that Honda Marine has been manufacturing only 4-stroke outboard motors for over 50 years. These engines are much more environmentally-friendly and efficient compared to two-stroke outboard motors. 4-stroke motors also don't release oil directly into the water.
As you head out into the waters this upcoming season, remember that anyone who operates a motorized boat must have proof of competency on board (usually a Pleasure Craft Operator Card). Make sure you have the proper safety items on board including a life jacket or personal floatation device for each person. You can check out Transport Canada for more items to keep you and your passengers safe out on the water.
We have an agreement at home. I do the oil change and maintenance/repairs for our vehicles, my husband takes care of the lawn (and BBQ… he doesn’t mind that at all). We’ve had lots of clients who love their Honda lawn mowers (not surprisingly, many are also Honda car owners) and my husband really got into Honda’s trimmer (with a very long model name… HHT25SLTC to be exact). The trimmer is powered by Honda’s GX25, a mini 4-stroke engine. He liked that it was light and that it absorbed a lot of vibration while he was using it.
I have a few favourite auto manufacturers, and what I admire about Honda is their varied lineup. It’s not just cars or SUVs, and it’s no surprise that their motto is ‘the Power of Dreams’. This summer, if you’re wanting to get outdoors with some power - there are a lot of options besides just driving on a road trip. Whichever activity you choose, remember that you are operating a machine so make sure safety is a priority and share that habit with your kids. Here’s to making your own tracks in a wonderful sun-filled season!