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Difference Between RWD and AWD

RWD vs AWD

RWD (Rear Wheel Drive) and AWD (All Wheel Drive) are two wheel configurations for automobiles; there are also other configurations aside from these two. The main difference between these two is the number of wheels that are being driven by the engine. In a typical 4-wheeled automobile, all are being driven in an AWD while only the two at the rear are being driven in a RWD.

The main advantage of driving all four wheels over just two is traction. With all wheels pushing the vehicle forward there is less chance of slippage as the force can be equally distributed over all the wheels. In a RWD, the front wheels do nothing, aside from steering of course, and all the torque goes to the rear wheels. More power per wheel increases the chance that friction is lost and slippage begins. There is also the issue of handling. If you try to steer in a RWD when the road is very wet or slick with ice, the front wheel is very likely to start sliding due to loss of friction. An AWD mitigates this problem just like with traction. With the front wheels pulling,, rather than being pushed along, an AWD vehicle is able to move and steer better than a RWD vehicle..

Even in normal conditions, an AWD would still be better than a RWD; cornering in particular. An AWD is able to make tighter corners because the front wheels can steer and pull at the same time; effectively reducing the possibility of understeering or oversteering. If you like to do drifting though, you should go for a RWD rather than an AWD.

The main drawback of an AWD is the added weight and complexity of parts needed to make all the wheels turn. Compared to a RWD, an AWD needs two additional differentials and axles. This is unsprung weight, which could hurt the overall performance of the vehicle. The complexity adds to the cost of the vehicle and difficulty in repairing the vehicle when it breaks down.

Summary:

1. RWD uses the rear wheels to push the vehicles while an AWD uses all the wheels
2. AWD produces better traction than RWD
3. AWD provides better handling in bad weather than RWD
4. AWD is better at cornering than RWD
5. AWD is more complex than RWD


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5 Comments

  1. You’re wrong about AWD being better on dry pavement. And in ALL conditions, RWD will be able to brake better all things being equal. Less weight = better stopping every time.

    AWD causes the front wheels to understeer, not to mention the added weight over the front axle will increase this tendency even under no acceleration. So RWD is the best for dry cornering.

  2. he is right about the cornering because of awd’s advantage of traction, there is an increase of control meaning awd cars can go into corners faster and sustain traction

    and just because a car is awd doesnt mean it will weigh more than a rwd
    2010 subaru wrx 5-door – 3,175 lbs / 2010 bmw 135i coupe- 3375 lbs

    • Nick, don’t compare Subaru with BMW, rather compare AWD and RWD versions of the same model.
      AWD of course IS heavier and also, I have to agree with Jack, RWD is better at corners on dry road. Many high performance cars are RWD and there is a reason for that. AWD is only better in acceleration from zero speed and handling on snow or some other bad conditions.

    • Moreover, parking with RWD is usually easier because they have better turning circles as their front wheels can be turned to a greater angle because there are no drive shafts at the front stopping the angle of turn.

  3. You missed the all things being equal part. AWD optioned RWD cars typically weigh 200lbs more than their RWD counterpart(typically all on the front axle which is BAD). There is a reason the M5, CTS-V, Mercedes M are RWD and not AWD. All of these models have AWD optional but not the top performance models. AWD has higher unsprung weight, more driveline friction, reduced fuel economy and raises the center of gravity. AWD is great at fixing the FWD ‘problem’ but ruins a perfectly balanced RWD car. Also the front of a RWD car can maintain a softer suspension setup while matching the performance of an AWD with much higher stiffness. Better ride quality while not sacrifycing handling.

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