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The swerving vehicle depicted in black on the yellow road sign warns drivers of unexpected wet or icy road conditions. But drivers can expect practically every road to be slippery after a rain shower or snowstorm in northern Utah. Whether you live here or in another destination with a winter climate, it is important to consider the drive type when shopping for a new vehicle. 

Drive Type Differences

Front-wheel-drive vehicles tend to understeer in slippery conditions, pushing the car straight toward the outer corner of a turn. Rear-wheel-drive vehicles oversteer, causing the car to fishtail. Neither scenario is great. Enter all-wheel-drive cars. Often considered the Goldilocks of drive types, AWD systems offer just the right amount of traction control by transferring torque to both the front and back wheels at the same time.

The terms all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are often used interchangeably, but are not the same thing. Vehicles with AWD use a center differential between the front and rear axles which allows the tires to rotate at different speeds. When a vehicle has 4WD engaged, the tires spin at the same speed because the front and rear driveshafts are locked together. 

The bottom line? AWD cars are better suited for everyday driving in changing weather and road conditions — from dry to wet, soft snow to hard ice — and light off-roading. Vehicles with 4WD are better for rugged terrain, deeper snow and serious off-roading. 

Pros and Cons of AWD

Improved traction and better handling are definitely benefits of owning an AWD vehicle. But AWD comes at a cost. Manufacturers charge a premium for this feature, sometimes several thousand dollars more than the same model with two-wheel drive. The reason? AWD systems have more moving parts. The complexity of the system increases the purchase price, as well as repair and maintenance costs. 

Cars, trucks and SUVs with AWD aren’t as fuel-efficient as their two-wheel-drive counterparts either. The difference isn’t huge — usually one or two miles per gallon — but if you have a long daily commute the costs can add up in a hurry. 

Depending on your driving habits, you may want to compare AWD cars with two-wheel-drive vehicles equipped with traction control and a good set of snow tires. The cost savings are worth sacrificing a little bit of traction for some people. For others, the added safety and security of having AWD in wet-weather conditions is invaluable. And AWD vehicles typically have a higher resale value which narrows the cost gap.  

Photo Credit: Audi MediaCenter

Brands to Consider

Some of the most popular AWD cars are manufactured by Subaru and Audi. But if high school taught us anything, it’s that the most popular doesn’t always equate to the best. In this case, however, Subarus and Audis are also some of the most reliable AWD vehicles. 

Models with Subaru’s proprietary Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive usually occupy the highest spots on top 10 lists from Consumer Reports, Car and Driver and other influential publications. Models with Audi’s Quattro AWD system are also some of the best rated AWD cars on the market. Though the exact specifications of each manufacturer’s system vary slightly based on the vehicle make, you can expect similar performance. These AWD systems distribute power to the wheels with the most traction for a quicker, more stable response in bad weather. 

There are thousands of AWD vehicles for sale on KSL Cars. It’s easy to filter your search by location, year, make, model or other buying criteria on our website and app. Start shopping today!