4x4s and all-wheel drive cars: Are they right for you?

Is there a difference between 4×4 – also known as four-wheel drive – and all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles? And where do SUVs come into the equation? If your current lease with the Motability Scheme is coming to an end or if you’re new to the Scheme and you’re deciding which car to lease, read on to find out which one of these cars is right for you.

What’s the difference between All-Wheel Drive and 4-Wheel Drive?

Some cars are called 4-wheel drive (4x4s), while others are called all-wheel drive (AWD) – but what does this actually mean? Essentially, most standard cars send their power to either the front wheels or the rear wheels, but 4x4s and AWD systems can send power to all four wheels. This can help with grip and safety with driving, especially if you’re driving in rural areas or if you tow a caravan.

In most cases, AWD vehicles constantly send power to all four wheels, while 4×4 vehicles usually only power all four wheels occasionally. In normal driving, most of the power in 4×4 vehicles will go to the front or rear wheels only. If the car senses a lack of traction, power is transferred to all four wheels.

Below, you can find explanations of how each system works.

What is All-Wheel Drive (AWD)?

AWD is designed to increase grip, whether for safety or performance. AWD systems use multiple sensors throughout the car to detect which axle or even which wheel needs the most grip. The car can then perform a range of functions, sometimes increasing or decreasing the power to a wheel, other times applying the brakes to one or more wheels, all to ensure the car goes where you want it to.

Car parked in the woods

What is 4-Wheel Drive (4×4)?

A 4-wheel drive has the grip advantages of AWD, but it works slightly differently. It uses a combination of manual and automatic systems, possibly with a dial to switch from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive, to engage locks that can ensure all four wheels have the same distribution of power.

Although there are some that use a lever to switch between the driving modes, many new 4x4s have intelligent systems that will do the work for you. Each car will work slightly differently, so if you want to learn more about a specific model, speak to a Motability Scheme dealer who’ll be able to advise you.

Choosing between a 4×4 and AWD

Unfortunately, there’s not much consistency in how the terms ‘four-wheel drive’ and ‘all-wheel drive’ are used. Manufacturers can use both terms interchangeably, and in some instances, they even have their own labels. For example, Volkswagen uses the term 4Motion, BMW uses xDrive and Suzuki uses ALLGRIP.

You also need to keep your eyes peeled when browsing cars, because the label 4×4 can sometimes be used to describe a car that looks like an off-roader but which may not actually have four-wheel drive capability. So make sure you research your chosen model and speak to a Motability Scheme dealer who’ll be able to give you more information.

If you’re looking for a car on the Motability Scheme, you can narrow down your choices to four-wheel drives only, using our ‘Find a car’ tool. Just click on the ‘See all filters’ button, and then scroll through the ‘Specifications’ options until you see the ‘Drive’ filters.

Is a 4×4 car the right choice for you?

For many people, a two-wheel drive is all you really need. But if you live in a rural area and need to drive off-road, 4×4 cars might be more suitable for you as they offer better grip on uneven and slippery ground. 

Snowy farm track

4x4s can also be helpful in winter weather, particularly as ice and heavy rain can reduce your grip on the road. But if you live in an area that has well-maintained roads which are gritted regularly, choosing a 4×4 won’t make as much of a difference.

Some people prefer to choose a 4×4 if they use their vehicle to tow, as opposed to a front-wheel drive. This is only really a consideration if you’re planning to tow regularly, in which case you can get advice from your Scheme dealer on the best vehicles for your needs.

Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs)

Modern SUVs combine safety and comfort while offering greater space and practicality. They come in a variety of sizes, and have become a popular choice in recent years due to the high driving position.

Not all SUVs have a four-wheel drive system, but some of them do. If you are looking for a 4-wheel drive, make sure to double-check this in the model specifications.

Not sure which type of car suits you best? Read our guide to the different types of car, or use our handy online tool to help you find the right car for you.

4×4 cars available on the Motability Scheme

If a 4×4 seems like the right choice for you, there are a number of models available on the Motability Scheme that cater to different needs.

Suzuki Vitara

Available on the Scheme, this practical and entertaining small SUV comes with Suzuki’s ALLGRIP 4×4 system as an option on the high-spec SZ5 version. There are four transmission modes: Auto, Sport, Snow and Lock.

Auto mode prioritises front-wheel drive for optimum fuel efficiency, switching to 4×4 if a loss of traction is detected. Sport mode actively engages the four wheels based on accelerator inputs to make driving more responsive on country lanes. Snow and Lock modes give better traction and stability to help you keep control when the conditions demand it. Hill descent control is also a standard feature of ALLGRIP models, which enables the vehicle to brake automatically to help you control speed on steep downward slopes.

Nissan X-Trail

If you often need to drive on non-asphalt roads, or you like camping or caravanning and need to drive onto a grassy field, then Nissan’s X-Trail could also be a good option for you.

This large SUV uses an adaptive 4×4 arrangement, which can be toggled between front-wheel drive or an intelligent four-wheel drive, which constantly monitors traction and adjusts the balance of power between the front and rear wheels. This is perfect for temperamental wintry weather. You’ll need to specify that you need four-wheel drive as it doesn’t come as standard on all variants.

Hyundai Tucson

Some variants of this family-sized SUV feature intelligent Torque-on-Demand four-wheel drive, which automatically supplies power to the rear wheels when necessary to maintain traction. At all other times, the majority of the engine’s power is distributed to the front wheels. This helps to improve fuel efficiency when driving in normal conditions while ensuring enough torque when needed.

The 4×4 models also feature Advanced Traction Cornering Control, which enhances cornering performance and safety. What’s more, to maximise traction when driving up or down sharp inclines, off-road, or on muddy or sandy surfaces at speeds up to 19mph, you can lock the Tuscon into AWD to divide its torque squarely between the front and rear wheels. With a locked fifty/fifty torque split, you’ll find you can drive in slippery conditions with more confidence.

A wide choice of vehicles

Those are just three models, but you can see the full range of cars available on the Motability Scheme by using our ‘Find a car’ tool. You can use the filters to narrow down your options by car type, fuel, number of seats and more.

The Motability Scheme allows you to exchange all or part of your mobility allowance to lease a car, scooter, powered wheelchair or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle.

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