AWD vs. 4WD vs. 2WD: What’s the difference?
October 21st, 2022
Nissan Altima AWD shown
What is All-Wheel Drive (AWD) and how does it work?
All-Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles are equipt with a center differential, composed of gears that split power from the transmission to both the front and rear axles. Alternatively, it can send power to the front wheels only, creating a more efficient drive. All-Wheel Drive (AWD) has become a popular choice for many reasons, including its versatility and ability to anticipate and adapt to changing road conditions, by sending power to all four wheels, or just two. This gives you the control of Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) with the efficiency of Two-Wheel Drive (2WD).
Nissan Intelligent AWD
Nissan’s Intelligent AWD system gives you the most traction and power while driving and is designed to help maximize efficiency, by sending power to the front wheels while at speed. The system adapts to transfer power between the front and rear wheels when a change in road conditions is detected, making it more economical on the highway. Additionally, the wheel sensors function to detect traction loss, indicating which wheels require additional power. [] This feature makes it a great choice if you live in an area with heavy rain or snow, or you plan to take your vehicle for light off-roading.
ATTESA E-TS AWD system
AWD isn't just for SUVs like the Rogue or Murano. The Nissan GT-R sports car is equipped with an ATTESA E-TS AWD system, which helps to distribute torque to front and rear wheels, depending on tire slip or changes in road conditions. The ATTESA E-TS system functions a little differently, using two driveshafts to split power to both front and rear wheels. The system is rear-wheel biased, but torque can be split between front and rear wheels in an instant. []
Start with all four
The second you pull away, Intelligent AWD turns on, delivering power to both front and rear wheels for improved grip.[]
Cruise with just two
Once you’re up to speed, no sense powering all four wheels, so Intelligent AWD efficiently sends the power all up front. []
Corner with all four
For enhance cornering control and traction on curvy roads, the Intelligent AWD compensates by transferring some of the power from the front to the rear wheels. []
Nissan AWD vehicles
All-Wheel Drive (AWD) vs. Four-Wheel Drive (4WD)
Both All-Wheel Drive (AWD) and Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) provide power to all four wheels, but AWD can direct the power between either all wheels or just the front wheels, creating a more efficient drive. Four-Wheel Drive vehicles (also known as "4X4s") are specialized for rugged off-road driving and towing by adjusting the balance of power between the vehicle’s front and rear wheels.
Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X shown
What is a 4X4?
4X4 refers to Four-Wheel Drive vehicles, i.e. vehicles that send power to all four wheels. Four-Wheel Drive is commonly abbreviated as either 4WD or 4X4, so these terms can be used interchangeably. 4WD language is often used to talk about SUVs, while 4X4 is often used in reference to utility quads and trucks.
4WD or 4X4 is the precursor to modern AWD. It's most often found in more rugged off-road vehicles to assist you when climbing over rough terrain with low traction. Similar to Nissan’s Intelligent AWD system, SUVs equipped with Intelligent 4WD and 4X4, including the Armada and Pathfinder, have an Auto mode, which automatically monitors and adjusts the balance of power between the vehicle’s front and rear wheels.
Learn more about Nissan's off-road heritage and 4X4 models here.
In addition to the Auto mode, Nissan’s Intelligent 4WD and 4X4 systems have selectable drive modes, enabling you to shift between 2WD and 4WD in anticipation of changing conditions or terrain. []
Nissan’s truck line-up, including the Frontier, TITAN, and TITAN XD use a more traditional part-time 4X4 drivetrain system, which allows you to quickly shift between 3 drive modes; 4H for light off-road driving, 4LO for added traction in the most difficult off-road conditions, and 2WD for more efficient highway driving. Nissan’s 4X4 trucks are a great choice for work or play. []
Nissan 4WD/4X4 vehicles
What is Two-Wheel Drive (2WD)?
2WD is the most widely available drivetrain type on the market. It is available as Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) or Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD), depending on which wheels the power is sent to. It functions by sending power to the front or rear two wheels simultaneously and is commonly categorized as front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD). FWD is typical for cars and SUVs, while RWD is common in pickup trucks and high-performance sports cars.
Learn more about the difference between FWD and RWD here
Two-Wheel Drive (2WD) vs. Four-Wheel Drive (4WD)
The biggest difference is that 2WD will send power to two wheels, while 4WD uses all four wheels. 2WD vehicles are excellent at driving on dry, flat roads and they can be more affordable than 4WD and AWD vehicles, which often carry a premium price tag and tend to be slightly less fuel efficient. However, if you're looking to drive in off-road or snowy conditions, AWD and 4WD vehicles will offer much better handling and traction.
What is Front Wheel Drive (FWD)?
Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) systems send power to the front two wheels of the car and tend to have better fuel economy. Front-Wheel Drive is common in cars and SUVs and is advantageous for climbing hills, due to the engine’s forward weight distribution. FWD is a solid option for areas with mild weather.
FWD vs. AWD
The difference between Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) and All-Wheel Drive (AWD) is the distribution of power. For FWD, power is sent to the front wheels of the vehicle, resulting in better fuel economy. AWD vehicles give power to all wheels of the car. This creates better weight distribution, and traction.
Maxima Platinum Shown
Nissan FWD vehicles
Nissan Z® Shown[]
What is Rear Wheel Drive (RWD)?
Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD) is when the engine’s power is directed, via a driveshaft, to the rear wheels. RWD benefits sports cars by balancing out the weight distribution between the front and rear of the vehicle. The suspension can be adapted to enhance steering. In trucks, RWD systems can improve towing, as they provide more traction when hauling a particularly heavy load.
RWD vs. AWD
Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD) cars give engine power to the back wheels of the car. RWD is best suited for towing, and sports car performance. All-Wheel Drive (AWD) gives power to all wheels of the car, creating better weight distribution and traction. AWD will give you the best value, and is best-suited for day-to-day driving.
Nissan RWD vehicles
Material in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and was accurate as of the date of first publication. Information is subject to change and does not constitute an offer, representation or warranty (express or implied) by Nissan North America, Inc. ("Company"). Interested parties should confirm the accuracy of any information in this website as it relates to a vehicle directly with Company before relying on it to make a purchase decision. Unless expressly referenced, Company does not endorse and is not affiliated with any company that might be mentioned in this article. Company is not responsible or liable for the availability of links to websites or resources, or for any content, advertising, products, services, privacy policies, or other materials on or available through these websites or resources, or for your reliance thereon. Any references to data or products are subject to change without notice. Trademarks are property of their respective owners.
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