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What is AWD (all-wheel drive)?

  • How does AWD work?
  • Do I need all-wheel drive?
  • Parkers explains the tech

AWD (the acronym for all-wheel drive) is a system that automatically sends power to all four wheels when necessary, otherwise reverting to two-wheel drive mode without any input from the driver. Similar to 4WD.

How does all-wheel drive work?

Unlike part-time 4WD, power is always ready to be sent to all four wheels if driving conditions deem it necessary. In this scenario, sensors within the vehicle detect which wheel has the most grip and distribute drive accordingly to maximise traction.

Do I need it?

AWD works best on icy or wet public roads where a higher ground clearance isn’t necessary. For those who undertake moderate off-roading, a part-time 4WD vehicle with high ground clearance is better suited.

For serious off-road capability, drivers should only be looking at permanent 4WD cars which constantly drive all four wheels. In extremely fast cars – such as the Audi RS6 - AWD is sometimes necessary to get the power down cleanly, though it usually comes as a standard feature.

Top tip

Worried about the infrequent occurrence of snowy weather? Consider investing in a set of winter tyres instead of a costlier AWD option.

Found on

Audi Quattro cars (eg selected Audi A4s), BMW xDrive cars (such as selected BMW 3 Series) and the Volkswagen Golf R.

Similar to

4WD (four-wheel drive)

Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions