Not all all-wheel drive system are created equal. Find out which one stands out.
In the great frozen wasteland known to us as Canada, having an all-wheel drive vehicle is a necessity, or at the very least a distinct advantage compared to a front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive car.
However, not every all-wheel drive system is created equal. There are many different ways to send power from a transmission to all four tires; they all have advantages and drawback, and the automakers all have proprietary technologies.
When we talk about all-wheel drive, the two names that come up first are Subaru and Audi. Both made their names in rallying thanks to the domination of their AWD setups, but their systems differ slightly. So what makes their cars so efficient in the winter?
First of all, both Subaru's Symmetrical AWD and Audi's Quattro are permanent all-wheel drive systems. What this means is simple: at all times, the four wheels are powered. While other manufacturers opt to deactivate one axle when the situation doesn't require maximum traction, this comes at a cost: in the split-second between the time when computers detect a slip and the time when a differential divert power to that unused axle, a lot can happen. By comparison, a permanent AWD system will have already dealt with the terrain. However, this comes at a cost: worse fuel economy.
This doesn't mean that part-time AWD is useless. For people who only drive in the city or in light winter conditions, part-time is more than enough. Furthermore, other automakers are working on technologies that can predict when the wheels will slip and activate the undriven wheels before they need more traction. Mazda has been really successful with its i-Activ system, proving that the gap between full-time and part-time AWD is decreasing every day. Finally, it is important to note that even the best AWD system can't overcome bad tires or inept drivers. The best way to ensure a safe drive in the winter is to properly equip your car and focus on the road ahead.