What’s the Best All-Wheel-Drive System for You?


1980-Audi-quattro.jpgArguably the industry leader in all-wheel drive is Audi. The German automaker introduced its famed quattro system in the spring of 1980 on a two-door car of the same name. It was the first volume-built permanent all-wheel-drive setup suitable for sporty vehicles, and that focus on driving performance continues today.

On the first-generation quattro system torque was split evenly between the front and rear axles. Under its boxy hood sat a longitudinally mounted engine, but the car featured at least one major innovation: a bevel-gear center differential. This complex-sounding part pulled double duty, directing power to the car’s front wheels and eliminating the need for a transfer case and auxiliary shaft, two heavy and complicated components.

In its day the quattro was quick and responsive, a Cold War driving sensation. Owners could also manually lock the center and rear-axle differentials for better traction on slippery surfaces.

Some three decades later, quattro is still an automotive institution. It’s gone through numerous iterations, sprouting torque-sensing differentials and electronically controlled hydraulic clutches along the way. But it’s still a leader in its segment.

When Audi develops a new vehicle, quattro is included from day one, something its competitors don’t necessarily do. In the words of Mark Dahncke, Product and Motorsports Communications Manager for Audi, competing systems are “engineered into the platform after the fact.” He said including all-wheel drive from the start gives Audi “a very, very cohesive system” that “works together.”

How these systems are attached to a vehicle’s powertrain is a big deal too, and Dahncke said they’ve got the manufacturing experience to bring everything together in a unified package, similar to AAM’s one-stop-shop approach.

Barrett said quattro is very complex, but also very compact because the system’s all-wheel-drive components are actually packaged inside the transmission, which keeps things as tight as possible. According to him the layout is unique to Audi.

“Frankly it’s the most expensive system,” Dahncke said, noting that quattro is still mechanical, “not just an electronic chip.” It’s always engaged — a true full-time system — shuffling engine torque from axle to axle and wheel to wheel, maximizing grip and minimizing slip. But Audi is not the only game in town.


Subaru proves there’s a lot more to all-wheel drive than just four wheels turning. Audi’s cross-hemisphere rival prides itself on delivering this technology to a mass market.

“It’s standard on all of our vehicles except the BRZ,” said Dominick Infante, National Manager Product Communications for Subaru of America, Inc.

In a move similar to what Audi does, Infante said, “all of our cars are designed to be all-wheel drive,” noting that they engineer it into vehicles from the get-go. Subaru calls its system “Symetrical All-Wheel Drive” because of how it sends the power to the wheels.

Subaru-Winter-Driving.jpgOne key to this setup is the engine configuration they use. Thanks to a horizontally opposed layout and longitudinal mounting the company can run the front driveshafts right off the engine.

Competitors often retrofit all-wheel drive onto existing front-wheel-drive vehicles. With a transverse-mounted engine torque has to be transmitted around corners to drive the wheels, which complicates things and reduces efficiency – not so with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive.

Subaru has several different versions of its system. Cars equipped with manual transmissions feature a set 50:50 torque split front to rear. Models powered by their 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine use a different setup known as a Variable Torque Distribution system – VTD for short. Subarus with continuously variable transmissions use yet another version, as does the outrageously quick WRX STI. Interestingly the STI allows drivers to choose how the torque is split between the front and rear axles so they can customize how the car behaves, whether they’re navigating a snow-covered mountain road or bombing around a race track.

Despite these different technologies Infante said, “we only have full-time all-wheel drive,” contrasting it with some of the competition’s systems that aren’t as robust and can’t put as much torque to the rear wheels. “With Subaru everything has to be a little bit overbuilt” he said. “It’s kind of the Subaru way.”


Swapping sushi for spätzle, another one of Germany’s automotive crown jewels has its own take on all-wheel drive. BMW has earned a reputation for building cars with unassailable dynamics, and its xDrive system lives up to this standard.

A full-time setup, it features a defined torque split favoring the back axle. Under normal conditions either 60 percent or 80 percent of the torque is sent to the rear wheels, depending on the vehicle.

When conditions dictate, xDrive can deliver all of the engine’s torque to the back tires and at least 50 percent of it can be shuttled to the front axle for extra grip in slippery situations.

Subaru-Chassis.jpg“V” FOR VOLUME

In keeping with current industry trends, General Motors overwhelmingly favors part-time all-wheel drive. In fact, the only vehicles in its vast stable that are offered with a full-time system are big trucks – the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon Denali and Yukon Denali XL.

All other systems the company offers are on demand – they only engage when wheel slippage is detected.

  • ret ret

    Where is the Toyota fj?

  • Philippe

    Check Consumer’s Report. the Toyota FJ got 36 points out 100…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=590891556 Jason Thompson

    Nothing about Haldex or Volvo?

  • Markony79

    Where is suzuki grand vitara?

  • Mitsubishichick

    where is MITSUBISHI!!!!
    Rvr Lancer Outlander and Evolution! all with different awd/4wd systems!!

  • Georgiefrench

    Nothing about Land Rover cars , One of the most formidable 4 wheel drive systems .

  • http://www.facebook.com/bdalling Ben Dalling

    quadradrive 2 by jeep

  • Pete R Boro

    You are a dork for not mentioning Mitsubishi’s AWC.

  • Nellen

    Not even mentioning the name of Subaru in an AWD systems article is a shame…

  • Bob

    You must have skipped over the entire THE BEAUTY OF SYMMETRY section.

  • dj

    Yes how can you over look subaru awd systems they have three types

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked