AA Buyer's Guide: Should your SUV be 2WD or AWD?
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Last year, SUVs made up half of all vehicles sold in New Zealand, which is not really surprising when you consider the draws of practicality and accessibility.
We take dozens of calls from AA members each month who have found a suitable SUV, but are questioning whether they should pay the extra money for the AWD variant. Here are some of the things to consider that will help you make an informed decision.
There are a lot of terms out there in the SUV scene that our AA members ask us about, such as:
2WD, FWD and 4X2
These are all terms that mean the car is driven by two wheels, rather than four.
4WD, AWD and 4X4
Most SUVs are described as AWD rather than 4WD as it implies the majority of use will be on-road instead of rough off-roading. The terms 4X4 and 4WD are more often used in the context of off-roading, often with “part-time” systems that are operated in 2WD on-road but can be switched/locked into 4WD when required.
Initial price and running costs
The 2WD variants of SUVs are often the more appealing choice based on price alone. If we look at new SUV models in NZ, the lower cost options tend to be 2WD. This applied to the most popular SUVs available on the NZ market currently: Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi ASX and Outlander, or Kia Stonic and Sportage.
Once you start venturing into AWD territory, not only do the prices increase, but so do the capacities of the engines. If we look at the Toyota RAV4 GLX, for example, the AWD variant costs an additional $4000 over the price of the 2WD variant, but it also boasts an additional 500cc in engine size.
This has an adverse effect on running costs, and consumes one additional litre of fuel every 100km. Based on each model traveling 14,000km and fuel costing an average of $2/litre, it would use an additional $280 over the year.
Of course, there are other factors to consider, such as an additional differential that will require servicing in most conventional AWD vehicles, along with an increased number of components and complexity to the driveline.
Another factor to consider is tyre wear - driving all four wheels can increase the wear on the tyres, although these differences are marginal in most cases.
The main benefit of an AWD vehicle is the performance, so you need to ask yourself if it’s something your lifestyle requires. Remember, you won’t really notice a difference in normal driving conditions, or even when you accelerate hard or corner on dry roads.
However, in situations where traction is reduced, such as wet or icy roads, AWD cars have a huge advantage over 2WD cars, as these vehicles are able to put power to the road more efficiently, especially once slipping starts.
The same advantage is also experienced off-tarmac, even though lots of modern small or mid-sized SUVs are not primarily designed as hard core off-road vehicles. Of course, a 2WD SUV can be used for off-road driving on occasion due to its increased ground clearance; but an AWD is always far more capable.
If you tow a boat or caravan, it’s better you do it with AWD, especially when you may be pulling a boat up a ramp or manoeuvring on uneven or loose surfaces. AWD models tend to have larger towing capacities.
So what do I choose?
It’s important to think about what you really need from a vehicle. Will it rarely be leaving suburban streets - are you essentially using your SUV as a regular passenger vehicle?
If so, then a 2WD model should be just fine. However, if you really do need AWD capabilities, then don’t let the tough stance of the 2WD SUV fool you: it has to tackle tougher terrain with much less traction.