There’s this little thing in Canada we call: winter. It usually lasts about 5 months (four if we’re really, really lucky) and it’s absolutely brutal. From frigid temperatures to driving conditions some of the most veteran drivers would fear, we Canadians put up with a lot of sh— er, stuff throughout the hellish days of winter.
So, it always shocks me when I hear of a friend or family member looking to buy a new car who isn’t considering all-wheel drive. I feel I have to remind them of where we live then check their temperature.
Here’s the down-low on AWD (or 4WD/4x4; any type of drivetrain that will have all four wheels working and receiving power from the engine to keep you safely on the road an on the right course instead of suffering from understeer or a fabulous-looking fishtail as your back end flies out): It’s fantastic. It’s meant to keep you moving forward when you want to be (i.e., from a stop) and taking you through a corner with far more control than a typical 2WD vehicle.
After years behind the wheel of a Subaru Impreza WRX, and briefly a base Impreza as well, I know the benefits an AWD system can truly have. If nothing more than a solid, grounded feel when the conditions get sloppy, AWD offers a level of confidence that could keep you out of harm’s way. My parents pilot a Nissan Rogue, and my mother has told many a story of her sturdy little crossover getting her through some tough country road condition thanks, in no small part, to its AWD.
I think the aversion comes with a few misconceptions people have about AWD. Here are a few:
An AWD vehicle is so much more expensive.
In some cases, this may be true. For example, the difference between a FWD and AWD 2013 Ford Fusion is around the $2k mark. Granted that small gap makes the price jump from the 20s to the 30s (which could scare a few buyers), the extra is well worth it. And we’re comparing apples to apples: same trim, same engine, just the drivetrain is changed. And when you consider the fact that you can have a perfectly acceptable AWD vehicle in the $20k region via the likes of Subaru and Suzuki, you’ll realize that you really don’t have to pay that much more. And in my opinion, paying a “premium” for something like AWD is much more acceptable than paying that same extra for a brand name or look-faster exterior upgrade kit.
AWD vehicles are horrible on gas.
As the years go on and manufacturers play the “who can burn less gas” game, the number differences are quickly diminishing. Take for example the Suzuki SX4. In 2WD trim the estimated highway mileage rating is 8.2L/100km; in AWD setup that number only jumps to 9.0L/100km (as per Suzuki). Our recent crossover comparo showed a higher reading than that, but it was still in a decent zone for an AWD vehicle, and not far off from FWD vehicles we’ve driven in the same segment.
Sure, AWD vehicles are heavier, but not by much. Let’s look at the Suzuki SX4 again. In FWD it weighs in at 1,691 kg (3,721 lbs) and the AWD version only weighs 170 lbs more. So, it’s kind of like having your partner riding shotgun all the time, which isn’t so bad.
Only SUVs come with AWD and I want a smaller car.
Alright, well, as soon as I wipe the shocked look off my face, I’d be able to tell you that in fact there are a plethora of sedans, hatchbacks and even compact crossovers currently on the market, all available with hard-working, well-crafted AWD systems. From the Subaru Impreza to the MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 to the Golf R, there’s something for everyone and every budget.
AWD vehicles are no good in the summer months.
Again, this is a horrible misconception. With the right summer tires, piloting an AWD vehicle in the hotter summer months feels no different than any other time of the year (you’ll just have more traction and control when those April showers start).
Once you’ve driven an all-wheel drive vehicle in the slushy, snowy months I can guarantee you’ll never want to go back to a 2WD vehicle again (at least not in the winter). If you’re in the market for a new ride and you live in Canada where snow blankets the ground for more than a few months, please consider your AWD options. It’ll be awdsome and you won’t regret it, I promise.
At the same time as my esteemed colleague was off driving the new 2015 WRX in the Californian sun, I was stuck at home in well-below-zero temperatures and snow behind the wheel of a '14 Subaru Impreza. While the two may seem worlds apart, they are borne of the same basic instincts, and that's saying something.