Chrysler -- sorry FCA, may not come to mind when the topic of AWD arises in a car-related discussion like Subaru or Audi might, for example. Although I am aware that FCA has a number of its cars (CUVs more obvious) available with AWD, a day exploring the depth of their systems served as an excellent reminder.
As though to put me in my place after a glowing review of Subaru’s AWD system in our wintery driving conditions, Chrysler put together their own AWD winter driving event. Although the exercises were conclusive, the early morning briefing prior to jumping into the cars and trucks is what truly caught my attention.
Were you aware that FCA offered 22 different AWD/4x4 systems and that 17 of its 26 nameplates are available with said AWD/4x4 systems? I did not, but I do now.
Going through each system would prove as tedious to write as it would likely be dreary to read. There are, however, a few generalities that differentiate the major types of drivelines.
Active Drive 1
This is a 1-speed disconnectable AWD system. The rear wheels will come into play based on front wheels slipping. Among some of the parametres that will engage AWD is the number of wiper wipes, which I found fascinating. This configuration will send up to 60% of the available power to the rear wheels.
The Chrysler 200 features this setup and surprisingly was the one that astounded me the most. Although the rear wheels are not engaged under “normal” driving conditions, through the slalom or on the track, the system reacted remarkably quickly. Understeer was prevalent, but nowhere near what I expected while, once connected, oversteer (or as much as possible given that stability control could not be fully disengaged) was easy to come by.
This AWD will also disconnect the rear wheels in normal conditions. Depending on the travelled speed and through the help of electronically controlled coupling, it will send power to rear wheels in order to increase traction and confidence.
The Dodge Journey is equipped with this system, and although sophisticated it was slower to react and engage than the 200’s arrangement. Wheel slippage seemed more pronounced, but the CUV always ended up going where it needed to.
Active transfer case with front-axle disconnect
This system is essentially the reverse of the 200’s setup. Under typical driving conditions, the front wheels are controlled by an active transfer case and front-axle-disconnect system and thus are not engaged unless slippage is detected. The dynamic driving feel associated with rear-wheel drive cars is unaffected.
The Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 are shod with this AWD system. Despite being RWD biased, I was expecting far more tail-happy corners and curves. In fact, I noted as much or more understeer as with the 200. The increasingly slippery track surface could have played an important role in this, however, I took a 200 out for a few laps after a Charger.
The delightful Charger Pursuit, a toy for any warm-blooded male, was far more enjoyable thanks to its HEMI power and more aggressively tuned setup. It is essentially pre-loaded, ready to pounce on a perp from a dead stop. I liked this one.
This is the compact Jeep’s bread and butter AWD system and features Active Drive Lock. This setup includes low range as well as a locking rear axle. It consists of four modes enabling the Cherokee to crawl over rock, slide through sand, and conquer snow.
The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk fears next to nothing. In this guise, ground clearance is increased by an inch and this may be its only limitation: serious ground clearance. The off-road course posed no true challenge to the Cherokee. The flick of a rotary wheel and yank of the shifter is all one needs to do to conquer nearly all.
Quadra-drive and Quadra-drive 2
Now we’re talking: This is a serious system that includes a two-speed transfer case that can aid in sending 100% to either end of the truck. The Selec-Terrain system with five different drive settings is also part of the QD2 package as is a rear electronic limited-slip differential.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a staple of off-roading capabilities. Equipped with the available air suspension as was the GC we drove, nothing could get in the way of its progress and momentum. A minimal amount of input is required from the driver to ensure that the terrain ahead does not pose an issue.
There are numerous other systems, as stated earlier, and a few are found on RAM’s line-up of pickups. These 4x4 setups include full-time transfer cases, all-time AWD, all the way to locking front and rear differentials and disconnectable sway bars for maximum articulation.
The need for AWD
AWD sales are very seasonal, being heavily influenced by the time of year, much like rustproofing. The bottom line here is that AWD is beneficial all year round and poses no true shortcomings, whether in a Chrysler 300 or a Subaru Outback. I converted a decade ago and will never be without AWD.
To those curious about the Mercedes legacy left behind after the dissolution of Daimler-Chrysler, FCA left all Mercedes-sourced components behind in ‘08-‘09 and have since invested $2.6 billion in developing their own drivelines.