At no other point in automobile history has vehicles been so aggressively charging on all fours. Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive automobiles has grown increasingly attractive. Popularly used extensively on the Jeeps of the Second World War, four-wheel drive technology was implemented by necessity. Over several decades, it’s also become a toy of recreation and a derivative known as all-wheel drive has given road cars four-wheeled traction only when required.
No longer restricted to off-road vehicles, the presence of having power flowing through all four wheels of a vehicle is enticing a lot more drivers in 2014. Trucks, crossovers, sedans and even sports cars are currently energized through the momentum of all four wheels. In the United States, the AMC Eagle was one of the first vehicles to offer four wheel drive. Around the world, Audi and Subaru are early adopters of four wheel drive technology for use on cars. In the current case of Audi, their quattro all-wheel drive system was equipped on 43 percent of the vehicles they sold in 2012.
Hybrid drive technology has also presented a future for all-wheel drive. Exhibited in racing on the Audi R18 e-tron quattro and soon on the Acura NSX supercar, an internal combustion engine drives one axle while an electric motor propels the wheels on another axle.
With more winter yet to come for us in the northern hemisphere, traction is at a premium. With four wheels proving to be better than two, the advantages of all-wheel drive will immediately win over some motorists. According to a spokeswoman for Range Rover, it’s all due to the UK’s unpredictable weather. She told Sky News Online: “Four wheel drives have better traction than other cars and that’s a big plus in these slippery times. It’s also got the raised driving levels which means the driver will feel more secure, and safety is of big concern for people with families.”
This perceived sense of security with all-wheel and four-wheel drive also contains the danger of misleading drivers into a false sense of invincibility inclement weather. Tow truck car operators have probably heard at least one or two drivers who were certain their all-wheel drive system would have saved them on snow and ice. Ultimately, all-wheel drive is only effective when there is at least one wheel with traction. Other concerns about the proliferation of four-wheel drive vehicles is the use in light duty applications. Products originally created for off-roading and utilitarian use are now the norm on city roads. According to a recent study by AA cars, there are more people looking to buy a used 4×4 car in South West London, than anywhere else in the country. Designed for heavy-duty off-roading rather than commanding the best spot in the Waitrose car park, these hefty gas-guzzlers are not exactly easy on the environment (or the wallet!) True that traditional four-wheel drive or 4x4s are less fuel efficient than a two-wheel drive vehicle, modern all-wheel drive systems often maintain fuel economy close to that of a comparable two-wheel drive.
Advertised as a remedy to lower traction situations, all-wheel drive is also promoted in performance applications. The late Andy Granatelli fielded several Indianapolis 500 cars with four-wheel drive technology. In 1969, Mario Andretti won a pole with a four-wheel drive Lotus race car. After proving their quattro technology in rally car, Audi demonstrated their all-wheel drive in the SCCA Trans-Am Series. Winning 8 of 13 races with Audi 200 race cars, the technology was banned from competition the following year. Sports like the Dakar Rally and other types of off-road racing embrace the performance of four-wheel drive technology. For street performance, Lamborghini is now a prominent champion of all-wheel drive on the Aventador and the all-new Huracan.
For 2014, every company appears to be at least partially adopting four-wheel or all-wheel drivetrains. All-wheel drive systems are now provided on products belonging to Chrysler, Lincoln, Cadillac and even Ferrari.
Information and photo source: AA Cars, Jaguar Land Rover