4 definitions related to 4 x 4 vehicles

4 x 4 vehicles are extremely diverse and the terminology used to describe the architecture and functions of these cars differ depending on manufacturer and market. Marketing may also play an important role when it comes to terms related to 4 x 4 vehicles, because manufacturers are looking to increase sales in the first place. If you are interesting in purchasing a 4 x 4 car, you are probably a bit confused by terms such as 4 x 4, AWD, 4WD, and IWD. In this article we’re looking to explain these four terms and make it easier for you to research cars and make the right decisions.

4 x 4

Electric car

4 x 4 is the general term describing two-axled vehicles which can provide power to all wheel ends. 4 x 4 vehicles can be full-time (all four wheels are powered all the time) or on-demand (the driver or the vehicle switches to 4 x 4 if conditions require it). But why are they called 4 x 4? The first figure refers to the total number of wheels, while the second represents the number of wheels that are powered. Following the same principle, there are 4 x 2 vehicles (where energy is transmitted only to two axle-ends or wheels), and 6 x 4 vehicles (such vehicles have three axles, and two of them provide power to two wheel ends each).


AWD car

4WD stands for “four wheel drive” and refers to vehicles having two axles that deliver power to four wheel ends. In some markets, this term can refer to cars optimized for off-road driving. Vehicles labelled as 4WD usually have a transfer case allowing the driver to switch between the 2WD and 4WD operating mode. For some cars, the transfer is performed automatically, when car sensors detect conditions requiring 4WD capabilities. Most times, 4WD is associated with SUVs – cars with truck based platforms and large wheels that can withstand difficult terrain.
A type of 4WD vehicle is the locked 4WD driveline – in these cars, there is a direct mechanical link between front and rear axles and there is no mechanism to create a difference in the number of rotations in each axle. When you’re turning a corner in this type of car, the radius of turn is different for the two axles, and the tyre on the axle with the smaller radius needs slippery ground surface to avoid stress on the driveline. If you make a turn with a 4WD car at a low speed and on dry ground, the car will stop and you’ll become “locked up” – this is why you need to use the 2WD mode in normal driving conditions.


4 x 4 vehicle

AWD stands for “All-wheel drive” and at the present time it refers to permanent multiple-wheel drive, where a differential is placed between the front and rear drive shafts. Anti-slip technology is used in these vehicles, allowing differentials to spin at different speeds while still transferring power from one wheel to another with better traction. The engine’s power is sent on the path of least resistance or the wheel with the least grip. So, instead of choosing between two wheels, with an AWD system you look for the least resistance across all four wheels. To counteract this effect, the best AWD cars are equipped with a centre differential that directs torque away from the spinning wheel. Unlike locked 4WD, AWD systems can be used on most surfaces, but are not recommended for demanding off-road use. Furthermore, an AWD system is the one where the driver does not need to intervene to select drive to all four wheels – in AWD the four wheels receive torque all the time. The advantage of this type of system is that 4 x 4 is engaged well before you encounter a dangerous situation, which means you are safer and you don’t need to make the decision to change the car’s mode as a response to danger.

Car interior

IWD or “Individual-wheel drive” is a new term, referring to electric vehicles where each wheel is driven by its own electric motor. Such vehicles are more similar to 4WD vehicles or vehicles equipped with control systems, like anti-skid and anti-lock braking system. IWD vehicles come with multiple advantages: avoiding mechanical systems and parts like the central gear box and the differentials, easy replacement of motors, and lower maintenance. In case one of the motors fails, the other motors are powerful enough to allow the driver to take the vehicle at the nearest repair centre.

The terminology surrounding 4 x 4 vehicles can be quite confusing, so it’s important to know what the difference between 4WD and AWD is before making a choice. Based on your driving experience and the kind of conditions you’re driving through most of the time, you will be able to choose the right vehicle for you.

5 popular family-friendly 4 x 4 cars

4 x 4 vehicles are often preferred by people with a family for multiple reasons: the elevated height makes it easier to load children and various items inside the car, they are suitable for off-road trips with older children, and they are spacious, which means they will meet the needs of multiple family members. If you have one or two children and are looking for a good 4 x 4 car, here are some options you should consider:

1. Volvo XC70

Volvo XC70

Volvo is known for producing safe and solid cars, and XC70 is no exception from the rule. This vehicle looks just as well outside your office and on a muddy road, keeping you safe in both situations. Its advantages include the large cargo space, the multiple safety features, its four-cylinder fuel-efficient engine, and the comfortable front seats. Volvo XC70 is equipped with all-wheel drive and won’t make you regret you got off the beaten path due to its raised suspension and lower body panels which are resistant to scratches.

Priced from $45,748.

2. SEAT Ateca

SEAT Ateca

The first SUV manufactured by the Spanish automaker, SEAT Ateca is in fact a CUV (compact crossover vehicle). The vehicle uses many of the parts featured by Volkswagen Tiguan and comes in two petrol and two diesel engine versions. Buyers can also opt between 2WD and 4WD and between manual and automatic gearboxes. Compared to Tiguan, Ateca comes in multiple options, is cheaper, and its engine is smaller. Reviewers consider SEAT has made a good job with its first SUV, due to its satisfactory drive comfort, excellent handling, refined design, and good visibility.

Priced from $22,195.

3. Mitsubishi L200

Mitsubishi L200

A large, solid, and affordable car? Mitsubishi L200 is an excellent choice and it provides plenty of room for four passengers. In spite of its size, L200 delivers good fuel economy performance and is also appreciated for its low repair and maintenance costs. If you buy it new, you will get a 5-year/62,000-mile warranty with 12 years of anti-corrosion cover. Reasons to choose this car include being narrower than other models of similar size (134 mm narrower than a Volkswagen Amarok), the large number of safety features provided with standard vehicles, the good driving performance, and its stability and traction control system, which can brake individual wheels in order to correct understeer and oversteer and divert power to the wheels with most grip.

Priced from $22,255.

4. Dacia Duster

Dacia Duster

This affordable no-luxury car is designed to appeal to a wide range of buyers. If you want a ride that will cost you less than £10,000, Dacia Duster will probably be extremely appealing, in spite of its flaws. However, the recent facelift has added more standard equipment, elevating the level of this popular crossover. The Romanian car is based on an old Renault Clio platform that has been enlarged to SUV size and delivers a no-nonsense driving experience, perfect for those with little pretentions and not interested in all kinds of fancy features that require time and effort to master. 4WD is available on Duster, ensuring increased ability on muddy surfaces. The well-known Top Gear website has given the following verdict: