Do I need four-wheel-drive?

By David Morley, 23 Jul 2016 Car Advice

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Subaru Outback

You might think you want it, but do you really need it? David Morley helps you answer the question about whether four-wheel-drive – or not – is right for you.

Four-wheel-drive is one of those features on a car that will cost plenty to buy as an option, yet a lot of people don’t even know whether they need it or not.

In the old days, four-wheel-drive was fitted to off-road vehicles to give them the ability to crawl over rocks and power through bog-holes without becoming stuck. More recently, all-wheel-drive (it’s the same thing) has been fitted to performance cars to give them extra grip on loose surfaces. This is a hand-me-down from rally-cars, really. The point is, that unless you’re rock-hopping or rallying, all-wheel-drive is kind of wasted on the normal sort of urban driving we do. And because a four-wheel-drive vehicle will be heavier and has more driveline friction, it’ll also use more fuel than the same car without all-wheel-drive. They’re also more complicated, more costly to service and, like we said, dearer to buy. If you lived at the end of a long dirt road in a wet climate or you drive to the snowfields each year then, maybe, four-wheel-drive and its extra grip is for you.

But the real answer can be seen in the way more and more SUV makers are offering a two-wheel-drive version of their cars alongside the traditional four-wheel-drive version. And the simpler, cheaper, two-wheel-drive versions are selling very nicely, thank you.