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Do I need four-wheel-drive?

By David Morley, 23 Jul 2016 Car Advice

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.