The winter can be a tough time for any driver. All you really want in a vehicle is something that’s going to keep you safe while driving in snowy, slushy and icy road conditions. That means you need a vehicle with 4WD or AWD; technology that helps you adapt in the moment. The only thing is, you don’t know what the difference between the two is. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Most drivers report not knowing what makes 4WD and AWD different. The thing is, the distinctions between the two are very important and where you stand on those differences can help you determine the type of vehicle you want to buy. Today, we will explain why 4WD and AWD are different and what type of vehicle you should be driving.

AWD VS. 4WD: The Differences

While the terms all-wheel-drive and 4-wheel-drive are often used interchangeably, they are in fact, very different.

All-Wheel Drive: Vehicles with AWD deliver power to all four wheels as opposed to just two like you see in rear-wheel or front-wheel-drive cars. This gives the vehicle better traction on difficult terrain or road surfaces that are covered in snow, rain, slush, or ice. AWD is activated automatically when your vehicle needs more traction or finds itself in a sticky driving situation. Finally, All-Wheel Drive vehicles tend to accelerate more smoothly due to increased traction.


  • Better traction in winter i.e. snow, slush, and ice
  • Automatic
  • Gives driver better handling and control in tough situations


  • Costs more in fuel
  • Vehicles typically cost more
  • Doesn’t work as well as 4WD in off-roading conditions

Four-Wheel Drive: Vehicles with 4WD also deliver power to all four wheels however this increased traction is specifically designed for intense off-roading expeditions. People that enjoy rock-crawling, trekking and off-roading typically purchase vehicles with 4WD. Another important distinction is that 4WD is manually activated by the driver when needed as opposed to AWD which is automatic.


  • Better traction when rock-crawling, off-roading, etc.
  • Can be turned off in order to improve fuel economy
  • Gives drivers more control off-roading


  • Requires some technique to use
  • Vehicles typically cost more
  • Doesn’t work in all situations

Should I Buy a 4WD or AWD Vehicle?

Both 4WD and AWD vehicles are popular in Canada where the winters are long, cold and the roads are often tricky to navigate. However, if you enjoy navigating difficult terrain and often plan excursions that include some type of off-roading then you want a 4WD vehicle.

If you don’t seek out difficult driving scenarios and just need a vehicle to manage spur-of-the-moment conditions (like a heavy snowfall or icy patch) then you want an AWD vehicle.

Keep in mind; while both vehicles deliver poorer fuel economies than two-wheel drive vehicles, 4WD is often the most expensive vehicle to maintain in terms of fuel costs.

Nissan SUVs with AWD in Ontario

If you’re just looking for a vehicle to help navigate an Ontario winter, our team at Oakville Nissan recommends choosing an All-Wheel Drive. The Nissan Rogue’s Intuitive AWD is 30 times faster than you can blink while the Murano’s AWD system sends the power up front, and compensates around corners by intuitively transferring power between wheels for enhanced control and traction. Finally, the Nissan Pathfinder is the closest thing to both a 4WD AND AWD vehicle. It’s the only vehicle in its class with available selectable driving modes plus you can choose to operate the vehicle in 2WD to increase fuel efficiency. It’s the perfect blend of all three worlds.