2020 4Runner fording a river

What’s the difference between AWD, 4WD, and 4×4?

How are AWD, 4WD, and 4×4 drivetrains different?

The auto industry is known for its jargon and confusing acronyms. AWD, 4WD, and 4×4 fall into that unfortunate category. We’ll clear something up right away: 4WD and 4×4 are essentially two different names for the same thing.

With that out of the way, what’s the difference between AWD and 4WD?


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The Main Difference between AWD and 4WD/4×4

2020 RAV4 driving on trail

Generally, AWD means that there is an unequal amount power (usually 80% front, 20% back) sent to all wheels when it’s needed. 4WD (or 4×4) sends equal power to all wheels all the time. However, as technology and engineering get more sophisticated, these distinctions get blurrier.

There are exceptions to the rule, but historically, 4×4 systems either are always on or have to be turned off manually with a switch, lever, etc. It’s common to find 4WD systems on large body-on-frame vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs. Many modern 4WD vehicles have a disengage function where the vehicle operates on RWD to increase fuel economy. AWD vehicles, on the other hand, don’t have to distribute power equally to all wheels. This is usually done automatically by a computerized system, but the system can be turned off with a button or switch most of the time. AWD is usually found on unibody vehicles like sedans and crossovers.

Is one better than the other?

That depends on entirely on the situation. If you have to tow a heavy trailer in inclement weather, knowing that all of your wheels are getting equal power is reassuring. You’ll be unlikely to be pulling a trailer with a sedan or small crossover, though, where an AWD system is most likely be one of the 80%/20% types. Similarly, if your heaviest loads are a few passengers and some miscellaneous items, an 80%/20% will be more than sufficient to help you keep traction with good fuel economy.

Toyota TV-AWD

Some Toyota vehicles, like the 2020 RAV4 TRD Off-Road, have dynamic torque-vectoring AWD (TV-AWD). It blends the exceptional power-ratio of 4WD vehicles and the on-the-fly abilities of the modern AWD system. That way, whichever wheels need power have as much power (up to 50% of engine capacity) as they need.

Interested in testing out an AWD or 4WD vehicle?

Come test drive some models that catch your eye. Most models in the Toyota lineup have an AWD or 4WD option, from the Tacoma and 4Runner to the Camry and Highlander.