We see all-wheel-drive (AWD) badges on cars, crossovers, and SUVs all of the time. However, for those who really care about how their cars work, that badge can often stir up more questions than answers. Are all four wheels always being driven? Does AWD improve handling or does it improve safety? Are some systems better than others?
The answers to those questions vary by automaker and even by model. For example, there are automakers who use on-demand AWD systems across their lineup (Mazda comes to mind) and others, like Subaru, use full-time AWD for their vehicles. Other manufacturers, like Nissan, use a mix of on-demand, full-time, torque vectoring, and head-scratchers like double driveshafts, depending on whether you're talking about a Murano or the GT-R. It's OK if you don't know what any of that means, all will be explained.
We've rounded up a few of the more common AWD configurations and a few of our favorite uncommon setups to help you to figure out the truth behind the badge. Consider this more of a primer for on-road, passenger car systems than an all-inclusive roundup, as we've mostly steered clear of the 4x4, 4WD, manual drive select, and locking center differentials that populate the world of off-roading and truck transmissions.