2WD vs AWD – Which one is better?

In years past, I have always preferred 2WD over AWD. This is because older cars with naturally aspirated engines didn’t make anywhere near as much torque as those with modern turbocharged engines. 2WD could easily handle the power and accelerate out of the corners well, plus 2WD cars were lighter and had a better balance in the center of the corner.

In 2018, this is no longer the case. Modern turbocharged engines can easily produce so much torque that there is no way to keep the car hooked up when you accelerate. In fact, they make so much torque that they will spin the tires in the first two gears even when accelerating in a straight line, even with wider and stickier tires. In addition, computer-controlled AWD, with information from the stability control software and sensors, can change the balance of the car in different parts of the corner. Also, the AWD components keep getting lighter so the weight penalty is has gotten very small, and is more than made up by the extra acceleration provided by the traction from the AWD.

Here are some examples:

The new 911 Turbo S is a perfect example. It shifts engine torque on deceleration to the front wheels to reduce the rear-engine car’s tendency to oversteer on corner entry. Then, in the center of the corner, it shifts the engine torque to the rear wheels so the car won’t understeer in the middle of the corner. It then adds torque to the front wheels in proportion to how much power you add so the car increases in its tendency to understeer as you accelerate harder keeping the car in line.

The new F90 M5 also a great example. It shifts engine torque on deceleration to the rear wheels to reduce the front-engine car’s tendency to understeer on corner entry. Then, in the center of the corner, it shifts the engine torque slightly to the front wheels so the car has a predictable amount of understeer in the middle of the corner. It then adds torque to the front wheels in proportion to how much power you add so the car increases in its tendency to understeer as you accelerate harder – keeping the car in line.

Modern computer-controlled AWD is amazing, and I don’t think I want to own a car without it ever again!

Why is Racing 2WD?

The sanctioning bodies made it illegal to have an AWD car in road racing. This was done many years ago so that 2WD cars would not have a performance disadvantage when racing against AWD cars. I understand the reason, but it’s a shame because AWD is so much better that it would have motivated car companies to make better AWD performance cars. Now that almost all manufacturers are making their performance cars AWD, this might change in the future.

Steve Dinan

Written by David Kim

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