When shopping for a car, you’ll often hear the various wheel drive systems thrown around as additional features. “This vehicle has AWD which gives it additional traction.” Or “That car’s front wheel drive helps boost its fuel economy and decreases its carbon dioxide emissions.”
As a RAV4 owner myself, I had to make this decision when purchasing my RAV4. I personally went with the FWD version for cost-savings, but I’ve had the chance to spend a fair bit of time driving a family member’s AWD RAV4 as well. This leaves me well-equipped to compare and contrast the two vehicles.
When it comes to RAV4 FWD vs AWD, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer. It’s just what you need for your daily uses.
The RAV4 can serve a lot of purposes as a crossover SUV. Learning about these drive systems and their key differences can help you understand what you need. The “right” choice for you will likely come down to location, climate, cost, maintenance, and much more.
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What’s the Difference Between AWD and FWD?
Many consumers are confused by the different wheel drive systems available on the market. These are the common acronyms you’ll see used to refer to the systems:
The core difference between these wheel drive systems is which sets of wheels get power from the engine.
In all-wheel drive (AWD), the vehicle uses all four wheels to power the vehicle. This system is always on. However, many people confuse this system with 4WD.
The difference between four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) is that 4WD must be switched on manually. AWD vehicles automatically send power to all the wheels. Similar to AWD systems, 4WD is designed to maximize traction in the front and rear. However, 4WD systems tend to be more robust than AWD systems which are on constantly. As a result, 4WD can handle more rugged terrain.
**Note that 4WD is no longer available on newer RAV4s. Modern RAV4 only come in FWD and AWD variations.
Front-wheel drive (FWD) uses only the front two wheels to power the car. This type of drive system is the common in most cars today. The advantage of this system is simplicity and cost-savings. Less drive components help reduce production and maintenance costs, meanwhile improving gas mileage.
Understanding the different drive systems is essential when comparing RAV4s with AWD vs. FWD.
Comparing the Toyota RAV4 AWD and FWD
Now that you know the basics about AWD and FWD, let’s get into specifics about the Toyota RAV4. The following chart provides a great overview of the advantage and disadvantages of RAV4 FWD vs AWD.
|RAV4 AWD||– Improved traction||– Lower gas mileage|
– Higher maintenance cost
– Higher sticker price
|RAV4 FWD||– Higher gas mileage|
– Lower maintenance costs
– Lower sticker price
|– Less traction in slick conditions|
Handling and Traction
AWD generally makes you (as a driver) feel more planted on the road. Especially when driving through turns or bends at higher speeds, this can increase how stable you feel in the vehicle. The Toyota RAV4 AWD is an all-weather vehicle. It’s a good match for snow, rain, sleet — you name it.
In terms of handling and traction, the FWD variation of the RAV4 won’t perform as well as AWD in slick conditions. Since only two wheels are powering the vehicle, you’ll have less grip on the road during acceleration.
All-wheel drive systems are more expensive than front-wheel drive systems. This price increase is because there are more parts to manufacture, and they’re more expensive to fix. AWD vehicles are also heavier, which impacts fuel efficiency.
If you’re considering an AWD vehicle, be prepared to see this reflected in the sticker price. For a RAV4, AWD normally adds around $1,000 to the sticker price when compared to FWD. This increase carries over into the used car market. Used RAV4s with AWD will also cost more than their FWD versions.
Vehicles with both AWD and 4WD will suffer a fuel economy penalty because they carry hundreds of pounds of additional weight. Furthermore, the equipment required to turn all four wheels increases the mechanical resistance of the vehicle. An AWD vehicle will generally get 1 to 2 miles per gallon less than FWD.
Keep in mind that an FWD vehicle may also emit less carbon dioxide. This makes it better for the environment.
AWD vehicles require more maintenance than a FWD vehicle. Since there are more parts involved, there are more parts that may need to be cared for over the lifespan of the vehicle.
You’ll also need to keep your tire tread wear relatively consistent between all tires. If you get one flat tire, you may find yourself replacing more than one tire to keep even tread on all sides of the vehicle.
It’s not uncommon for RAV4 owners to experience a malfunction with their AWD system at some point during ownership. The most common error message seen on the multi-information display is “AWD System Malfunction. 2WD Mode Engaged. Visit Your Dealer.”
Luckily, in some cases, the message won’t have anything to do with AWD itself but rather because the battery has died, the car was jump-started, or the check engine light is on. You can read more about this error message and what to do if your AWD system is malfunctioning in our article: “Having an AWD System Malfunction in Your Toyota RAV4? Here’s Why.”
RAV4 AWD vs. FWD Video Comparison
To demonstrate the difference between a FWD and AWD RAV4, I put both vehicles to the test!
In this example, the gas pedal was pushed to the floor on a gravel surface. Watch how the AWD RAV4 responds better to the loss of traction.
Should You Choose FWD or AWD for Your Toyota RAV4?
Many car buyers wonder if RAV4 FWD vs AWD is the best option for them. If you’re expecting to deal with a lot of inclement weather — for instance, heavy rain or snow — then an AWD Toyota RAV4 may be worth it.
AWD is a great option if you plan to drive on dirt, gravel, sand, etc. FWD is preferred if you want to save on costs and don’t require the extra traction that AWD provides.
That said, if your area experiences snow in the winter, a good set of tires along with FWD can be enough to get you safely through the winter. This is my personal experience as someone who lives in Pennsylvania. Although my area can experience more than 6 inches of snow during the winter, my RAV4 with FWD holds up well. I’ve equipped it with good tires, and it handles the snow well.
Which is the winner for you in the debate between RAV4 FWD vs AWD?
Some drivers purchasing a crossover SUV want this type of vehicle because they’ll be using it for light off-road driving or other all-terrain scenarios. In this case, AWD may be highly appealing to you. Additionally, if you live in a place with seasons, then you may prefer an all-wheel drive vehicle because they perform so much better in low-friction conditions like rain, snow, and ice.
That said, because of the downsides of AWD (maintenance, cost, etc.), you may prefer to stick with FWD combined with a good set of tires.
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Good article, and backs up my own experience driving a 2013 Rav 4 LE with front-wheel drive in the interior of British Columbia. Driving to conditions and having good tires (I like Nokians) for the winter, I’ve never had a problem.
Unfortunately, Toyota Canada has made a decision that FWD Ravs and Highlanders are no longer available as new vehicles in this country. Calling head office of Toyota Canada, I was unable to get a satisfactory answer as to the rationale for the decision, other than it was “marketing” differences between Canada and the US.
So I guess I’ll be switching brands for my new car this year, unless I can import a FWD Rav from the US. Not likely, I suspect…
Very interesting, I did not know that FWD is no longer available in Canada. Would you consider an AWD RAV4?
I’m sufficiently dismayed with Toyota Canada that I’ll be looking carefully and test driving alternatives before I would reconsider either a new Rav or Highlander. Besides limiting customer choice unnecessarily, this driveline edict is more annoyance that adds to the situation of extremely tight inventories and long delays for customers wishing to order from their dealership.
Jonathan, maybe you would be able to investigate the “offical” rationale behind this bad decision. If Toyota marketing directors think all Canadians need AWD because we live in the Great White North and drive snowed-in mountain passes all winter long, they are delusional. One problem (as you hinted at) is that drivers have been duped into believing they must have AWD for road safety – at greater initial expense, and more maintenance revenue for dealerships as vehicles age out of warranty. It’s basically an intentional misinformation campaign. Meanwhile, owners are burning additional gas for the life of the car and contributing more to the climate change problem than would be the case with FWD only. My two cents anyway…
I completely agree with your thoughts. I live in Pennsylvania and most people around here rave about AWD and how they’re so happy they have it in the winter.
I’ve driven my FWD RAV4 is plenty of snow in low-quality all-season tires and I’ve been just fine. It’s also performed well on gravel, dirt, and muddy roads. I think AWD is overrated and not worth the additional cost and complexity.
I’ll do some research on Canadian RAV4s and will potentially write an article about this (and similar) topics.
It’s interesting to converse with someone in your situation who shares my experience and perspective on front-wheel drive. There are relatively few of us. From what I have seen in just a few hours of research, the trend for the Canadian market with other import auto manufacturers (not just Toyota) is to make AWD standard, with no option to buy FWD even in the base models. That seems to be a targeted shift over the last couple of years, though there is still the odd exception.
Bu even the exceptions may come with sacrifices for Canadian buyers. For example, with the Nissan Rogue (from the specs I have seen), even the base S trim level in the US gets the updated intercooled turbo engine in 2023 – same as the rest of the Rogue line. But in Canada, the Rogue S settles for the old, less efficient and sleepier 2.5L direct injection engine from previous years. And…front-wheel drive can only be had on the base model S. So in this country, to get a FWD Rogue, you have to buy a base model with an older engine. The next model up (the SV) carries a premium of $6200, for AWD and the updated engine.
So I think I see where the manufacturers are going here: let’s eliminate FWD as an option on SUVs so we don’t need separate tooling, and we can charge ALL customers an extra $1500-$2000 for AWD. Plus, we will make more money on maintenance and repairs on AWD systems.
The arrival of FWD brought a remarkable improvement on the old rear-wheel drive vehicles of years gone by. AWD is certainly nothing like the same leap forward from FWD, but marketing has convinced consumers otherwise.