Toyota RAV4 FWD vs AWD

When shopping for a car, you’ll often hear about 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.

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.

In this article, we’ll explain the differences and guide you through the decision-making process of choosing between the two. We’ll discuss what each system does, its advantages, disadvantages, and more.

rav4 fwd and awd

Defining FWD and AWD

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:

  • AWD
  • FWD
  • 4WD

The core difference between these wheel-drive systems is which sets of wheels get power from the engine.

With all-wheel drive (AWD), the vehicle uses all four wheels for power. In the case of the RAV4, the front wheels are always delivering power. The rear wheels are capable of delivering power, but this is only done when a need for additional traction is detected.

Front-wheel drive (FWD) uses only the front two wheels to power the car. This type of drive system is common in most cars today. The advantages of this system are simplicity and cost-savings. Less drive components help reduce production and maintenance costs while improving gas mileage.

It’s also worth nothing that many people confuse AWD with four-wheel drive (4WD) because they sound similar. 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 constantly on. As a result, 4WD can handle more rugged terrain.

**Note that 4WD is no longer available on newer RAV4s. Modern RAV4s only come in FWD and AWD variations.

Pros and Cons

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 advantages 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

With AWD, the primary benefit is that you’ll get better traction in slippery or unstable scenarios, such as in snow, rain, and on gravel roads. People love AWD for this reason.

There are a few downsides to AWD, however.

One is that you’ll get slightly lower gas mileage because of the added weight and mechanical resistance of the AWD system (Forbes).

AWD vehicles also cost a bit more to purchase.

Finally, because of the complexity and added mechanical parts, it may potentially lead to more maintenance. Some RAV4 owners have dealt with an AWD System Malfunction, which you would not have to worry about if you had a FWD vehicle.

The pros and cons of FWD are essentially the opposite of AWD. You’ll get less traction with FWD because only the front wheels are capable of delivering power, even in slick conditions. However, you’ll have a higher MPG, lower maintenance costs, and a lower vehicle sticker price.

Handling and Traction

toyota rav4 adventure awd in mud

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.

Sticker Price

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.

Gas Mileage

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 FWD vehicles. 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 across 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.

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.

Which Should You Choose?

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.

Frequently Asked Questions?

Yes. AWD tends to be more expensive than FWD, adding about $1,000 to the sticker price. Not to mention, there are usually higher maintenance costs and fuel costs.

AWD would be more favorable in situations where you need more traction. It’s also great in weather conditions such as snow, rain or sleet.

Yes, but not by much. On average, AWD gets 1-2 mpg less than FWD. This is due to the additional weight of the AWD vehicle.

Final Thoughts

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 it performs 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.

Let us know if you’ll be choosing FWD or AWD in the comments below!

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  1. J. Williamsson says:

    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…

    1. Jonathan Buckley says:

      Very interesting, I did not know that FWD is no longer available in Canada. Would you consider an AWD RAV4?

      1. J.Williamsson says:

        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…

        1. Jonathan Buckley says:

          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.

          1. J.Williamsson says:

            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.

  2. Which Rav will be better on safari roads in the African Bush I.e. desert sand

    1. RAV4 Resource says:

      Definitely an AWD RAV4. The RAV4 Adventure and TRD Off-Road have a Mud & Sand driving mode.