Which gives better traction, four-wheel drive, or two-wheel drive with snow tires?
Car and Driver recently did some testing to figure out which is better, four-wheel drive, or two-wheel drive with snow tires. You might quickly say to yourself, four-wheel drive, but that wouldn't be completely right. Read on.
A pair of Mercedes E320s and a pair of Audi A6s were used for testing. One of each was four-wheel drive, the other Audi was front-wheel drive, and the other Mercedes was a rear drive. Each car would use both winter and stock tires and be evaluated through a series of driving tests under winter condition. Tests included; hill-climbing traction, straight-line performance, and handling.
What did they come up with? Four-wheel drive is great for getting the car moving. Also, if you live in a hilly area that actually gets some snow, the climbing capability of the four-wheel drive is a big help. However, as I have found out with our Subaru, four-wheel drive only gets you so far. 'When it comes time to brake or change direction on low-traction surfaces, the extra mass of the driveline becomes more of a detriment.' If there is actually snow accumulation on the road, stock tires just don't cut it, braking and direction changes suffer. I put a set of winter tires on, (Blizzaks) and spirited driving was improved greatly. Cue the rally snow stage.
Front-wheel drive suffers when getting moving in the slick stuff. The vehicles weight shifts to the back, front gets light and tires spin. They also get pushy in turns. Adding a set of winter tires made a big improvement in handling and lateral grip. 'Two-wheel drive and winter tires -- in the slippery stuff -- are the safer bets.' So, that's the answer there, but four-wheel drive AND winter tires is the ultimate choice.
As for the rear driver, 'Winter tires boosted the rwd Benz's acceleration times more than they did the fwd Audi's, but in almost every other test, the inherently front-heavy Audis derived more benefit from the winter rubber than did the more evenly balanced Benzes. This finding certainly suggests that front-drive cars benefit from winter tires as much or more than rear-drivers do.'
And finally, unless snow or ice covers your roads many times in a winter, the snow benefits of winter tires may not outweigh their drawbacks on dry pavement.
Make your vehicle more fun in the snow, see Tire Rack for winter tire options.
Read the full article from Car and Driver here.
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