Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD) vs. All-Wheel Drive (AWD)

One of the most important considerations when purchasing a new vehicle is what type of drivetrain to choose. A drivetrain plays a key role in your vehicle’s performance in different scenarios and conditions. Two of the most popular drivetrain configurations are rear-wheel drive (RWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD). Neither is “better” than the other; however, they have their own unique appeal to drivers based on preference for handling, performance, traction, and stability. 

Learn more about the differences between RWD and AWD to better understand which drivetrain may be a better fit for your next vehicle.

What is All-Wheel Drive (AWD)?

All-wheel drive is a drivetrain that sends variable power to all four wheels directly. Using built-in sensors, this system determines the power needs of each wheel in real-time, sending extra power to individual wheels when it detects slippage or loss of traction to help immediately regain grip and control. Vehicles with AWD tend to be well-suited for safer travel in challenging situations and for delivering a smooth, comfortable ride. 

Subaru has long been a pioneer in the development and implementation of AWD technology. Our innovative Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, built upon the SUBARU BOXER® engine, features a lower mounted, more evenly balanced design compared to more traditional AWD systems. The result is enhanced stability and handling in inclement weather or when driving across muddy, rocky, or icy terrain.

What is Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD)? 


Rear-wheel drive systems deliver power to a vehicle’s rear axle only. With RWD, the back wheels are solely responsible for propelling the vehicle forward, while the front wheels steer the car. Modern RWD systems are frequently found in performance sports cars because their setup enables maximum traction during acceleration, precision handling, and an engaging, hands-on driving dynamic. 

Our Subaru RWD offering, the BRZ, uses the same BOXER engine found in almost every other AWD Subaru model. However, when paired with the RWD drivetrain, the SUBARU BOXER engine helps the BRZ reach new levels of sporty performance and agility. This makes it a terrific option for driving enthusiasts who crave an exhilarating experience whether they’re on the road or on a track.

Differences Between RWD and AWD

Although RWD and AWD are two of the most popular drivetrain options available, front-wheel drive (FWD) is another noteworthy drivetrain available in many modern vehicles. While RWD sends power to only the back wheels of a vehicle, FWD delivers added power to the front wheels, making them a good choice for city-driving or on the highway. 

When considering the differences between FWD vs RWD vs AWD, it’s important to look at how each system functions and how that functioning affects the overall driving experience. 

  • Handling: RWD-equipped vehicles tend to prioritize handling and responsiveness, while those with FWD or AWD tend to deliver a smoother ride with less precise control.
  • Traction: AWD vehicles are always engaged and making adjustments to optimize traction, making them an ideal driving companion for slick roadways and off-road adventuring. FWD vehicles are also able to maintain steady traction on roads, especially during bursts of acceleration. RWD vehicles, on the other hand, may struggle in slippery situations and are generally not recommended for off-roading.
  • Fuel economy: FWD systems are considered the simplest of all drivetrains and valued for their fuel-efficiency. Because RWD-equipped vehicles are slightly heavier in weight and designed for rapid acceleration/deceleration, manual transmission operation, and overall performance, they tend to use more fuel than their FWD counterparts. Previously, vehicles equipped with classic AWD systems have been less fuel-efficient due to their always-on functionality and heavier build. However, more modern adaptations such as the Subaru Symmetrical AWD have made adjustments and optimizations that deliver improved fuel economy on newer AWD vehicles. Additionally, many hybrid and electric vehicles are now available with AWD drivetrains.

Advantages of All-Wheel Drive vs. Rear-Wheel Drive

Both AWD- and RWD-equipped vehicles offer their own distinct strengths and advantages. AWD systems are known for providing superior traction and safety. They also excel in snow, ice, rain, and through all other types of weather conditions. Additionally, many vehicles with AWD are great for off-the-beaten-path adventuring and perform well on rocky or uneven terrain. 

On the other hand, RWD vehicles offer a thrilling, dynamic driving experience with excellent handling, accelerating, and braking. Vehicles equipped with RWD are designed to remain on paved roadways or to be taken onto complex courses and tracks that require advanced driving skills, where drivers can put their maneuvering and need for speed to the test – alongside other capabilities.

AWD vs. RWD: Which is Best for You?

AWD and RWD vehicles each offer unique benefits that any driver can enjoy, depending on your needs, lifestyle, and preferences. If you need a vehicle that offers reliability on your daily commute, even in wintry conditions – or a vehicle to accompany you on off-road camping trips and trekking to nature trails, AWD may be best for you. On the flipside, if you’re looking for something sporty and fun that allows you to flex your skills on the track and on long stretches of open road, RWD may better suit your needs. 

Whichever drivetrain you choose, Subaru has you covered. Explore the entire Subaru lineup today, including popular AWD vehicles like our Crosstrek and Forester, as well as the exciting rear-wheel drive BRZ!