It absolutely bucketed down last weekend and it gave me a great opportunity to reflect on what all-wheel drive really means. Welcome to Week 16.

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RAIN, HAIL AND SHINE. That’s the weather we found ourselves in this week while driving around in the Subaru XV out in the country. And it got me thinking about all-wheel drive. Why? Simple. The rain was so heavy you could barely see the end of the bonnet and the lightning was close; basically we were driving through the middle of a huge storm cell that lashed the Central West and Blue Mountains last weekend.

It was a biblical storm and there were cars literally slithering on both sides of the road. But not the XV. Now, that was as much to do with the fact that we’d slowed right down and had our hazard warning lights on, as it was to do with all-wheel drive. But, as I mentioned, all around us cars were understeering and oversteering their way around streaming wet corners as the drivers struggled for grip.

Some of the road users were driving like idiots but others weren’t. They were taking it easy but still couldn’t keep their rear ends in check.

Now, don’t get me wrong, all-wheel drive, despite the marketing hype doesn’t mean you’ve got vice-like grip all of the time. But it does give you a big advantage over either front- or rear-drive only cars. And permanent all-wheel drive like that on the Subaru where drive is always being sent to either the front or the back is much better than the part-time all-wheel drive systems that most SUVs employ.

Most of the time, a part-time all-paw SUV is front-drive only and, when that car’s computer brain detects slip that requires the rear axle it engages it and begins shuffling torque around for improved grip. Once it reckons its got control of the slippery situation it defaults back to front-drive, perhaps lulling the driver into a false sense of security.

Now part-time systems do allow for better fuel consumption than permanent system, but a permanent system means you’ve got all four wheels helping out all of the time. And I reckon that’s the right way to build an all-wheel drive car and the clip below (via Teknikens Varld in Sweden) shows why I don’t part-time, on-demand all-wheel drive systems are all that good.

Not to single out the Honda CR-V which is a very good car, the Teknikens Varld test does show that sometimes these part-time, on-demand systems can be caught out. A permanent system can’t be because, by its very nature, it’s always on. It’s worth reading Honda’s reply to TV’s test for its explanation of why the rear wheels failed to engage.

I’m not suggesting that you should only buy a permanent all-wheel drive vehicle over a part-time all-wheel drive model, because there are and should be more considerations than just whether both axles are driven all the time when you’re buying a car. But you should know that just because a sales brochure says a new SUV is all-wheel drive, it might not really be an all-wheel drive.

But what about the XV itself. Well, come rain, hail or shine I reckon it’s proven itself to a be right little ripper over the last six months. And I’m a big fan of its windscreen wipers, both front and rear. See, the rear wipers offer two speeds which is vital in heavy rain, and the front ones do a great job of sweeping water from the road quickly and cleanly.

On the slippery roads last weekend the XV felt safe and stable and thanks to the higher ride height we could quickly and easily spot standing water on the road and slow down to minimise the risk of aquaplaning.

My question this week is have you purchased a part-time all-wheel drive car, or have you bought an XV because you thought the permanent all-wheel drive was more than just sales hype and might actually make a difference in the real world?


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  1. For my previous car I chose a manual Forester partly for the grip on snow-covered roads & I wasn’t disappointed. That’s full-time 4WD & despite scores of trips chains were never needed. Sure, care in using the controls was, a small price to pay for not having to crawl around the wheels in a sub-zero blow.

  2. Oh wow, subaru da big hero! Driving on a road at the same time as a thousand commodores and falcons, who also managed to get home!

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