Should I pay more for all-wheel drive?

What’s the current state of thinking on the safety/performance virtues of AWD vs. FWD with traction/stability control, etc.? We live in the city and specifically are looking at a Toyota Highlander. Is there still enough of a difference to justify the extra cost?

Submitted by Bill S, Chicago, Ill.

It largely depends on where you plan to drive. Front-wheel drive should work fine with stability and traction control in a flat, snowy area like Chicago, which has better-than-average snow removal. FWD models also get better gas mileage than all-wheel-drive vehicles. However, AWD does provide the extra security of knowing you can claw your way out of deeper snow piled up from plows and the like, and it offers better performance on slick surfaces.

Hills and inclines are the big X factor, so if you’re planning on trips to the mountains, the situation is different. Also, if you live in a snowy, mountainous area — think Denver — then AWD is much more useful and we’d recommend it.

For you, living in Chicago, there are a few reasons to go with AWD, even though FWD is perfectly acceptable. It will allow you to do less shoveling, and you’ll get stuck less frequently. AWD-equipped vehicles also have good resale in the Chicago area.

Automotive Lease Guide estimates that an AWD 2007 Toyota Highlander will hold 5 percent more of its original value in the first year than the FWD model (59% compared to 54%). The curve stays relatively the same over five years.

The increase in available AWD vehicles from automakers shows it is a growing preference among car shoppers. For a Chicago shopper, it comes down to deciding based on the other factors we listed above: convenience, performance, fuel economy and resale value.

So what are we really saying here? If you’re watching your pennies, at the end of the day you’ll do just fine with the less-expensive FWD Highlander in a place like Chicago. If you want the convenience and can absorb the added cost of the more-expensive model — and at the pump — then AWD is a terrific upgrade.

Again, our answer might be different depending on the vehicle and the location. If you have a specific inquiry, just Ask.Cars.com

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Answered by David Thomas on March 21, 2007 in What Car Should I Buy? | Permalink

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