Why electric car buyers need to weigh the pros and cons of all-wheel drive

All-wheel-drive in an EV means better performance but less range.
  • All-wheel drive has different advantages and disadvantages in electric cars
  • AWD EVs have an extra motor, which consumes more energy and decreases range. 
  • For some buyers, AWD capability may not be worth the reduced driving range. 

The new wave of electric vehicles is shaking up the way people think about buying cars. Instead of miles per gallon, EV shoppers are thinking hard about range. On top of size and price, buyers also need to consider things like charging speed.

It can all get a little confusing for people who have bought combustion-engine cars for decades. And there’s another key decision that electrification has turned on its head: all-wheel drive or not?

AWD provides many of the same benefits in an EV as in a gas car. Two extra drive wheels help increase traction and mean an AWD EV will be more capable and confident in snow and other slippery conditions. But they also necessitate an extra motor sucking additional energy from the battery pack and making the car heavier, dealing a blow to range.

A two-wheel-drive EV will generally have one motor mounted to its front or rear axle. An AWD model usually has two motors, so there’s one driving the front wheels and another turning the rears. Thanks to that boost in horsepower and torque, AWD EVs tend to accelerate much quicker than ones with front- or rear-wheel drive. 

The fun doesn’t stop at two motors. Companies like Rivian, Tesla, and GMC, sell EVs with three or four motors, dialing up performance even more. 

Take a closer look at the specs for some of the country’s most popular electric models, and you’ll see the impact AWD has on efficiency and range. 

With RWD, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 SUV earns an EPA range rating of up to 303 miles. Add on AWD for $3,500 and your estimated range drops to 266 miles. Ford rates the entry-level Mustang Mach-E at 250 miles for RWD models and 226 miles for AWD ones. 

The disparity gets starker the more power and performance you inject. The RWD Kia EV6 is rated at 310 miles of range. The new souped-up EV6 GT, which comes with two mighty motors driving all four wheels, can travel a paltry 206

Of course, you still can find EVs that offer the best of both worlds. For example, the Tesla Model Y Long Range delivers 330 miles of range and AWD. 

AWD gas vehicles are also less fuel efficient than their 2WD counterparts, but it isn’t a big deal beyond the added emissions and gas costs. 

In an EV, though, you need to think hard about whether the extra capability of AWD is worth the hit to range — particularly if you can get by without it. Charging stations aren’t nearly as common as gas pumps, and EVs are already limited in how far they can travel in one go. So those extra couple-dozen miles could make a big difference when you need them most. 

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