Hyundai Tucson 2WD vs 4WD
October 7, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

When driving in all sorts of terrain which is really better in a SUV 2WD or 4WD?

I am thinking of getting a 2007 Hyundai Tucson but it is only 2WD. Right now I live in Florida but pretty soon I will be moving up north and I need to know if 4WD and AWD is really something that is important, having never driven in snow before. I love to camp and will be living in a more rural area so I need to know if the 2WD will be okay for all sorts of terrain, sand, mud, you name it. Also any pros and cons advice about the Tucson would be greatly appreciated.
posted by sharkhunt to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
4WD is nice to have if you are in a snowy place, but not absolutely necessary. If you are merely moving north to a colder-but-not-very-snow place, it's really not necessary. 4WD helps to get your vehicle moving more easily in snow but will NOT help you stop, which is often more necessary. 4WD also helps with turning to some degree. 4WD is useless in ice, as no one should drive on icy roads. If you do camp off the beaten path, 4WD can be nice on nasty roads.

There is one catch: If the 2WD version is rear wheel drive, then you may want to opt for the 4WD. Rear wheel drive in snow means your gonna have a bad time.

The big things with winter driving you should know: drive slowly, keep space between you and the car in front of you, drive slowly, keep a safety kit in your car (kitty litter, candle, blanket, water, drive slowly, ice scraper and brush, etc.), drive slowly, never let your gas go below a quarter tank and drive slowly. Once you are up north, get to an open parking lot and practice maneuvers such as donuts and e-brake slides.

My experience: drove in Michigan in lake effect snow belts from 15 until 24. Drove RWD pickup, 4WD pickup and FWD sedan. Now I just deal with Mount Hood/puny Portland snows.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:13 PM on October 7, 2010

I need to know if the 2WD will be okay for all sorts of terrain, sand, mud, you name it

Well, er no. Or there would't be any advantage in having 4WD. You would be, without question, limited to the terrain and surface you could easily/safely negotiate if you had 2WD. How much you would be limited would depend on the particular terrain/surface combination and the weather likely during your travelling.

Driving in snow wouldn't be a major issue if you had the right tyres and stuck to the highway, but the less ploughed the area and the more hilly/rural then the more 4WD would be an advantage. So that depends on exactly where you go.

But if you don't want to be limited by your vehicle in your camping, a 4WD gives you the most options.
posted by Brockles at 12:14 PM on October 7, 2010

snow tires > 4WD/AWD
posted by bodaciousllama at 12:16 PM on October 7, 2010

In my rather limited experience 2wd has trouble with mud, sand, and even loose gravel that 4 or AWD would easily tackle. Probably millions of people drive 2wd in snow though.
posted by ghharr at 12:18 PM on October 7, 2010

The 2wd drive Tucson is front wheel drive (FWD) so if you were just going to be driving on snow I'd tell you not to worry about AWD (4WD and AWD are not the same thing but I'm not going to get into it here) and maybe think about some snow tires. However, since you're talking about a rural area and, more importantly, some off-road driving, you're probably going to want the AWD model.

Even then, FWD is probably fine as long as we're talking about gravel roads or well packed dirt trails with no steep hills. If it starts raining and that hard packed dirt has turned into slick mud and you need to get up a hill, you'll wish you had AWD.
posted by VTX at 12:34 PM on October 7, 2010

2nding good snow tires as being more important than the number of wheels being powered.
posted by dabug at 12:42 PM on October 7, 2010

How north? How rural? How much camping in what types of conditions? Without knowing more, I'd say for most people, 2WD is plenty and 4WD is just a nice to have extra.

The Tuscon you're looking at (even with 4wd) isn't something you'll be taking on ORV trails or through feet of unploughed snow. It's a station wagon with a bit more ground clearance.

data point - I have a jeep SUV modified for off-road use. Outside of off-road trails and a few days during last winters "storm of the century", I've haven't needed to use 4WD. Not during storms or on primitive camping trails in state forests.
posted by anti social order at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2010

If you're in doubt, you probably don't need 4WD.

But if you're really, seriously, going to be driving in sand and mud (as in, not just on bad roads but on things that aren't roads at all), a Hyundai Tucson (especially one w/stock tires) isn't going to cut it.
posted by box at 12:52 PM on October 7, 2010

Pretty much everything Mister Fabulous said.

Decide how much "off-road" you really intend to do and what that means to you. 2WD vehicles, front-wheel drive or whatever, cant deal with loose road conditions (sand, gravel, snow etc) anywhere near as well as a AWD/4WD, and those vehicles typically have a greater ground clearance too. If off-road to you means a muddy road or unpaved county road heading to an established campground, you can probably get away with a front-wheel drive the vast majority of the time. If off-road means a totally unimproved, two-track road with foot+ tall vegetation growing on it and rocks sticking up, then you need a 4WD with really good (ie expensive) tires. In the middle, an AWD with decent clearance will probably do.
posted by elendil71 at 1:08 PM on October 7, 2010

The basic mantra is that 4WD allows one to get stuck farther from home.

There is one catch: If the 2WD version is rear wheel drive, then you may want to opt for the 4WD. Rear wheel drive in snow means your gonna have a bad time.

The benifits of FWD over RWD when driving on snow are overblown in my opinion. Surely less than the difference between all season tires and even unstudded snow tires. 4WD helps very little in sand where contact patch and traction management is important.

For unimproved roads 4WD is mostly handy only for the increased ground clearance that goes along with it. I don't recall much difference in that regard between 2WD and 4WD Tucson models. Once you get into driving places with no road then 4WD can be useful or mandatory but I personally wouldn't buy into the SUV marketing until I actually found I was wanting to go places that required it.

The down side is 4WD is expensive. There is about 50% more drive train to buy and it's more complicated; it requires more maintence; you have to buy more expensive tires and they wear faster; and gas mileage is worse (especially if you have to buy a bigger engine or lower final drive ratio to get 4WD).

90% of my driving up here in the great white north has been in 2WD vehicles. The only time outside of off road driving I've ever felt I've needed 4WD is when the snow on the road has been more than ~15cm deep or a combination of wind and temperature fluctations has resulted in roads so icy one couldn't walk to their car without holding onto something the whole way and generally I just stay home when either of those two events happen as irregardless of ones own preparedness there are enough suboptimals driving around for it to be too dangerous.

Caveat: I once spent three hours on the side of the road waiting for a plow to roll by when the snow acculation on the highway exceed the ground clearance of my Fiero. It wasn't a lack of traction though (never actually a problem in winter in that car) but of lack of steering. The lack of weight over the front wheels combined with the flat bottom and heavy sticky snow was causing the front wheels rise up like a tobboggan and to lose contact with the ground. That event and the snow fall that caused it were both freakish outliers though but something to be aware of if Michagin regularly gets 30cm of snow in a couple hours.
posted by Mitheral at 2:02 PM on October 7, 2010

I don't know about the Tuscon, but I have GMC 4WD and I use it alot in the winter in Michigan. It helped me feel comfortable after moving here from California.

I don't like AWD, it seems to not work as well as 4. I have the option of AWD and I just use the 2 most of the time. Never drive in 4WD on the highway. People here drive on sand dunes with their 4WD's, and it will eventually ruin them, but they have a lot of fun.

It snows a lot here, and that is only what I use it for. The snow plows pile snow at the end of our driveways in huge amounts, that defeat both front and back wheel drives, although front wheel drive does better on snowy roads. A lot of it is ground clearance.
posted by chocolatetiara at 2:14 PM on October 7, 2010

Hmm Have you looked into a used Subaru outback ? I think a used subaru outback would be better in the snow then the hyundai tuscon?
posted by majortom1981 at 3:24 PM on October 7, 2010

If you can faster than about 5 MPH on the terrain you think is rough, it is not rough and you do not need 4WD.

People from wimpy climates are often surprised when they learn that in Minnesota (where I am from originally) most people drive ordinary cars. A tip: on snow and ice, 4WD just means that 4 wheels are spinning uselessly instead of 2.
posted by Sukiari at 4:34 PM on October 7, 2010

I work in some remote, very rural areas -- several times a week all year long, we drive our work trucks through stretches that look like something in one of those SUV ads. Through mud, across abandoned fields, over rocks, all that stuff.

We use 4wd in exactly two situations: starting out on this one super steep incline (you have to stop and look for cross-traffic, then start uphill on loose dirt) and when we need the slowness of 4wd-low to move a truck at walking speed while people work alongside. (Oh, and when we are towing a heavy trailer on rough ground sometimes, but that's really rare.)

Seriously, those are the only times when it gets used, period. My own vehicle has 4wd, which I have as a backup in case of bad weather when driving Forest Service roads in the mountains; for day-to-day driving, including mountain passes and other winter driving, it's totally not necessary. Pretty much, you can use 4wd to get yourself into trouble, or you can use it to get yourself out of trouble, but you can't use it for both.

Get it if you want it, or if it makes you feel better. But like everyone keeps saying, studded tires, chains, and simply having a clue about winter driving will keep you a lot safer.
posted by Forktine at 5:53 PM on October 7, 2010

Good snow tires will make just about any car winter-ready, at least in southern Minnesota. Of course, what would be ideal would be to have both AWD/4WD and snow tires-- you'd have to pretty much plow right into a deep snowdrift to get stuck.

However, snow tires are a bit inconvenient. You have to store the out-of-season tires someplace when they're not being used. Also, they are more expensive than regular tires, and they are made of softer compound than normal tires and hence wear out more quickly. And generally you want them on their own wheels, so include that in the cost.

And with newer cars, having two sets of tires can be a major pain, since cars are now required to have pressure monitoring, which involves having transponders placed inside the tires, and you have to invoke some model-dependent voodoo to get the car to recognize the new transponders as valid. If you're lucky, you can register both sets of tires with the car, and not think about the issue again. But in some cases you have to ask a dealer to reset your car's computer every time you switch the tires, to prevent the car's computer from switching into 'limp home' mode. So definitely research the procedure for the model in question if it has tire pressure monitoring.

As for AWD... there is a definite penalty in the fuel efficiency department. However, assuming a good-quality AWD implementation like Audi or Subaru provides, I can't imagine it increasing tire wear. (Subjectively, I prefer how AWD handle in snow, the point at which traction is lost in cornering seems more predictable, and the way in which it loses traction more controllable.)

Also, many places don't allow you to use studs or tire chains, since they eat up the roads.
posted by Hither at 10:15 PM on October 7, 2010

You very likely don't need AWD. I live in the a fairly snowy town in Canada and we do just fine with 2WD cars here (though snow tires are a must). It is the people out from the city for the weekend in their AWD SUVs with all season tires that get stuck or slide off the road. They don't have proper tires, proper driving skills, and they think that AWD makes them invincible. Don't be like those people.

I love to camp too and I sometimes use a 4WD truck for that purpose. I rarely actually use the 4WD. It is nice to have occasionally (starting up a muddy hill, creeping down a very steep slope, starting moving in very deep snow), but if you aren't absolutely sure you need it, you probably don't. I use 4WD sometimes when FWD would be just fine, but RWD doesn't work well. Secondly, notice how the examples I gave all rely on the very low gearing that real 4WD gives you? An AWD Tuscon won't give you any of those advantages. If you really need a 4WD vehicle, you need a real 4WD vehicle (which in your case would be something like a Toyota 4Runner).
posted by ssg at 10:25 PM on October 7, 2010

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