If you are in the market for a new truck or SUV, you have one big decision ahead: 4x2 vs 4x4?

While there are benefits to both drivetrain configurations, they will both have different effects on the performance of your vehicle, and it is important to understand the differences between them. 

should i buy a 4x4 suv or a 4x2 suv

Quick Answer - Should you buy a 4x2 SUV or a 4x4 SUV: - for featured snippet

Only two of the wheels are making the vehicle move,  i.e being given torque on a vehicle with 4x2 drivetrain - either on the front axis or the rear.  However, on a vehicle with 4x4 drivetrain, all wheels are making the vehicle move, i.e being given a torque. 4x4 drivetrains can either be all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD).

If you have never heard those terms or are having a tough time deciding which to pick, we are here to help you out.

This post will tell you everything you need to know about 4x2 vs 4x4 drivetrain configurations, and how to choose between them. 

The drivetrain can have a big impact on handling and also on fuel economy.

4x2 vs 4x4

Definitions: 4x2, 4x4, AWD, Full/Part Time

The drivetrain of your vehicle is the mechanical system that connects the engine to the wheels.

There are several different types of drivetrain configurations, each designed for different kinds of driving conditions.

Here are a few definitions of drivetrain configurations that you should know, before we get into the details of each. 

Toyota Prado120 GX470 LandCruiser in Senegal
defender ex-tec

What is 4x4 Drive?

Let's first answer the main question: What does 4x4 or 4WD mean? 

4x4 is the term used to describe four-wheel drive cars (i.e. 4WD cars). In a 4x4 vehicle, all four wheels are being actively driven by the engine.

4x4s are generally best at driving on slick roads or bumpy off-road terrain – we’ll get more into the uses later. 

People commonly refer to all type of off-road cars as 4x4's, regardless if they are full time 4x4's, AWD's or part time four-wheel drives. We will get to the definitions of all of these below.

What is 4x2 Drive?

In a 4x2, or two-wheel drive vehicle, only two of the four wheels on the car are actively driven by the engine.

It could be the front two wheels or the rear wheels: i.e. front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive. These vehicles often have better fuel economy and are more affordable than four-wheel drive vehicles. It's one of the biggest wins in the 4x4 vs 4x2 battle.

Most modern family cars have a front-wheel drive configuration as the rear-wheel drive set up is more common for more powerful luxury or sport cars.

hilux camper

Part-time 4WD

A part time 4 wheel drive vehicle can be converted from two-wheel drive to 4 wheel drive mode.

When switched into four-wheel drive mode, the front and rear axles are synced together with a shift lever.

These kinds of vehicles are designed to accommodate for different road types and weather conditions. 

Part-time 4WD vehicles generally have a high and low speed mode.

They should be switched into four-wheel drive mode only in necessary off-road conditions, and should only be driven on concrete in two-wheel drive. 

toyota troopy 4x4

Full-time 4WD

Full time 4 wheel drive vehicles are more or less the converse of part time 4WD – they can operate in both 2WD and 4WD modes, but default in four-wheel drive.

They can be driven in four-wheel drive at all times, or switched into two-wheel drive on smooth roads to save gas. 

4x4 vs 2x4

Automatic 4WD

An automatic 4WD vehicle will shift into 4 wheel drive automatically, when the vehicle senses that the tires are slipping.

These vehicles can be handy for someone who regularly switches between on road and off road driving, or in an area with unpredictable weather conditions

Superwinch vs Warn comparison
overlanders in the desert

All Wheel Drive (AWD) 

All wheel drive, or AWD, is another term that you will commonly see used to describe 4x4 vehicles.

The main difference is that an AWD vehicle supplies power to all four wheels all the time – there are no manual or automatic settings to revert to two-wheel drive. 

If you're after and all-wheel-drive vehicle, you need to decide whether you'd like to have the option to choose low gear or not.

I've been often asked: is AWD 4x4 or 4x2?

Well, as you can see above, AWD vehicles are usually 4x4, but there are some rare and extreme examples when they are 6x6 or more!

Pros and Cons of 4x2 and 4x4 Drivetrains

The best drivetrain configuration for your new SUV will depend on your priorities, budget and the type of driving you normally do.

Here are the pros and cons to both drivetrain types, to give you a better idea of how they work. 

4wd vs 2wd

4x2 Pros 

One of the biggest benefits of a 4x2 drivetrain is the affordability.

Not only are 4x2 vehicles less expensive at the outset, they are also more fuel efficient than 4x4s, and cost less to repair and maintain. 

These are doubtless the greatest advantages.

But let's not forget the fun factor. If the vehicle is rear-wheel-drive, you can have a lot of fun with it in a safe environment. The Honda S2000 is a great example for this argument.

You can also have fun with a 4x4, but the experience is different.

4x2 Cons

The main downside to driving a vehicle with a 4x2 drivetrain configuration is that it is more likely to slip or get bogged in mud or sand.

Because power is only directed to two wheels, the wheels that are not being actively driven will not have the power to maintain control on a slippery surface. 

4x2 vs 4x4 differences

4x4 Pros

4x4 vehicles are great for handling slick roads in rainy, snowy or icy conditions. Because power is supplied to all four wheels, they have a better grip on the road and are less likely to slip where 4x2 vehicles might. 

They are also good for off road driving. 4x4 vehicles are less likely to get stuck in the mud or in deep sand. The advantage in having better traction in any circumstances cannot be understated.

If you are a serious off road driver, 4x4 – full time or automatic – is an absolute necessity. 

4x4 Cons

While 4x4 vehicles are great for driving in slick conditions and off road, there are some downsides. They are generally more expensive, because of the extra drivetrain components.

They are also less likely to be fuel efficient. It takes a lot energy to power all four wheels at once, so you will have to fill up the tank more regularly than you would with a 4x2 vehicle. 

Who Should Buy a 4x4 or a 4x2 Vehicle?

What is the difference between 2x4 and 4x4? Is a 4wd better than a 2wd? There are benefits to both drivetrain configurations, but it is important to understand the difference – each type of vehicle will be better for certain needs. 

A 4x4 vehicle is best for someone who does a lot of off road driving. They are ideal for driving on muddy or slick surfaces without getting stuck.

If you plan on taking your SUV camping and overlanding, or need a vehicle that can operate on outdoor farmland in any conditions, a 4x4 drivetrain is the way to go. 

Additionally, you might want a 4x4 vehicle if you live in an area that sees a lot of snow and ice.

Four-wheel drive vehicles can get through high snow and drive safely on icy roads without needing to put chains on the tires

On the other hand, if you live in an urban area with generally dry weather conditions, a 4x4 vehicle is probably unnecessary. You will save yourself money on the initial purchase, as well as on fuel and repairs, by buying a two-wheel drive vehicle. If you decided that a 2WD vehicle would be your choice, make sure that you also consider whether the engine's power will be sent to the front wheels or the rear wheels.

You wouldn't need to make any sacrifices with respect to space, as many SUVs nowadays come with a 4x2-only option. 

Are you planning on doing a lot of travelling with your new SUV, or not sure if you might expect snow in the future?

A part-time or full-time 4WD vehicle may be a little pricier at the outset, but it will give you the best of both worlds – the fuel saving efficiency of two-wheel drive in urban areas, and the power and traction of 4WD when you are overlanding or driving in the snow. 

route of landcruising adventure

Final Thoughts - 4x2 vs 4x4

Now that you understand the difference between 4x4 vs 4x2 drivetrain configurations and the pros and cons of each, you can decide on the best configuration for your new truck or SUV.

In the end, it all comes down to your lifestyle and preferences. 

For off road driving and dangerous weather conditions, a 4x4 vehicle will be safer and more practical. For urban driving on smooth roads, a 4x2 vehicle will save you money and fuel.

If you want the security of four-wheel drive while thinking about fuel economy as well, you may want to invest in a part-time or full-time four-wheel drive vehicle. 

A four-wheel-drive vehicle's more robust build also means that it can carry all the necessary items that you need for a trip, but it can even add a bit of comfort to your trip by being able to haul your ice chest with ingredients for delicious camp meals.

We hope this post has been helpful in understanding the benefits of 4x2 versus 4x4 vehicles. Whichever type you choose, get out there and explore safely!

If you're looking for an overland vehicle, we definitely recommend a 4-wheel-drive rig, since you'll need that in order be able to reach the most beautiful camping sites and meet the most unique cultures on your Pan-American trip. That's partly what overlanding really is.

At the time of writing this article, Mongolia has virtually no paved roads. 95% of the roads in the country are just dirt tracks.

Can you guess, what is the most popular car in Mongolia

The Toyota Prius...

Please let us know what do you think! We'd love to read about your experience in the comments below!