All-wheel-drive systems are available as options in several luxurious cars from a number of manufacturers. Audi Quattro, BMW xDrive, and Mercedes 4MATIC are three of the best known. Each of these all-wheel-drive systems is incredibly modern and, most importantly, made in Germany. Yet, they all work somehow differently because of today’s advanced technologies.
We have done this research to help you find the difference between the 3 AWD systems offered by the giant German automakers and choose the best for you.
Note: We are here talking about the AWD system and not 4WD. To know the difference between them, take a look at this post.
What is the AWD system?
Let’s start with the fundamentals first. All-Wheel Drive (AWD) is a relatively new driving technology that sends power to the wheels with the best traction. The center, front, and rear ‘differentials’ can be used to divide power between the front and rear axles or individual wheels.
Audi was the first to implement an AWD system in an ordinary family car back in the 80s, and then the rest followed it. Its system is named Quattro, which means in Italian: “Four.” BMW also decided to implement the xDrive AWD system in its cars, and also Mercedes added the 4Matic AWD system.
AWD systems are not all the same. Let’s find out the types of AWD systems and which automaker uses which.
Types of AWD systems
AWD systems are usually divided into two groups. Mechanical and Electronic All-Wheel Drive systems.
Mechanical AWD Systems:
The mechanical system uses central differentials to distribute the torque to the front or rear axle. Even though mechanical AWD systems lack adjustability and are harder to operate, they are far more durable than electronically controlled AWD systems. It also depends on the center differentials to distribute power among wheels, making them more prone to wear out over time.
Electronic AWD Systems:
While the mechanical system relies solely on central differentials, the electronic AWD system has an electronically controlled clutch or clutch pack in place of the central differential. It also has sensors that are installed on each wheel. It measures and sends a variety of factors, including wheel slip, engine speed, steering angle, and many more. This information is used by an ECU to determine which wheel has the highest traction. Electronic AWD is known as “torque vectoring” in the industry.
Now that we have studied the two types of AWD systems briefly, let’s find which type is used by each of the 3 German automakers and how they are configured to have their unique feeling.
Audi Quattro was the first all-wheel-drive system to be built into a family car in the 1980s. It remains one of the most recognizable on the market today. Quattro is now an option on most Audi cars after all these years.
Under normal driving circumstances, Audi Quattro has a 50/50 distribution between front and rear torque. This distribution configuration guarantees a smooth and balanced driving experience.
The Quattro system uses a central differential to distribute power to the front and back axles. This means that the Quattro is a mechanical AWD system that improves driving performance in slippery situations and improves road-holding through tight corners.
AWD is well-balanced in the Audi Quattro system, making it perfect in both risky driving situations and high-speed racing.
In contrast to Audi’s Quattro AWD system, BMW’s xDrive system leans more toward the performance side. In addition to being extremely intelligent, the BMW xDrive system can transfer 100% of torque to either the front or rear axles.
BMW emphasizes sporty RWD (rear-wheel-drive) performance with a 40/60 front to rear distribution in normal driving circumstances. BMW xDrive’s smart electronic technology constantly optimizes driving performance while working with BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control and measuring the spin rate of each wheel every 0.1 seconds.
The 40/60 torque split provides a more sporty driving experience in everyday driving while ensuring safe driving in dangerous circumstances.
Compared to Audi Quattro and BMW xDrive, Mercedes 4MATIC is the least known AWD system, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective. Mercedes 4MATIC has a 45/55 front-to-rear power distribution under typical driving circumstances.
This system, like BMW’s, favors RWD a little more, but it still strikes a good balance. Mercedes 4MATIC is the most advanced of the three drivetrains. It is an entirely electronic system that works in collaboration with the Antilock Braking System and Electronic Stability Program to regulate torque needs for each individual wheel in dangerous driving situations. This means it’s not as sporty as an Audi or BMW, but it will be incredibly dependable in slippery conditions.
Now that you know the difference between the 4WD systems in the 3 car makers you should compare the rest of the points to determine which car suits you better. For this reason, we have written a detailed comparison between Audi vs. BMW vs. Mercedes.
What to choose?
A challenging question, to say the least. Both xDrive and 4Matic, in particular, give similar degrees of extra grip when the road conditions become severe, and all three systems operate in similar ways. As far as which of the three brands you like, that’s the most relevant question.
To put it another way:
- Quattro provides a solid foundation for performance.
- xDrive gives a sportier driving experience due to its 40:60 split.
- Mercedes will take the work out of driving even when you lose grip.
Choosing between these three systems doesn’t just depend on what you have read in this article. It also depends on which car brand you prefer.