Just real quick, because it does make a difference.
AWD and 4wd are different, similar but not the same. AWD is where all 4 wheels are transferring the engines power all the time. This system normally uses a form of open differential, but will correct if on wheel slips. 4wd is where a vehicle has only (usually) the rear wheels powering it. The driver must manually engage the 4wd system to make all 4 wheels put power to the ground. This also locks the differentials. 4wd offers superior traction in heavy wheel slipping conditions due to the fact that it does not need to correct for one wheel slipping, it does not allow that in the first place.
4wd>AWD in terms of pure traction. However 4wd has one big drawback: due to the diffs locking, the wheels on either side of the vehicle cannot turn at different speeds, which basically means that you cannot turn. In snow or ice, this is not a big deal because it is a lil slippery anyway and will make up for it. On dry pavement, it just wear out your tires, provides less drive-ability, and puts tremendous stress on the drive train.
A final thought: 4wd differentials are MUCH MUCH stronger, so they can stand up to the abuse of being locked, and the stress of poor traction better than its counter part AWD.
Theres my two cents, sorry if I got carried away haha
I prefer AWD and 4WD vehicles, but that is because I live in an area where that can be useful. These vehicles are safer when driving in snow, slush, ice, etc. as you have less chances of sliding off of the road while moving. I know this from personal experience. You are correct, though, that it does nothing special for the braking. The braking system is just the same as any other vehicle. I think it is the mind set that people have about the car that is dangerous. It's kind of like how some people think because they are driving a Hummer, that they are driving a tank. Not really... lol
There are several disadvantages to all wheel drive systems that should also be considered. AWD systems are also more costly to produce and manufacture, making the vehicles that use them more expensive than their two-wheel drive counterparts.
I think the price point is a minor detail compared to the actual handling aspect that has been discussed. Personally I think that part time 4wd is the ticket. While any drive system cannot counteract the dumb and irresposible drivers behind the wheel, for those that do take the time to learn how their car handles in snow and ice beforehand, these systems do what they were designed to do. Obviously for those that live in snow areas, snow tires would be an obvious purchase though last year I had a FWD with All seasons and that worked just fine once you got it going, if that was an option. The main point is I eased into it, testing it out slowly and then moving up from that point. FWD I think are all you need as long as you know how to drive them, and I think having the front wheels pulling the back wheels into having traction allows better handling. Understeer is a definate drawback, but that can be fixed with a little Scandinavian flick or a little ebrake if you know what you're doing and when to use it. But I have gone on to PT4wd after getting stuck so many times and not being able to get going. 4wd definately gives you much more traction and I think it can also come in handy in cornering as long as you have good tires and continue to drive the vehicle in the right direction without being too soft or too hard on the gas, and don't panic and brake in a turn locking up whatever traction you had in the first place. For braking I think with engine braking with 4wd has the advantage and of course a good set of snowtires should be had if extra security is the feeling you're after. Plus with 4wd, at least part time, it gives you more options into what handling you desire based on the situation. Not a necessity by all means but it has its undeniable perks in the right hands. I guess my main point for anyone who reads this is learn how your car/truck/etc handles in the snow before you put other people in danger because of your carelessness. At least in an empty parking lot you can experiment with the limitations of your vehicle without putting anyone else but yourself in harms way.
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