Freedom on four wheels
In New Zealand, adventure is in our blood and giving it a good go is part of our Kiwi DNA. At Suzuki, we have a proud and long history of developing four-wheel-drive vehicles built for tackling these adventures. Whether it’s scaling mountains, navigating muddy paddocks or escaping to the beach, our 4WD range incorporates over 50 years of 4x4 innovation and commitment to conquering the most demanding conditions in style.
With the rise of SUVs and double-cab utes, more New Zealander are buying vehicles with all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive than ever before. Here is a comprehensive look at what makes up a 4WD, the difference between the 2WD, AWD and 4WD systems and all the things you need to know when considering and owning a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Let the off-road fun begin!
Difference between a 4x4 and SUV
What is an SUV?
An SUV or Sports Utility Vehicle is a vehicle type born out of the popularity of 4x4s. With more creature comforts and refinement, the SUV has a higher driving position similar to the traditional 4WDs but with a sleeker and sportier body design. Built on a unibody chassis, it gives a more car-like feel to the handling and steering and the lower vehicle weight can allow for smaller, more fuel efficient engines.
SUVS are hugely popular in New Zealand, having overtaken traditional passenger sedans, wagons and hatchbacks as our favourite car to own. Funnily enough, not all SUVs have 4WD capabilities with over half of those sold in New Zealand being of the 2WD variety. This hasn’t deterred Kiwis both rural and urban from embracing SUVs as their go-to for getting out and enjoying life.
Benefits of an SUV
- Unibody construction allows crumple zones and car-like safety in crashes
- More car-like to drive around town and easier to park
- Higher ride position and easier to get in and out of
- Spacious cabin and boot space
- Sportier and contemporary design
- Towing capabilities
- Smaller engines offer lower fuel costs and lower emissions
What is a 4x4?
The 4x4 name refers to vehicles whose engine can power all four wheels when required. Traditionally built with a body-on chassis, this rigid frame adds exceptional strength and the stability to cope with rough and uneven surfaces. However this can mean on-road handling or driving on tarseal is not as forgiving as a car or an SUV. With this construction, the engine, gearbox and axles all bolt to the chassis, which provides more protection to the underbody of the vehicle.
In New Zealand, double cab and single cab utes dominate the 4x4 market, however the compact Suzuki Jimny is still built in this style and well-known for its ability to get out of tight situations.
Benefits of a 4x4
- Very capable in challenging off-road situations
- Elevated driving position
- Excellent ground clearance for more extreme off-road conditions
- Superb traction in snow and muddy surfaces
- Underbody protection
Understanding 2WD, AWD and 4WD systems
Most of us have heard the terms 2WD (two-wheel-drive), 4WD (four-wheel-drive) and AWD (all-wheel-drive), but what exactly do they mean? When looking at buying a new car, it’s important you understand the differences between them and why you would choose one over the other.
The most common passenger cars on New Zealand roads come with a 2WD system set up as a front wheel drive (FWD). This means the engine powers the front two wheels and the rear two spin in rotation with them.
The benefits of a 2WD with front-wheel drive are:
- Light weight economy - Since the engine only uses energy to power two wheels and doesn’t have to carry the weight of a four or all-wheel-drive system, 2WDs are lighter and more economical on fuel.
- Better performance levels – As the 2WD version is lighter than the four or all-wheel-drive model the power to weight and therefore performance levels can be better.
4WD vehicles are typically utes or larger SUVs with the power and traction provided by all four wheels and a specific body design to drive off-road. They can either operate in full-time 4WD, all four wheels engaged at all times or part-time 4WD, where you have the option of operating in rear wheel drive for on road use. When you require 4WD you can shift to high ratio 4WD on the move up to certain speeds. For serious off-roading low ratio can be engaged while the vehicle is stationary.
Vehicles like utes with part time 4WD are set up as rear wheel drive (RWD) for on-road driving and SUVs are usually front wheel drive (FWD). There are some exceptions like the Suzuki Jimny which is a RWD SUV with design elements like a separate ladder frame chassis for serious off-roading.
The benefits of a 4WD are:
- Lower gear traction – Low range reduces the gearing to provide maximum torque at slower speeds. This lower gearing maximises both power and traction and is suited for climbing steep terrain, pulling the boat out of the water on a slippery boat ramp, and driving over soft sand or muddy paddocks.
- Body engineering – A more robust suspension and higher ground clearance make them more suitable for clearing obstacles without damaging the vehicle.
- Greater control - The centre differential helps switch the power and torque between the front and rear axle, so the wheels that are on firmer ground can grip more effectively or lock in place to provide maximum grip on all four wheels.
It’s important to note that because these part-time systems might not have a centre differential, it is recommended not to drive the vehicle in 4WD on regular tarmac as this can put stress on the drivetrain.
While an all-wheel-drive vehicle also has the ability to provide drive to all four wheels like a 4WD, they are not quite the same. AWD models can have permanent 4WD for all on and off-road conditions but it is more common that the AWD system provides drive to one set of wheels when travelling on tarseal (front or rear). When the AWD system detects slippage or lack of traction the system directs drive to the other set of wheels to improve vehicle stability. Being more on-road oriented they do not offer the low ratio gearing for more serious off-roading but tend to have a suite of electronics to assist with traction in all conditions.
Referred to as soft off-roaders, AWDs are typically SUVs with higher ground clearance than a hatchback but less than a 4WD, meaning they are not as suitable for extreme off-road conditions.
Like any 4WD system, an AWD is generally more expensive to buy than a two-wheel-drive version and its heavier weight can mean they cost more to run.
The benefits of an AWD are:
- Automatic traction - It stays in 2WD mode until sensors detect the need for extra traction. These sensors tell the vehicle’s computer to send power automatically to the wheels where additional grip is needed, such as driving on roads that are slippery due to rain or snow.
- Everyday driveability – The smaller-sized AWD transitions easily from parking and driving around town to more challenging conditions. The suspension settings are more on-road biased than specialised 4WD vehicles so they are more comfortable to travel in.
- More fuel efficient – With no separate chassis, they are lighter than a 4WD and the SUV body shape is aerodynamic, making them more economical.
ALLGRIP AWD and 4WD technology
In 1970, we developed our first 4WD vehicle, the original Suzuki Jimny, LJ10. It was a simple vehicle with zipped canvas doors, leaf springs to cope with heavy loads and a separate chassis that allowed the use of lightweight body panels. Its purpose was to take on rough roads and go to places that car’s couldn’t go to in the past.
Over the last 50 years, Suzuki has created a long legacy in 4WD cars and SUVS and continues to develop and refine its 4WD technology.
Now known as ALLGRIP, Suzuki’s 4WD technology in our range of SUVs and 4WDs continues to give people the confidence and excitement of exploring those roads or places less travelled.
ALLGRIP SELECT for AWDs
ALLGRIP SELECT is an electronically controlled fully integrated all-wheel-drive system with selectable driving modes. The simple push-and-turn dial lets you choose from four driving modes depending on the road surface or weather conditions:
- AUTO for efficient everyday driving, switching to 4WD if it detects slipping
- SPORT for enhanced handling and boosted performance
- SNOW for increased traction on slippery or snowy roads
- LOCK for negotiating muddy or sandy surfaces.
Watch the videos below to understand more about the ALLGRIP SELECT technology.
ALLGRIP PRO for 4WDs
ALLGRIP PRO is a part-time four-wheel-drive system with a low range transfer gear. The transfer case between the drive shafts running from the front and rear differentials switch between 2WD and 4WD as required. This system lets you select the most suitable drive configuration and gearing to suit the terrain you are travelling over and gives you ability to take your adventure beyond the realms of normal SUVs. These are the ALLGRIP PRO modes:
- 2H (2WD) for a smooth, quiet ride with maximum fuel-efficiency on sealed surfaces,
- 4H (4WD) for 4WD traction combined with higher speeds for off-road environments such as flat dirt roads or in the snow, and
- 4L (4WD) for maximum torque and traction for negotiating more extreme and difficult terrain.
ALLGRIP PRO is fitted to the Suzuki Jimny and is designed, along with its separate and rigid ladder frame, to maximise the torque and traction for every off-road adventure.
Features for off-roading
When you are out exploring in your 4WD, it’s important your vehicle is equipped with the off-road engineering and systems designed specifically for rocky, uneven ground and slippery surfaces. These features are essential for protecting you and vehicle and ensuring you have the best and safest experience.
Ground clearance and angles
High ground clearance and generous departure, ramp breakover, and approach angles let you take on the steepest slopes, sharpest descents and gnarliest obstacles without scraping the undercarriage of your vehicle or catching on debris.
Rigid ladder frame
A separate ladder frame offers a solid foundation for serious off-road performance. Usually made from steel, it’s strong, heavy and an excellent shock absorber. It provides strong mounting points for engine, centre differential, and suspension. The ladder frame and cross members also provide protection to key engine and drivetrain components from rocks and debris.
Rigid axles with coil spring suspension
When you want to take on the rough stuff, you need full-width rigid axles in both the front and rear. As an obstacle pushes one wheel up, the axle presses the other wheel down to increase tyre contact giving superior grip and traction on uneven terrain.
Hill descent control
Going down a steep incline, hill descent control allows the brakes to automatically apply to maintain a fixed speed so you can concentrate on steering without using the brake or clutch. This is usually engaged by a switch on the dashboard.
Hill hold control
Hill hold control helps prevent rolling rearwards so you can focus on controlling acceleration. In off-roading instances, this feature will work even when bumpy slopes vary from side-to-side.
Limited slip differential
If two diagonal wheels lose grip dropping in deep holes or while on slippery surfaces, the limited slip differential reduces drive from the slipping wheels and redistributes torque or power to the other two wheels, reducing wheel-spin and enabling the vehicle to get out of a stuck situation. In some vehicles like the Jimny, this process is completed through the traction control system automatically braking the slipping wheels to redistribute torque to the other side allowing the vehicle to gain traction again.
Buying a 4WD or AWD
Next time you’re on the hunt for a vehicle, think about your driving requirements before committing to an AWD or 4WD vehicle. Be realistic about what you need your vehicle to do and narrow your options down to the vehicle which meets those everyday needs:
- If the majority of your driving is running around town, choose a smaller, lighter, economical 2WD vehicle.
- If you experience potentially dangerous driving conditions on a regular basis, such as driving up a steep gravel driveway, commuting on icy roads, or towing a caravan or boat, then it would be worth considering a move to an AWD SUV.
- If you need a vehicle that is suitable for going off the beaten track or on the beach then a 4WD would be the better option.
Here are more factors to consider when looking at a 4WD:
Body size - Some smaller 4-wheel-drives can perform better than larger ones as they have short rear overhangs, steep approach angles and more open space underneath.
Mass - Consider the mass or weight of the 4x4 before you buy it. It can be better to go for a lighter car than a heavier one as lighter vehicles can float across the surface of the terrain and won’t “bog down” as quickly. However, a larger 4x4 will be better at towing due to their heavier weight.
Wheelbase - The shorter your wheelbase, the tighter the turning circle and more manoeuvrable the vehicle is. This can be very important when negotiating narrow, tight tracks.
Weight carry limit - Before buying, find out the weight limit it can carry. Overloading a vehicle can affect the handling of the vehicle along with performance. Larger vehicles typically have higher load carrying capacity and are rated to tow heavier loads. However, the heavier weight is normally at the expense of fuel economy so work out the size and weights of the items you carry and consider purchasing the smallest SUV that will still meet those needs.
Allow for extra expenses - 4WDs are typically more expensive when it comes to purchasing price, cost of maintenance, and fuel. The extra weight of 4WD systems have an impact on fuel efficiency, making them less economical than their 2WD counterparts and any use off-road is bound to come with a few scrapes and dings that will need repairing.
Spare part availability - Choose a 4WD vehicle from a recognised brand that has a substantial carpark as they are more likely to stock a comprehensive range of parts. One-off custom auto parts are costly and don’t have the benefit of engineering and market testing from car experts.
All the extras - From snorkels, winches to mud-grip tyres, roof top tents to bull bars, there are plenty of items you can add to customise your 4WD based on how you use it. Where possible, source them from local suppliers as they can often provide the benefits of a warranty and local expertise.
Here are more factors to consider when looking at an AWD SUV:
Body size - SUVs by the nature of their body design, have better forward and lateral visibility. However when test driving take the vehicle on a variety or urban and rural roads to assess any blind spots and practise parking and turning in tight spaces so you feel comfortable with the size and feel.
Seating - Assess how many passengers and how much gear you will be taking most of the time, before deciding whether a small, mid-sized or large SUV is the right fit. Almost all SUVs carry at least five people, while some larger SUVs have a third-row seat that can increase seating capacity to six, seven, or eight. When upright, these extra seats can limit cargo space for luggage and gear though.
Cargo area - SUVs have quite tall ceilings so generally have plenty of space in the boot area. This cargo space can increase greatly when folding the rear seats down, especially with those types of seats that fold completely flat. You can also add more cargo space on top by adding a roof rack.
Fuel expense - SUVs typically cost more to run than other vehicles, however you can find some smaller SUVs that are just as economical as medium to large-sized hatchbacks. With more and more hybrid and electric SUVs entering the market, it is now equally important to consider how often and how far you are travelling in your SUV when making your choice.
AWD capability - Some AWD systems are geared towards better traction and grip on tarseal surfaces during the wet weather, while others with four-modes like the ALLGRIP system are capable of taking you and your SUV on soft-roading adventures, like the beach or muddy tracks.
Modern technology - When you have a larger vehicle like an SUV, it’s important to have features that help with the driver’s visibility, concentration and focus. These can include touch-screen satellite navigation, reverse camera, smartphone connectivity, AEB, blind spot monitor and other safety assist technologies.
Towing - If you love horses, boats, fishing, camping, or DIY, chances are you need to tow once in a while. Due to their larger size and pulling power, an SUV is handy when towing. The larger the SUV, generally the heavier items you can tow, so choose one with the appropriate braked and non-braked towing capacity.
Dress it up - There’s no shortage of ways to make your SUV look good and protect it from what you’re going to throw at it. It’s a good idea to source accessories like body mouldings, roof spoilers and interior trims from the vehicle manufacturer. That way you will know they fit perfectly as they have been specifically designed for your vehicle.
Maintenance tips for a 4WD
4WDs by their very nature live a rough and rugged life, so it’s in your own best interest to do everything practical to make your one last longer. The money you save can then be used for your next adventure around Aotearoa.
Here are some easy tips for looking after your off-roader:
Pre-start check - Before you leave, it’s worth giving your four-wheel-drive a five minute inspection. Check your engine oil, engine coolant, radiator overflow, brake and clutch fluid levels, and hose condition.
Make sure you have topped up your windshield washer fluid and keep a filled bottle handy in your vehicle on long trips.
Keep an eye out for loose parts, damaged wiring, and anything shiny. This could indicate something has broken or worn away. Look on the ground underneath the vehicle for any leaks, and tighten up any bolts or wheel studs that have loosened over time.
Regularly service - Catching problems before they arise is the most cost-effective way of keeping your 4WD vehicle in excellent running condition. Following a regular maintenance schedule as recommended in the owner’s manual will help identify any potential issues before they become a massive and expensive problem.
Change the oil - Off-roading put a lot of stress on your engine, especially when you’re in lower 4WD gears. The extra torque causes greater wear and tear in the 4WD’s internal components so having your vehicle serviced more frequently is wise if you are a regular off-road explorer. Refer to you owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines.
Regularly check tyre pressure and alignment - Tyres help to absorb a substantial amount of vibration and bumps. Picking the right tyre pressure for the terrain you are on will make a massive difference to traction, fuel economy, wear and tear, and comfort. When off-roading over sand, rocks or rutted ground, or muddy ground, it is important to lower the air pressure to increase the tyre’s footprint and improve traction.
Remember to reinflate your tyres to the recommended pressures once you’re back on the tarseal road. To do this it is wise to take a portable tyre inflator as you may not be close to a service station when you get back on the road. Also check over each tyre to look for signs of damage, and repair or replace if necessary.
Keep your tyres rotated and balanced - Front and rear tyres wear at a vastly different pace in 4×4 vehicles depending on how the vehicle is driven, so regular rotations can maximise their life span and help with driver safety. For 4×4s with transfer cases, tyre size has to be equal in order to minimise driveline tension.
Each and every bump in the road and rock on the trail can influence your balance in small ways that compound over time. Balancing your tyres regularly equalizes the weight distribution around the axle and minimizes tread wear imbalances, as well as reducing vibration and aftershock during especially grunty 4×4 excursions.
Change your air filter - There’s plenty of dirt and dust when going off-road, so it’s important to change your air filter more regularly than you would with a road-only vehicle. A blocked air filter can compromise engine function causing a more expensive repair if left unchecked.
Listen for noises - The longer you have your 4WD, the easier it is to pick noises up that are out of the ordinary - clicking, vibrations, knocking and whining. The sooner you pick them up, the cheaper the repairs. Clicking, vibrations, knocking and whining are all noises you should be listening out for.
Wash your vehicle regularly - Your 4x4 is going to go on messy adventures. Take care of it by washing your vehicle often, especially after driving through mud or cruising on the beach. Where possible avoid driving directly through salt water, unless you absolutely have no choice. Mud and salt get into everything, and are abrasive, corrosive and extremely hard to get rid of.
Drive it with love - The more careful you are driving your 4WD, the longer it will last. Aim to accelerate, brake and steer gently, and your maintenance bill will thank you. Drop it to first gear in low range when the going gets rough and gently idle over it with minimal wheel spin and take it easy on the engine when towing.
Take care who you loan it to - Be mindful loaning your 4WD to a mate or your family. They may not have the same love for it or experience like you do.