What does 4×4 mean?

Quelle est la signification de 4X4 ?

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Have you ever wondered what 4×4 means? This question often arises when you’re looking for a vehicle that perfectly suits your needs and desires. Indeed, a 4×4 is a four-wheel drive vehicle, where all wheels are powered by the engine for better traction and transmission.

Opting for a 4×4 offers multiple advantages, including enhanced performance, increased safety and versatility of use.

But how did the term 4×4 come about? What features make 4×4 vehicles unique? What are the possible uses of a 4×4 and what are its main advantages?

In the course of this article, we’ll give you all the answers you need for a thorough understanding of what a 4×4 is. This vehicle, ideal for driving and adventure enthusiasts, will be detailed from its origins, through its technical characteristics, to the different possibilities it offers, whether in town, in the countryside or on rougher terrain.


Definition: what is a 4×4?

The term 4×4, short for four-by-four, refers to a type of vehicle with four-wheel drive. This configuration allows all wheels to be propelled simultaneously by the engine and transmission, improving grip and ability to negotiate rough or slippery terrain. Commonly associated with off-road vehicles, the 4×4 is designed for adventures off the beaten track.

4×4 vehicles first appeared in the early 20th century, initially for military applications. The Willys MB Jeep, launched in 1941, was the first to be marketed for the US army.

Shortly afterwards, brands such as Land Rover, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi began producing their own 4×4 models. Over time, the range of these vehicles expanded to include more luxurious, sportier and more family-oriented versions.

What’s the difference between 4×4, 4WD and AWD?

Although the term 4×4 is widely used to refer to four-wheel drive vehicles, it’s important to distinguish between several drive systems such as AWD, 4WD and 4×4, each offering different performance and operation.

The AWD (All Wheel Drive) is a permanent all-wheel drive system that automatically adjusts the torque balance between the front and rear axles according to road conditions. It is designed to improve traction and stability on the road, but is less effective off-road. This system is mainly found on cars and crossovers.

The 4WD (Four Wheel Drive) system allows the driver to switch between two and four-wheel drive at will. Ideal for off-road driving, it offers the option of locking the center differential or the differentials on each axle to improve traction. SUVs and pick-ups are generally equipped with this system.

The 4×4 system provides permanent transmission to all four wheels, with a transfer case offering short and long ratios. This is the system best suited to overcoming off-road obstacles, as it increases power while reducing speed. This technology is mainly found on off-road vehicles.

Advantages and disadvantages of 4-wheel drive

The 4×4 is distinguished by its ability to direct engine torque to all four wheels, unlike conventional vehicles which drive only two. This function is made possible by a central device: the transfer case. It is essential for balancing torque between the front and rear axles.

This device can be operated manually or automatically, depending on the vehicle’s transmission system. It also offers the possibility of reducing speed while maximizing torque for better performance in difficult passages.

4×4 vehicles are also equipped with different types of differential, which improve torque distribution between the wheels on the same axle. Some are open, allowing the wheels to turn at different speeds, while others are closed, locking the wheels together for better traction. Some 4x4s also offer systems for locking or unlocking these differentials as required.

The advantages of the 4×4 system are numerous: improved grip, enhanced safety and versatility. Whether on-road or off-road, this system adapts the vehicle’s performance to different driving conditions, making it easier to overcome complex obstacles such as steep slopes or muddy terrain.

However, these advantages come at a cost. 4×4 vehicles are generally heavier and more complex, which increases fuel consumption and accelerates wear and tear on certain parts. They are also more expensive to maintain, requiring a higher initial purchase and operating budget. Finally, despite their capabilities, they can create a false sense of security in some drivers, encouraging them to drive recklessly.

Comparing 4x4s with other types of vehicle

Over the years, the world of 4×4 has expanded, offering consumers a wide variety of vehicles to suit their needs. The main categories include :

The 4×4 classification is not restrictive, and allows for a diversity of models belonging to several categories or to none at all. This reflects the constant evolution of the concept and the variety of choices available to consumers.


What are the good reasons for choosing a 4×4?

Common uses for 4×4 vehicles

4×4 vehicles meet a wide range of needs and preferences. They are chosen for their safety, flexibility and efficiency on a wide variety of terrains, including the most difficult, such as rough roads or dirt tracks.

They also appeal for their comfort, capacity and design, which add prestige and character to their presence. Some people prefer them for the adventure and freedom they offer, enabling them to experience unique sensations and access remarkable sites otherwise inaccessible in a traditional vehicle.

Environments and terrain suitable for 4x4s

Thanks to all-wheel drive, 4×4 vehicles can adapt to a wide variety of environments and challenges, guaranteeing superior traction and overtaking capability.

They master precarious conditions such as rain, snow, mud and ice, and can overcome obstacles insurmountable to other vehicles, such as steep slopes and rocky terrain.

Able to get off the beaten track, from sand dunes to forests, mountains or deserts, these vehicles are not limited to adventure, however, and perform just as well on asphalt, in urban environments or on freeways.

How to choose your 4×4?

Buying a 4×4 vehicle requires careful thought, as there are a wide variety of models to suit different needs. Before buying, there are many aspects to consider:

Now you know what 4×4 means, its origins, its characteristics, its various applications and why this type of vehicle attracts so much interest. By definition, a 4×4 has four-wheel drive, giving it enhanced performance, greater safety and unfailing adaptability to different terrains.

4x4s come in a variety of models, depending on transmission, design and utility. Whether you’re looking for safety, comfort, luxury, driving pleasure, adventure or freedom, there’s a 4×4 for you. However, it’s important to point out that owning a 4×4 also has its drawbacks, particularly in terms of expense and maintenance.

To choose the 4×4 that’s right for you, it’s essential to consider your budget, your intended use and your personal preferences.