AWD or 4WD for escaping winter?

Saturday, July 1, 2000

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dear Al:

Presume that the price of the vehicle and of gas is tolerable.

New retiree wants to vacation to Florida, Arizona, warm areas driving during the wintry days. Need space for others (maybe another couple or two, or 2-6 grandchildren ages 2-8) and lots of vacation gear including golf clubs. Back in Indiana has other cars to use for daily activities.

Should it be a 4-wheel-drive Suburban LT? Or an all-wheel-drive Chrysler Town and Country Limited minivan?

­Dr. M. G.

Batesville, Ind.

Dear Doctor:

The Suburban, no question, or the similar GMC Tahoe XL.

If you're going to be traversing snowy country in the winter, with a big load, you need the power and serious four-wheel-drive capabilities of the USS Suburban.

The minivan might have a slight edge in comfort, but the Sub is surprisingly agreeable and better suited to taking the worst Nature can dole out between Indiana and snow bunny territory. Your stipulations as to sticker price and gas costs helped a lot. The Suburban is a thirsty brute, but given your needs, I'm sure you'll find it's worth it. I know some hot spots in Tucson, if you'd like a navigator, come November.

Dear Al:

Your recent discussion on souping up the Passat brought to mind a trick auto companies play.

When I was shopping for a new minivan, one salesman had a chart that showed his company's 3-liter engine had more horsepower than the competition. The figures were derived at different rpms ­ at the same speeds, they were almost identical.

I've also seen claims that a new version of an engine is more powerful than its predecessor, but again, the hp figures are at different rpms.

Figures don't lie, but liars quote apples and oranges.

­ Stuart F.


Dear Stuart:

Horsepower ratings are inherently slippery. An engineer can take a basic engine and, within the constraints of emissions laws and fuel economy, produce varying maximum horsepower outputs to satisfy real needs or those of the marketing folks.

Advertised horsepower is the minimum you can expect ­ if your engine was made on a good day, and the pistons match exactly and so on, it could make a few percent more hp.

I like to cite torque figures in reviews, because I think they're generally more meaningful in the everyday. In a street-legal engine, they are usually smaller numbers than horsepower, and thus not quite so appealing to advertising departments.

Horsepower has more to do with top speeds, while torque affects driveability and subjective feel more.

        Alan Vonderhaar welcomes email at and snail mail c/o The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202.