All About 4×4 and the History Behind It

All motor enthusiasts have a special place in their heart for 4x4s. These vehicles hold their place due to a handful of reasons apart from being a head turner and being used to wooing Bollywood beauties. But most importantly, they are almost amphibious and indestructible. They can travel on land and cross rivers, provided the vehicle doesn’t get completely submerged.

4x4s (4WD) are a handy piece of machinery that enables its users to tread the unpaved roads with ease. A four-wheel drive vehicle or a 4×4 has torque delivered to all four wheels. This feature greatly improves the car’s traction and handling on a slippery or off-road terrain. The sheer size and rugged looks demand respect wherever it goes.

How does a 4×4 work?

In a four-wheel drive vehicle, all the wheels receive torque from the engine. This enhances the traction and power of the vehicle in demanding conditions such as mud, sand, snow or any slippery terrain for that matter.

Most city cars are typical 2WDs (2 wheel drive). In this mode, axles receive power from the engine to one set of wheels, either the front wheels or the rear wheels. In most cases, the rear wheels are driven in 2WD.

All of us are aware of the drawbacks of a 2WD vehicle. Remember the time when the road was slippery and you put your foot down on the accelerator pedal and did 180? 2WDs in such conditions lose traction due to the lack of support from the other pair, as the other set is merely dragged around.

A 4WD vehicle maintains traction with ease. Thanks to the other set of wheels that to receive power from the engine. Even if you lose traction in one wheel or even a pair of them, you still have another set to keep you moving.

4WD Modes: Depending on the nature of torque transfer to the axles, we can further divide it into three sub-modes.

Part-time Mode: In this mode, the vehicle will run in 2×4 (2WD) all the time. When you need 4×4 (4WD), you can switch it to 4×4 manually. I must warn you that running your big boy toy on 4WD mode would not only burn extra fuel, but money. Operating your vehicle at high speeds in non-slippery conditions can damage the 4×4 components and will cause driveline wind-up. This mode is mostly used during steep ascents, dune bashing, river crossing or rock crawling.

Full-time Mode: This is not a mode, but these types of vehicles are built to run on all fours, only all the time. This allows the vehicle to be driven ‘full-time’ in 4WD mode otherwise called AWD (All Wheel Drive), regardless of the road surface, without the fear of driveline wind-up.

This technology is used in AWD cars like Mercedes Benz GLS, Audi A3 and our very own XUV 500. AWDs are good on all terrains, but not intended for extreme off-roading. For that, you have the Thar.

On-Demand Mode: This mode is almost the same as the part-time mode, but the onboard computer and other components decide on how much power has to be delivered to which wheel, automatically. However, these vehicles primarily operate in 2WD and automatically transfer torque to the secondary axle to avoid driveline wind-up.

In India, the history of 4X4 starts with the release of Mahindra Willys in 1947. Licenses to produce CJ-3Bs were issued to Mahindra Corporation in 1947. CJ-3Bs, a four-wheel drive off-road vehicle was used since the Second World War. The ability of the vehicle to tackle any kind of terrain, the competitive pricing, and pocket-friendly maintenance costs made it an instant hit among auto enthusiasts.

Mahindra vehicles have been used by the Indian army since it started assembling the Willys in 1947. Various Mahindra vehicles such as the MM540, Mahindra ‘Rakshak’ (a bulletproof vehicle with ballistic protection), MM550s, CL 550 aka the Mahindra Major have been used as military vehicles because of it’s built quality.

Even though a lot of 4WDs and AWD are available in the market, it is inevitable that the very mention of ‘4×4’ in India brings to mind, the Mahindra.

Here are our best picks for 4×4


Thar carries with it a huge historical baggage starting from CJ-3B. The compact mid-size 4WD off-road SUV was launched in 2010 in India to fill the void left by its predecessor. Three variants, DI 2WD, DI 4WD and CRDe, are available in soft top versions.

CRDe delivers more torque than it’s DI counterpart which however has a slightly bigger, engine. The added torque of the CRDe makes off-roading more fun than it ever used to be. Not to mention the grunt and power on all fours, with the comfort of air-conditioning and better mileage. Thanks to the 5-speed MT and transfer case from BorgWarner with a low reduction gear for 4WD.


Scorpio is the first SUV built by Mahindra for the global market in the mid-2002. It enjoyed a successful welcome in the international market and won the ’People’s SUV of the Year’ and the ‘Best Car of the Year’ awards, from BBC World Wheels. The upgraded Mahindra Scorpio Getaway, launched in Australia, in the mid-2009, received additional safety features to the Indian model such as ABS brakes and airbags.

mHawk Diesel engine draws power from its slightly smaller than the Thar’s CRDe engine. Don’t get sweaty yet, it comes with a turbocharger just so you don’t miss out on the fun. The Scorpio is known by many names than its actual name because one name isn’t enough to put the mighty into perspective. ‘India’s Angry Young SUV’ is my personal favorite.


XUV500 is yet another wonder built in Mahindra’s stables. This vehicle is the first all-Indian made global SUV that has created a space for itself in the global market. The XUV500 packs many firsts in the Indian auto industry. For instance, be it the monocoque platform, feline designing, and much more… apart from being a car that is 100% made in India. Words aren’t enough to explain its sheer marvel. Take her for a spin and you will feel the difference.

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