Off-Road Misadventure: Here’s What Happened When I Took a Front-Wheel Drive Car Into Andre’s Pit!

You can probably guess the outcome...but the FWD RAV4 does better than you might think!

RAV4 vs Bronco - rescued thumb
(Images: TFL Studios)

Let’s face it: we don’t all have a Bronco handy to save our skins, but is AWD really a must off-road?

Here at TFL Studios, we test an awful lot of off-road rigs in various shapes and sizes. Of course, the gnarliest among those rigs pack a four-wheel drive system as a bottom-line requisite to take on the rough stuff, but do you really need power headed to all four wheels to make it in lighter off-road conditions? In this video, that’s what Tommy sets out to discover in our new (to us) $2,000 Toyota RAV4.

Apart from being more than two decades old, this aging RAV4 still represents the baseline drivetrain philosophy of most modern crossovers. That is, you’ll typically have a choice of either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive/four-wheel drive, with the latter typically carrying a hefty premium. In some cases, you can spend an extra $2,000 or more to get AWD, which you’d conventionally want in low traction conditions.

After airing down the well-worn front tires for a larger contact patch, Tommy takes the RAV4 downhill through the logs of Tumbleweed Ranch’s onX Offroad course to see how it fares. Surprisingly, the late ’90s RAV4 does have a fair amount of ground clearance, as well as fully independent suspension. Even some newer models struggle on that first part, sacrificing overall off-road capability for the sake of comfort, handling and fuel economy.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t really help the old RAV4’s case…as you’ll see in the video below.

Not only does it struggle, but even some traction cables (we have proper chains coming – stay tuned for that test coming soon) failed to get the front-wheel drive RAV4 out of Andre’s Pit.

Overall, then, you’ll definitely want to at least consider all-wheel drive if you live in an area with winter weather. That’s no surprise, but plenty of people do still have front-wheel drive cars in these conditions, and to those we advise to at least invest in a good pair of snow tires. Even with AWD, the tires you fit will make a huge impact on your ability to control your car and prevent you from getting stuck…or worse.