What's does 4 X 4 actually mean?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1989

Dear Tom and Ray:

I had the impression that 4 X 4 meant 4 wheel drive and 4 speed manual transmission. Now I see advertisements for 4 X 4, 4 X 2 etc. What do these terms mean?

TOM: This is what we'll call "automotive poetic license." I always thought that 4 X 4 meant 4 speed manual and 4 wheel drive too. But that doesn't work, does it? Most 4 wheel drive vehicles are now either 3 speed automatics or 5 speed manuals--which means they ought to be 3 X 4s or 5 X 4s, right?

RAY: And the last 4 X 2 we drove had a three speed automatic transmission and two wheel drive. It had four cylinders and two doors, four wheels and two side view mirrors. I suppose that makes it a 3 X 2 X 4 X 2 X 4 X 2.

TOM: What the automobile manufacturers claim is that the first number refers to the number of wheels the vehicle has (surprisingly, most have four). The second number tells you how many wheels are connected to the drive train--so a 4 X 4 has four wheels and all of them are driven wheels. In reality, the term 4 X 4 is just a fancy way of saying 4 wheel drive. The 2 wheel drive derivation of that was born when the marketing people decided that "4 X 2" sounded better than "nothing special."

RAY: As long as we're talking about odd automotive arithmetic, we should also point out that only in the world of sports cars does 2 + 2 not equal 4. A 2 + 2 is a sports car with "room" for two occupants in the back--not to be confused with a 4 seater, which has two seats for these poor folded occupants. Neither one of these cars would be big enough to carry a load of 2 X 4s, by the way. For that, you'd probably need at least a 4 X 2.

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