In previous blogs, we reviewed the history of 4WDs, from their origins to how the Second World War ended up bringing off-road vehicles to the masses, right through to advances in technology that saw differentials and All Wheel Drive becoming more common in modern vehicles.

We thought we’d revisit the topic and look at the more recent developments that have happened in the off-roading vehicle world.

A Journey from Utility to Adventure (1950s-1970s)

The 1950’s to today…

Four-wheel driving has evolved significantly from the 1950s to the 2020s, thanks to huge advances in technology, the changes in lifestyle seen by many, and the growing popularity of off-road adventuring.

In the 1950s, four-wheel drive vehicles were mainly utilitarian, designed for military use or rugged work conditions, however, the 1960s and 1970s witnessed the emergence of consumer-oriented 4x4s like the Jeep Wagoneer and Ford Bronco, catering to the growing interest from people to explore the paths less travelled. As vehicle manufacturing processes got better and better, companies could produce 4×4’s on a bigger scale and apply new technology to all types of vehicles.

As technology progressed into the 1980s and 1990s, electronic advancements played a pivotal role. Full-time and automatic 4WD systems became more common, becoming easier to use for drivers. The introduction of anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and traction control further improved vehicle stability and performance on diverse terrains.

21st Century’s Hi-Tech Off-Road Revolution

The 21st century witnessed a surge in technological integration. Advanced electronic stability control (ESC) systems and sophisticated sensors allowed for precise control of individual wheel speeds, optimizing traction in challenging conditions. Terrain management systems became commonplace, enabling drivers to select specific modes tailored to surfaces like mud, sand, or snow.

2010s and DIY Off-Road Innovation

The 2010s saw the integration of even more advanced electronics, as well as enhanced safety features in four-wheel drives. For example:

  • Integration of advanced electronics and safety features.
  • Enhanced safety measures, including ADAS and ESC.
  • Accessibility of parts and tools for home modifications.

It also saw the era of home modification come into its own, with parts and tools readily available to nearly everyone.

Picture of a 1950's Jeep Australia
1950’s Jeep Australia

The Most Reliable 4WD Vehicles

As more and more vehicles were hitting the roads, this meant there were many changes in safety standards across the industry. The integration of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) has become widespread, featuring collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist. Electronic stability control (ESC) has become a standard, reducing rollover risks. Additionally, improvements in materials and vehicle design have made 4WD vehicles more robust and able to withstand higher impacts.

Companies such as Toyota, Ford, and Jeep were at the forefront of keeping up with technology to take on increasingly demanding terrain, while also keeping their owners safe, which has led to them being some of the biggest players in the 4WD vehicle market. Vehicles such as the Toyota Land Cruiser, Jeep Wrangler and Ford F-150 have historically been known to be some of the most reliable 4WD vehicles available.


As electronics and parts became cheaper to make, we saw the use of various technologies begin to trickle down into other vehicles. 4×4 driving was once seen as a specific, specialised pursuit, but now we see the same features in more family-orientated vehicles, such as the SUV.

The Willys Jeep Station Wagon was not only one of the earliest SUVs but also the first mass-produced all-steel station wagon with four-wheel drive. It was based on the platform of the Willys Jeep CJ-2A and shared many components with the iconic Willys Jeep. The Station Wagon was initially designed for agricultural and commercial purposes but gained popularity as a family vehicle.

This popularity continued to grow, with SUVs being seen as a ‘do it all’ vehicle, being able to comfortably take the family on road trips, while also being able to handle off-road terrain, all while keeping the occupants as safe as possible. Today, four-wheel driving encompasses a diverse range of vehicles, from rugged off-road machines to luxurious SUVs, offering heaps of options for enthusiasts and everyday drivers alike.

Image of SUV driving on gravel track
SUV driving

The emergence of electric 4WD vehicles

Electric 4WD vehicles represent the intersection of sustainability and off-road capability. Tesla, a frontrunner in the electric vehicle market, made an all-electric 4WD vehicle viable, thanks to its use of a dual-motor all-wheel-drive system. Vehicle manufacturers such as Tesla and Rivian are using electric powertrains to offer instant torque to all wheels, optimising traction and performance in diverse driving conditions.

Hybrid 4WD vehicles, using internal combustion engines with electric power, are steadily gaining traction amongst buyers. Models like the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV combine traditional engine efficiency with electric drive, delivering enhanced fuel economy and reduced emissions while providing 4WD capabilities when needed.

As for the availability of electric 4WD vehicles in Australia, the market is evolving. Several manufacturers are expanding their electric vehicle offerings globally, and Australian consumers can expect an increasing variety of electric 4WD options in the coming years.

Major companies including Tesla and others, have expressed intentions to bring their electric models to the Australian market, with the global trend toward sustainable mobility becoming more and more prevalent. As charging infrastructure continues to develop and consumer demand grows, the timeline for widespread availability of electric 4WD vehicles in Australia is likely to shorten, making them more accessible to environmentally conscious off-road enthusiasts.

Image of two Toyota RAV 4 Hybrid vehicles off road
Toyota RAV 4 Hybrid vehicles off-road

What does the future of 4W driving hold?

The future of 4WD vehicles promises an exciting blend of technological innovation, sustainability, and enhanced off-road capabilities. Electric 4WDs will likely become more widespread, offering eco-friendly alternatives without compromising performance.

Advanced driving features and connectivity will redefine the driving experience, making navigation on challenging terrains safer and more efficient. Additionally, material and design advancements will contribute to lighter yet stronger vehicles.

As consumer preferences evolve, the future of 4WD has to strike the right balance between environmental responsibility and cutting-edge technology, ensuring that the thrill of heading on an adventure is not lost, while being sustainable for the off-road journey ahead.