Electric vehicles (EVs) are characterized by a significant variety of possible powertrain configurations, ranging from one to four electric machines, which can have an on-board or in-wheel layout. Multiple models of production EVs have recently been introduced on the market, with 4-wheel-drive (4WD) architectures based on a central motor within each axle, connected to the wheels through a gearbox, a differential, and half-shafts. In parallel, an important body of research and industrial demonstrations have covered the topic of 2-speed transmission systems for EVs, with the target of enhancing longitudinal acceleration and gradeability performance, while increasing the operating efficiency of the electric powertrain. Although several recent studies compare different electric powertrain architectures, to the best of the authors’ knowledge the literature misses a comparison between 2-wheel-drive (2WD) and 4WD configurations for the same EV, from the viewpoint of drivability and energy consumption. This paper targets this gap, by assessing 2WD and 4WD powertrain layouts with central motors, for a case study light passenger car for urban mobility, including consideration of the effect of single- and 2-speed transmission systems. An optimization routine is used to calculate the energy-efficient gear state and/or torque distribution for each considered configuration. For the specific EV, the results highlight the favourable trade-off of the single-speed 4WD layout, capable of reducing the energy consumption during driving cycles by approximately 9% with respect to the conventional 2WD layout with single-speed transmission, while providing satisfactory drivability and good gradeability, especially in low tire–road friction conditions.
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