Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC explained

28 April 2022

Our innovative all-wheel-drive system delivers optimal driving performance. Here’s everything you need to know about 4MATIC.


Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC explained

28 April 2022

Our innovative all-wheel-drive system delivers optimal driving performance. Here’s everything you need to know about 4MATIC.

Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC badge

The 4MATIC system ensures optimised traction in any situation, whether it’s manoeuvring out of a muddy driveway or tackling a winding coastal drive. Image: Mercedes-Benz Group AG.

A 4MATIC badge adorns a wide variety of Mercedes-Benz cars and SUVs, yet many drivers might struggle to explain what it means. “Something to do with four-wheel-drive?” is a common guess.


In fact, the 4MATIC system is an unsung hero of any vehicle to which it’s fitted, the subtle helping hand that makes driving in a Mercedes-Benz vehicle more secure, more comfortable or even more dynamic, depending on the situation and the driver’s needs.

In the simplest of terms, 4MATIC is an all-wheel-drive system. It regulates torque distribution from the engine to all four wheels, and may variably send power where it’s most needed based on a number of factors, such as road conditions and driver responses. The result of this unobtrusive intervention is to ensure optimised traction in any situation, whether it’s manoeuvring out of a muddy driveway, negotiating the school drop-off, or tackling a winding coastal drive.

Mercedes-Benz GLS with the 4MATIC drive system

The 4MATIC system can regulate torque distribution from the engine to all four wheels, sending power where it’s most needed. Image: Thomas Wieleck. 

It’s slightly different to a traditional four-wheel-drive system, because under stable driving conditions, 4MATIC may variably send power to only two wheels, saving on fuel and tyre wear. Vehicles fitted with a dedicated four-wheel-drive system typically split power between all four wheels, all the time.


Where did 4MATIC come from?


The system might feel like a relatively recent innovation, thanks to a proliferation of new Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG vehicles bearing the 4MATIC badge. However, 4MATIC officially celebrates its 25th birthday in 2022, with the current format making its debut in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class in 1997.


In fact, the first use of a more basic first generation of 4MATIC was all the way back in 1985 on the W 124 Series, which later became the E-Class. That system, according to the German performance magazine Auto Motor und Sport, “only intervened when things got noticeably slippery”, but the car’s sales brochure noted “excellent traction and driving stability when accelerating and especially when cornering”.


The history of all-wheel-drive goes back considerably further at Mercedes-Benz – all the way to 1903. That’s when Paul Daimler, the technical director of the Österreichische Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft “laid the foundations for four-wheel drive design,” according to Illustrirte Zeitung magazine.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class 210 with the 4MATIC drive system

In 1997, the new 4MATIC made its debut in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class 210 model series. Image: Mercedes-Benz Group AG.

A number of vehicles featuring the system were developed for military use, both before and after Daimler merged with Benz & Cie. in 1926 to form Daimler-Benz AG. These included models that also featured four-wheel steering – another innovation that is revived in current-generation vehicles such as the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class.


After World War II, all-wheel-drive systems were chiefly utilised in trucks and tractors including the utilitarian go-anywhere Unimog, a model still in service today.


The first use of an all-wheel-drive system that will be recognisable to today’s generation of car owners was the iconic G-Class, which was launched in 1979 and is still in production. Featuring a unique iteration of 4MATIC, the latest model is still regarded as one of the world’s toughest off-roaders and remains a vehicle of choice for military and civic use in challenging terrain.


What is 4MATIC?


How each 4MATIC system functions depends on the Mercedes-Benz model series. In simple terms, 4MATIC is an active all-wheel drive system that imperceptibly ensures the best possible traction, efficiency and safety in any situation. For the current range of compact vehicles, including the A-Class, GLA and others, the variable front-rear torque split can instantly adapt to the driving situation, ranging from purely front-wheel drive to a 50:50 distribution.


Influencing factors for torque distribution include driving speed, lateral and longitudinal acceleration and steering angle, the difference in rotational speed between the individual wheels, and the selected gear.


It's not considered a safety system, per se, but 4MATIC does create more secure driving conditions by maximising available traction in any situation, from stationary take-offs and low-speed manoeuvres to cornering under high lateral forces.

Mercedes-Benz GLB 200 d 4MATIC

4MATIC creates more secure driving conditions by maximising available traction in any situation. Image: Mercedes-Benz Group AG.

Of course, it’s also proficient at maximising grip on loose surfaces such as dirt, sand or even snow, making it an ideal inclusion across a wide range of Mercedes-Benz SUVs. It’s also interconnected with the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) which instantly reacts to a loss of steering control and intervenes with different responses, including the ability to send torque where it’s needed via 4MATIC for the driver to bring the vehicle under command.


4MATIC also works interdependently with other vehicle systems including the automatic transmission and Dynamic Select drive mode to determine a proportionate response to any situation. This is particularly relevant in performance-tuned Mercedes-AMG models, where 4MATIC can enhance the vehicle’s agility and responsiveness in even the most dynamic driving situations.


Some track-inspired Mercedes-AMG models are fitted with 4MATIC+, a 2016 advancement that introduced fully variable torque distribution for the first time. This allows seamless shifts from the permanently driven rear axle to the front axle using intelligent controls integrated into the vehicle’s underlying architecture. Another recent Mercedes-AMG development fitted to selected high-performance models is a nine-stage traction control system that enables the driver to finely adjust interventions from all vehicle systems, including 4MATIC+.


Which vehicles have 4MATIC?


It’s not just the Mercedes-Benz SUV range that benefits from the 4MATIC system, nor is it limited to certain vehicles from the Mercedes-AMG stable.


The security, efficiency and dynamism of 4MATIC is equally beneficial in models of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the diminutive A 250 4MATIC to the mighty S 450 4MATIC, while several electric vehicles in the current and forthcoming Mercedes-EQ range feature 4MATIC as part of their standard specification.


Whichever Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG or Mercedes-EQ model you choose, rest assured that the 4MATIC badge offers an optimised experience, however you choose to drive.



Find your dream car with 4MATIC by browsing the Mercedes-Benz model overview

By Steve Colquhoun