By on February 14, 2012

Based on a Speed:Sport:Life article. Several TTAC readers have pointed out in the past that the “dollar theory” of tire traction fails to account for dynamic weight loads, so consider that pointed out up front — JB

It seems like yesterday, as the man sang, but it was long ago. In April of 2008 I ordered a new Audi S5 in a rather unique color — the “Lime Green” used by Porsche in 1973 and referred to as “Lime Green” and “Viper Green”. Not “Signal Green”, mind you: that’s a different color, with more blue, and less cheer, in the mix. The car arrived in September of 2008. I drove it for two years and 38,000 miles before selling it for approximately five grand more than “regular” S5s were fetching.

In the month after I took delivery of the S5, pictures of the car flew around the Internet with a rapidity usually reserved for lucky shots of Britney Spears making a bowlegged departure from Paris Hilton’s McMerc SLR. I received dozens of phone calls and text messages from friends and acquaintances who had spotted the Audi in traffic or sitting parked somewhere. People who saw the car in the metal seemed to be about 70/30 in favor of my choice, while Internet users who saw the car online (where, it has to be said, the color does not photograph quite “right”) are closer to 80/20 against. Some of the negative reactions were fascinating because their authors seem so… well, personally offended by the shiny S5. “I can’t believe Audi agreed to paint the car that color!” was a semi-common response. Well, they did agree, and they will also paint your new Audi in almost any color you like, thanks to their outstanding “Exclusive” program. The problem for most of these people is that they are afraid to own a German car in any color that is not silver, grey, or silver-grey, and the presence of brightly-colored German cars destroys their cherished Autobahn stereotypes. Of course, were they to ever sign off “World of Warcraft”, stumble blinking out into the afternoon light, borrow their parents’ Camrys, drive to the airport, and actually visit the hallowed Fatherland, they would see that the most common cars there aren’t silver Audis – they’re bright blue Lupos and yellow Renault Twingos. Germans like color, too.

Some of the younger Audi-forum readers were absolutely shocked that it’s possible to buy a car from Ingolstadt that isn’t utterly “tasteful” and “reserved”. How do I know that they’re young? It’s simple: they’re obviously too young to have ever seen the interior of a Seventies Audi, or even the seats of an ur-Quattro. The whole idea of “tasteful” German cars is a scam, kids. It was something the marketing people thought up twenty years ago so the dealers could stock a smaller selection of inventory. I grew up surrounded by lemon-yellow Mercedes diesels, brown Porsche 911SCs, pearl-white Audi 5000s, and baby blue big-bumper Bimmers, and believe it or not, none of the drivers of those cars ever died of color overdose. My father almost killed himself a few times pushing his orange Volvo off the freeway after it stalled for no particular reason, but I have no reason to believe that color was involved. Trust me on this one. I know that your local dealer has thirty-six BMWs on his lot and they are all either silver, grey, or black, but if you take out a BMW brochure and flip all the way to the back, past the endless photographs of optional skiing accessories but right before the disclaimer that tells you to obey posted speed limits, you will find little squares of color. While most of them are silver, grey, silver-grey, or black, chances are there will be a red or blue square on the page. It’s okay to go to the dealer, point to that square, and meekly inquire as to whether you might be permitted to purchase a car in that color. I’m not kidding. I even know a guy who bought an “arrest-me red” 740iL a few years ago… and they didn’t actually arrest him! Crazy, I know.

The other objection I heard to my Audi purchase was a little more reasonable, at least on the surface. There are many variants to what my friends said, but it always boiled down to something like this:

”As a racing driver, multiple Porsche owner, long-time car nut, and soi-disant automotive journalist, aren’t you smart enough to know that FWD-platform cars are, like, totally inferior to RWD-platform cars? Don’t you know that cars with overhanging front engines have lousy balance and will always understeer? Can’t you understand that something like a BMW M3 will always be a better drive than an Audi of any stripe? Have you noticed that pretty much everybody in the prestige-car business is moving to RWD? FWD sucks, even if you add a driveshaft to the rear wheels. I mean, don’t you read the Internet? Why would anybody bother with a front-wheel-drive car?”

It’s a fair series of questions. In an era when even Hyundai is pushing rear-wheel-drive as a selling point – a time when the Issigonis-inspired tranverse-engine layout has become inextricably associated with the very cheapest of cars – can there be any compelling reason to choose FWD? The answer is yes. I believe that FWD continues to be the best choice for a purely street-driven car, even if the driver of that car considers himself or herself to be a driving enthusiast. And since I don’t expect you to take that answer on faith, I’m willing to show you how, and why, FWD comes out on top in nearly every real-world driving situation… if, that is, you’re ready to listen. Are you?

To understand when, and why, FWD can be better, we have to start with how, and when, it is worse. In his book A Twist Of The Wrist, Keith Code explains the “dollar theory” of tire traction. Consider, if you will, that each tire has a fixed amount of traction available at any given time, and assign the value of one dollar to that traction. We can spend that entire dollar on cornering, as we would on a skidpad; we can spend the dollar on braking, as would be the case when doing perfect threshold braking before corner entry, or we can spend it on acceleration, as a skilled drag racer would when leaving the line. We can also split that dollar any way we like. When we brake and turn at the same time, we can spend fifty cents on braking and fifty cents on turn-in, or we can spend ninety cents on braking and ten on turn-in. What we cannot do is spend $1.05. When we ask for more than a dollar’s worth of combined traction from a tire, we’ll be “overdrawn” and the car will slide. Understeer is the condition you get when the front end is overdrawn; oversteer is when the rear end is using more than a dollar’s worth of traction per tire. Keith invented the dollar theory for motorcycles, but it holds true for cars as well. Ross Bentley tell us: “You can only use 100% of the available traction – and make sure you do.

The basic advantage of rear-wheel-drive is this: you can accelerate out of a corner earlier. Since you aren’t relying on the front wheels to both steer and accelerate, you can hit the gas sooner. There’s a secondary advantage – you can maintain corner speed slightly better because you can accelerate just enough to eliminate the braking effect of the turned front wheels without “overdrawing” the front tires – but at that point we’re into 10/10ths driving and serious racecraft, so we’ll forget about that for now. Earlier acceleration is what makes RWD the racer’s choice.

That’s the only dynamic advantage strictly linked to RWD, but there are two other disadvantages of traditional front-drivers which we should consider. It’s worth noting that these disadvantages also apply to all-wheel-drive cars which are based on traditional FWD layouts, such as Audi Quattros or SH-AWD Acuras. First, weight distribution. FWD cars tend to have more than fifty percent of the weight on the front wheels, and often the bulk of that weight is ahead of the front wheels. Having more weight on the front end needs you need more tire to control that weight, and most sanctioning bodies frown on having wider front tires. (Those of us who race FWD cars have all sorts of ways to make up for this, from arm-thick rear swaybars to crazy toe settings, which is why my Neon ends up naturally oversteering on corner entry. It’s not for the timid, trust me.) Pontiac is the only manufacturer in modern times to address this problem on a street car, offering a tire package for the V8-powered Grand Prix with slightly wider front tires, but customers tend to be actively repelled by the idea of having wide front tires. I’m not sure why, but there you go.

The second, and more important, dynamic disadvantage of a front-engine layout is polar moment of inertia. The more weight you can place at the center of the car, the quicker and easier it is to turn; think of a figure skater pulling her arms in during a spin and speeding up as a result. Placing weight at either end of a car affects its willingness to change direction, for the same reason that a heavy arrowhead makes an arrow fly true: the weight has effective “leverage” and is better able to resist sideways force. Rear-engined cars tend to have a slow-turn in, which is one of the three reasons why a typical 911 understeers on corner entry, (and someday we’ll discuss them all) but a front-engined car with big weight ahead of the front axle is even worse. It’s exactly like the arrow in our analogy. It wants to fly straight. Reluctance to turn is, of course, not a desirable condition in a race car, unless it’s a drag race car. The less polar moment of inertia – which is to say, the more weight you have at the center of the car, relatively speaking – the better, which is why all true race cars are mid-engined. It’s also why BMW makes such a big fuss about having most of the engine behind the front axle, and why Nissan is so fond of their so-called “front mid engine” layout. Getting the weight between the wheels reduces the inherent stability of the car, making it easier to turn.

You’ve heard all of this before, of course. You’re probably intimately familiar with all the reasons RWD is better. I’ve raced both FWD and RWD cars, and have experienced these advantages at the very limit myself. So why would anybody buy an FWD car, or a car with an overhanging front engine? The answer is simple: the reasons which argue against FWD for racecars actually support FWD in the real world.

Let’s start with The Dollar Theory. It still holds true in the real world, with one important caveat: it’s utterly irrelevant. On the street, we “performance drive” for our own enjoyment. There’s no clock against which to run, no competitor to outbrake you into the next turn. We’re looking for satisfaction, and that can be had just as easily in an FWD car. Some of the most satisfying canyon carvers in history have been FWD cars. The fellow who tells you that all FWD cars are “understeering pigs” is really telling you that he doesn’t understand how to trail brake. Furthermore, since we aren’t competing in a real race series with fixed rules, we can do anything we like. Are you dissatisfied with your Acura’s cornering ability? Get more tire. Want a faster corner exit in your MINI? Put a limited-slip diff in there. There are no sanctioning bodies to satisfy, so that minimal RWD corner-exit advantage is meaningless. We can make up for it in other ways.

What about weight balance? At low speeds, in low-traction conditions, FWD cars are better, because they have more weight on the wheels that accelerate, steer, and stop. There’s a reason BMW and Mercedes fit such wonderful traction-control systems to their RWD cars – they are necessary in many parts of the country. Under, say, forty miles per hour, FWD cars are better in the rain, better in the snow, better any time the condition of the road is in doubt. Racing drivers rarely find themselves driving up a slippery hill in the snow – but that’s a real-world condition that many of us experience every year. Of course, AWD cars are better still, but the funny thing is that Audis, Acuras, and other “natural FWD” cars are still better in the snow than AWD variants of “natural RWD” cars like Bimmers and Benzes, because they have that extra weight on the wheels that turn and stop.

We don’t all live in the snow belt, though, so what about high speeds? What about the freeway? Believe it or not, that’s where FWD really shines. Remember my analogy of the arrow with the heavy arrowhead? It’s hard to turn. It wants to fly straight. It’s stable – and that’s exactly what we want during freeway driving. To begin with, a stable car is inherently more restful for a long drive. I love my Boxster and 911, but over the course of a ten-or-twelve-hour drive, I do get a bit tired of the constant minor corrections needed to keep them pointed straight. When the camber of the road tilts, the Porsches want to follow it off onto the shoulder; when there’s a dip on the freeway, it unsettles them far more than it would a front-engined car. For long hauls, particularly at high speeds (like – gosh! – the Autobahn) you want a car which is stable by default.

”Sure,” you reply, “but what about emergency maneuvering?” Now we come to FWD’s finest hour. Most drivers steer too much in emergency freeway maneuvers. They unsettle the car beyond the point where they can control it. That’s why they spin, flip, or roll off the road. The perfect freeway car would be stable during the avoidance maneuver, and would naturally return to a straight-line balance when steering input was removed. Guess what kind of car does that best? Nope, it sure as hell isn’t a 911, or even a BMW M3. It’s the front-engined, FWD car that has the most predictable emergency handling and the quickest return to stability. This even benefits those of us who consider ourselves to be “skilled drivers” or “racing drivers”. We may be capable of steering a fast-moving Ferrari 430 around a crash… in daylight on dry pavement. Put us behind the wheel for six hours, get us tired, crank up the stereo, let our passengers start talking, put some rain on the road, take the light away… and pretty soon even a superhuman driver becomes merely human.

There are other popular objections to FWD, many of them centering around “refinement”, ride quality, and that sort of thing, but one drive in a Bentley Flying Spur, which is an FWD car under the skin, proves that most of those objections are pretty worthless. In the modern engineering era, it’s possible to make FWD-platform cars behave just as well as the RWD competition. If you doubt me, go test-drive a Lexus ES350 and IS350. Surprise! The FWD car rides better and feels more refined.

If FWD offers real-world safety, security, and comfort benefits, and I would contend that it certainly does, why are manufacturers in such a hurry to convert everything more “upmarket” than a Dodge Avenger to RWD? Why did Toyota and Hyundai expend such massive effort to make their flagship cars spin the back wheels? Why is GM endlessly flip-flopping between future plans for RWD or FWD Cadillacs?

As always in this industry, it’s a question of marketing. Front-wheel-drive is associated in the public mind with cheap, crappy little cars, while rear-wheel-drive is the land where BMW and Mercedes-Benz dwell. It’s about prestige, it’s about perception, it’s about that bloody Autobahn. It’s about journalists pretending to be racers, and racing journalists forgetting that, contrary to the advertisments, not every day is race day. It’s what Donald Fagen might call “The Royal Scam”, where we all pretend to see and feel things which don’t really exist. It sells magazines and generates clicks on banner ads, but there’s no substance behind the sizzle.

Even iconoclastic, wonderful Audi has finally fallen into the trap of being ashamed of FWD. I have been solemnly assured that the modern range of Quattro-drivetrain automobiles has “rear-biased” AWD, and that the new flip-flop differential arrangement has moved their engines slightly farther back in the car. They say it’s for sound engineering reasons, but I suspect it’s that old marketing mojo at work, trying to add some of that RWD-style frosting on a solid FWD cake. It doesn’t matter to me. The end, in this case, justifies the means. To misquote Bob Seger one more time, front-wheel-drive may not rule the ‘Ring, but it has the advantage — down on Main Street.

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171 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: Color my world, the case for front-wheel drive....”


  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Jack – what an excellent and informative article. As you mention the key word in the RWD vs FWD debate is everyday real world driving. I read articles that said my B7 S4 was nose heavy because of the V8 under the hood and when cornering hard the nose would plow. I really never understood those comments and never felt that to be the case at all on the public road. I never tracked the car (nor would I), but maybe that’s the case at extreme speeds in a track environment.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Nose heavy! I bought a new 1976 Olds Toronado while stationed in Europe and that monster was nose heavy. That 455 was heavy! And FWD cars bury themselves just as quickly as RWD vehicles do in sand, mud or snow.

      I’ve never been a fan of FWD and have opted instead for 4X4 or Automatic AWD in our 2008 Highlander and 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Only my 2011 Tundra 5.7, like my previous domestic pickup trucks remains a RWD.

      No doubt FWD offers some advantageous like increased passenger space but if increased traction is the goal then 4X4 or AAWD is the way to go.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Volkswagen Corrado – Very good handling rep.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Jack, you’ve nailed it, as usual.

    I’ve been a proponent of FWD for a lot of reasons, one of which is the potential handling prowess that you describe about FWD cars, but the main thing is that in a small car, such as those in the A to C segments, FWD has a distinct advantage of RWD, passenger space. Yes, Fiat proved it back in the 70′s with the mainstream model, the 128 where it showed that by going FWD, adding radial tires to it, the car now can devote up to 80% of its space, what there was of it to passengers and cargo, the rest to the mechanicals.

    I just went back to FWD when my 2WD Ranger truck began to die and now drive a 2003 Mazda Protege5 and it’s very quick, stable and so much fun to drive. It’s close to what I remember in my old more prosaic 1983 Honda Civic hatchback I once had in the 1990′s. Been driving it almost every day since I bought it a little over 2 weeks ago.

    One thing I should say is that I’ve driven both types and found that either car, whether, FWD or RWD can plow its front end easily if the motor is large enough to cause it to be nose heavy.

    I had a 78 Ford Fairmont once with the heavy 200 CID inline 6 that dated back to the Falcon and that car could not corner at ANY speed without wanting to plow and it scrubbed the outside edges of BOTH front tires no matter what.

    I hear, fit them with the 4 bangers and that problem didn’t exist as the nose wasn’t so heavy, the balance more even from front to back, despite being RWD.

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    If you really want the “RWD experience”, put sticky tires on the front and leave the stockers on the rear. I learned this the hard way when the back end of my hatchback Focus came around on me at an AutoX. Many a cone was punted. But after that I had all kinds of fun tossing that car around the track.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice piece, and consistent with my own experience. I owned a 92 SHO for 10 years. It was not an understeering pig and, in stock form, cornered pretty neutrally. That said, on my super-secret little bit of hidden West Virginia twisty (where you climb 2000 feet or so in elevation in about 5 miles), my previous car (a Mustang GT 5.0) was more fun — mostly because — as you say — you could apply power earlier before exiting a curve. Neither is my Saab 9-5 Aero an understeering pig, although it has the same characteristics.

    And my 1980 Audi 5000 diesel was a great freeway car, although inadequately powered, even for the 55 mph speed limit of the time. Does Audi even sell any FWD-only cars?

    • 0 avatar

      ‘Bout time TTAC…Does this mean Saab is vindicated?? Transverse FWD also eliminates 7% power-burning ring & pinions. And what IS the point of any all-wheel-drive in the south? Even if tires ARE the same size, you still end up grinding stuff up on dry roads and getting weird noises.

      And as platforms continue to shrink, FWD means more interior room. BMWs 1 series is a flop cuz ya gotta be less than 5’6 to fit.

    • 0 avatar
      ezeolla

      I know the A3 and A4 are at least available in FWD online…finding it on the dealer lot is a different story

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Don’t you blaspheme in here!

  • avatar
    JKC

    All well said. I’m tired of hearing about the Autobahn myself: our highways are too poorly built and maintained, and our drivers too distracted to travel at triple-digit speeds.

    I’ve found that good snow tires and FWD will get me through just about anything upstate NY has to dish out. If the weather’s too bad for that combination, I probably shouldn’t be out driving in it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Not to mention, at least for most of the country, our roads are arrow straight or have very gentle curves that require almost no steering input. There is a reason big comfortable highway cruisers are popular in the states. Living in Iowa, I really have little to no need for a sharp handling car. I have come to the realization that the ride compromise that many “sporty” cars have is not worth the trade off when driving on frost-heaved, pot-holed roads in the mid-west.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      JKC,

      Do you have snow tires on the front of all around?
      I was looking into a pari of snows for the front of my 2004 Saturn Ion. However, the tire store I like would only sell me a set of four. Never heard this before. I have been driving FWD cars since 1980 with only all seasons and have never been stuck unless the snow is too deep and lifts the front end up. As someone said, you shouldn’t be driving in these conditions.

      • 0 avatar
        rwb

        Snows on the front only can have some “interesting” effects during emergency braking. The tire store is rightly avoiding liability for this reason.

        Felix, do you live in a very hilly area? I always have to imagine all these people in snowy climates who claim to have never needed snow tires must live on a plain, because trying to drive straight up a slope in a FWD car without snows is simply futile.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        NEVER, I repeat, never put winter tires on only one pair of wheels. Do all 4 or none at all. Remember, it isn’t just about going, you have to stop and steer also.

      • 0 avatar
        JKC

        All around. I had an interesting experience in a Saab 96 back in 1978 that had snows only in the front. Came around a corner too fast, and did two slow-motion 360′s before backing into a snowbank. I’m lucky I didn’t wreck the car.

        That leads to the one advantage of RWD that Jack didn’t mention. At least in my experience* it is easier to recover when the back end steps out in a RWD car than it is in one with FWD. But I’d still rather have the front wheels driven for the type of driving I do.

        *That experience is relative. I have no doubt that if Mr. Baruth and I showed up at the same track and swapped cars, I would spend the entire time looking at the back of my Focus wagon through the windshield of his Boxster. Except for when he lapped me.

        • 0 avatar
          bk_moto

          With FWD, if the back end starts to come around on you, just steer into it and give it a little squirt of throttle…the front will pull the rear right back into line.

          With RWD of course you still want to steer into it but applying throttle would only worsen the situation…TOKYOOOOOO DRIFFFFTUUUUUUUUUU!

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      RWB,
      Yes, I do live in a hilly area. In fact I live on a steep hill. When it snows more than 4″, I can go down the hill, but not up until the street is plowed. Not a problem for going to work, since I just go down the hill until I meet up with the snow emergency route at the bottom of my hill. When I get home, I can go up the hill if it is plowed. If not, I use another snow route to get to the cross street above me and go down the hill. Diving in snow is 90% stategy and 10% equipment.

  • avatar
    redliner

    You forgot the other advantage of rear wheel drive… drifting around, especially in the snow, is much easier.

    All thing considered though, I would much rather have my mother driving a neutral fwd car than a rwd car that requires a bit of skill to control during emergency maneuvers.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      May be more natural but a good handbrake action and dexterity when driving a FWD car makes them just as fun to drift around (and easier to recover!).

    • 0 avatar
      flomulgator

      I’m no mechanical engineer but I’m pretty darn certain that the length of a driveshaft has nothing to do with power loss (air friction can’t be that high). It’s much more likely the amount of mechanical components it runs through in each system. Anyone with a PE want to chime in about torque vectoring?

    • 0 avatar
      cheapthrills

      I agree with jaje. I’ve always found it easier to be ready on the e-brake to induce oversteer when necessary.

      With FWD, I keep the front wheels spinning and aimed where I want to go. I’ve got control over my speed (throttle) and how much the rear tires slide (handbrake).

      In an RWD, the handbrake is pretty much a last-ditch effort to stay out of a snowbank. You need to declutch in order to avoid stalling, so you will need to be swift with your application and removal of the handbrake and resuming power to the rear wheels to maintain momentum in your intended direction. When you induce oversteer is by gassing it, you have less control over your speed.

      I’ll admit that endless graceful drifts and donuts are fun, but for when you actually need to get to a destination on the other side of a snowstorm, FWD wins for me every time.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    Now this is why I keep coming here. Great article.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Couple things worth noting:
    - A drawback of FWD is weight transfer under acceleration away from front tires.
    - An advantage of FWD cars is lower parasitic loss from the drivetrain (shorter distance to transfer power).
    - FWD cars also tend to weigh less than their RWD counterparts they do not need to transfer power long distances needing a stronger structure to handle the twist from the torque.

    Torque steer is also an issue with FWD cars especially when they have unequal length driveshafts. However, not all FWD cars are created equal. Some FWD cars have a setup where the engine and transmission is behind the front axles – uses an intermediate shaft with equal length axles.

    • 0 avatar
      redliner

      …and by eliminating the drive shaft to the rear, you can have a flat rear floor and more trunk space.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        except most manufacturers put an artificial “hump” in and use it for the exhaust pipe. I hate that, bring back the flat floor in the FWD car!

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        The artificial “hump” is probably there to stiffen the chassis. Take a flat piece of sheet metal and it’s a wobbly mess. Put a few bends and curves in it and it becomes stiff enough to hold weight without bending.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        Educator(of teachers)Dan “except most manufacturers put an artificial “hump” in and use it for the exhaust pipe. I hate that, bring back the flat floor in the FWD car!”

        It’s called “Honda Civic”, and people wonder why it sold so well.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        @WSN, what about the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado? Those cars had flat floors up until at least the 1986 redesign.

      • 0 avatar
        Caboose

        My ’78 Eldorado Biarritz FTW. It has the “little” engine, only 425 cid. Front-driver. Since the Engineering spaces have their own zip code, not only do I have a flat rear florr, the front floor is also almost flat. Alas! for personal-luxury. If only they would remake one of those with modern quality.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        @Educator(of teachers)Dan, one nice feature doesn’t a good selling car make. Those two models would have sold in even smaller quantities, had there not been the flat floor.

      • 0 avatar
        hgrunt

        @wsn @Educator(of teachers)Dan the most likely reason why those cars had a flat rear floor is because they were body on frame. A unibody with flat rear floor would have a deeper footwell, and more room in proportion to the car’s outer dimensions.

    • 0 avatar
      flomulgator

      I’m no mechanical engineer but I’m pretty darn certain that the length of a driveshaft has nothing to do with power loss (air friction can’t be that high). It’s much more likely the amount of mechanical components it runs through in each system. Anyone with a PE want to chime in about torque vectoring?

      • 0 avatar
        A Caving Ape

        Hey, I’m a mechanical engineer! I don’t work in anything automotive but I can sure speculate wildly. The loss in a RWD system comes from all the extra rotating mass. An FWD dar will just have a transaxle with two driveshafts poking out. A RWD car will have a long center driveshaft and standalone differential to go along with that. Not only does that extra weight need to be carted around, energy must be expended to spin it as well.

      • 0 avatar
        mitchw

        No ME here, but you’d also get some flexing between the front engine/tranny and rear axle along the driveshaft, which takes away some responsiveness. Hence, the rigid connection like a torque tube on some cars. Jack’s Porsches suffer different maladies.

      • 0 avatar
        cdotson

        I’m a mechanical engineer and I used to do vehicle-related work (off-highway machinery). The difference in efficiency between a transverse FWD and a longitudinal RWD powertrain is because there are efficiency losses involved with the process of transmitting rotating torque through a 90 degree angle.

        RWD vehicles have a differential in the rear axle that is either a helical bevel or hypoid ring & pinion gear set. Using such a gear cut increases the effective number of engaged teeth which reduces stress and vibration from the gears and allows the driveshaft to be mounted below the ring gear’s centerline (to reduce the intrusion of the drive shaft hump), but those gear cuts also require the mating teeth to slide against one another as the system rotates. This sliding friction produces the power loss that would not otherwise be seen in a straight-bevel ring & pinion (which very bad for NVH) or in inline helical gears (such as would be used in a transverse transmission).

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      “- An advantage of FWD cars is lower parasitic loss from the drivetrain (shorter distance to transfer power).”

      Or you can move the whole thing to the real like ala MR2 and keep the same short drivetrain path.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      In modern fwd cars the advantage of the flat floor is lost due to the huge, intrusive consoles. For some reason car designers think drivers and front passengers should be wedged between the console and door like they are sitting in the cockpit of a fighter plane. One reason I love my Odyssey is because the floor is flat and my right knee does not rest against a console.

  • avatar
    michal1980

    And this is one of the articles I love JB for.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    But what about torque steer?

    • 0 avatar
      JCraig

      Torque steer is fun.

    • 0 avatar

      Torque steer is a non-issue with appropriate tires and tire pressure.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        In most rwd cars, yes…

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        and some FWD Zyko. Take Paul’s steed for a test drive and floor it sometime.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        As I haven’t been forced to drive any newer VW’s than a 2001 Passat 1.9tdi,(110 hp was still enough to do make that torquesteer quite uncomfortably through the assisted steering) I can’t positively prove beyond reasonable doubt that modern fwd cars will have much less torque steer, (almost to a point that it will be unnoticeable for someone who only drives fwd cars) I may be a bit out of line, I choose to still believe that I’m right :P

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      GM’s HiPer Strut system seems to do a good job all but eliminating that.

      • 0 avatar

        @Zykotec –
        As a fellow member of the “I am always right” club I firmly respect your comment.

        I am currently running 264hp/269ft-lbs at the wheels with no suspension modifications (for the next 10 days) and minimal torque steer.

        I say minimal as I do have it in one situation: if I floor it on poor quality (heavily rutted) asphalt, it will try to pull out of/into the groove.

        The Mazdaspeed3 definitely has torque steer issues. I can’t answer to why that does and the GTI does not.

        Technologically, both GM’s HiPer strut and Ford’s Revoknuckle are said to do a great job.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        Well, as much as I’m impressed, neither minimal or non-issue mean that it’s gone completely, and on worn out Norwegian roads, flooring it out if an intersection or roundabout, or even trying desperately not to get hit by that tractor-trailer you didn’t see when you entered the highway from a sideroad, you will certainly notice it.
        On the other hand, I have owned older ,not so rigid 80′s Ford, rwd cars that would torquesteer (well, change direction at full throttle least, not so much noticeable through the steering wheel)

      • 0 avatar

        That very well may be the case, I can only comment on our slightly less worn out Pennsylvania roads that being in similar situations to the above, I have never noticed. Also, though I swap between this car and a low powered RWD car on daily basis I can certainly admit that someone that has never driven my car might notice something that I do not.

        My larger point is that even at my power levels, it is really a SIGNIFICANTLY smaller consideration that it would have been in the past.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        In addition to the Ford RevoKnuckle and GM HiPer Strut, there is also the Toyota Super Strut and Renault Double-axis Perfohub. I’m sure there are others too.

  • avatar
    Dan

    You don’t need to be on a track for right foot fishtailing to be fun. Or for laying rubber to be fun, too.

    Of course a Porsche is twitchy and fatiguing on the highway. Your Town Car isn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Yeah I had to laugh at this article given that he bought a Town Car after his Audi. If FWD is better 90 odd % of the time why didn’t he buy say a Maxima or a Impala SS or something?

      (BTW Jack having a Celebrity as my first car followed by a RWD V8 Cutlass I do agree with your points, I just smiled at the above recollection.)

  • avatar

    I’m amused by the comments about the Regal GS being “wrong wheel drive”. There is no such thing.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    I’m not a racer but have always prefered FWD cars. As you described they are much easier (for me at least) to handle in emergency situations and feel more stable. Maybe I’m still scarred from doing back to back 180′s in my Grandma’s RWD Chrysler as a teenager. Or maybe it’s because I’ve avoided several accidents over the years in FWD cars. They just feel much more intuitive.

  • avatar

    Jack, appreciate the insight…certainly food for thought.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Great article!

  • avatar
    fabriced28

    Now you got your answer: this is what I want to read here.

    by the way, Pontiac is not the only one in recent times to have wider front tires. The new Audi RS3 has 235 in the front, 225 in the rear.

    If we go further past, a good number of Citroens, most DS and CX, had wider front tires, difference being up to 180 front / 155 rear.

    And possibly it was also done by other left-field thinking manufacturers.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    In competitive classes, FWD races nicely with RWD, but then again, in a ‘real world race’ (not on the street!), you have things like weight limits and technical restrictions, which evens up the field.

    FWD doesn’t have to be bad, and it can be better with a torque vectoring differential, like the system used on Prelude-SH, which was sort of like the real axle of the current SH-AWD system, except mounted to the front wheels.

    Anyways, after decades of being spoiled by the space savings of FWD, I always feel a little gypped sitting in the rear seat of a 3-series or A4.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Mind. Blown.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Did I just read an article by Jack Baruth where he claims FWD is better because it’s safe and relaxing? As I have a brother who just recently bought and Integra Type-R, while I hail the ’82-86 Ford Sierra as the greatest car known to man, this is something I regularly discuss. In my honest opinion, I think fwd cars are ‘better’ at only two things. They are cheaper to produce, and give more interior space because thay lack an important drivetrain part. I’ll have to get back to you for the rest of the reasons rwd is better (most are mentioned above tough) Fwd cars are fun in the winter though, and certainly not understeering pigs :)

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    Does this mean that you, Jack, are looking forward to the FWD Cadillac XTS and it’s magnetic ride suspension?

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    I feel vindicated. I just retired my well-worn A8 for a FWD. Hyundai in fact. I resisted the urgings of my friend to “man up” and get a RWD German. Maybe when I want to add another toy to my stable, but for now I’ll do my frequent long 35 MPG drives with FWD and a smile on my face at what 20 years of new technology can do for 1/3 the price.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    An excellent, well reasoned and thought provoking article.

    Perhaps it is an age thing. I was into my 20s by the time FWD started to become commonplace. So I suspect that part of my comfort zone has to do with early experience.

    That said, I have always preferred RWD in ice/snow country. True, FWD puts tons of weight (sometimes literally) over the traction wheels. However, in low-traction situations, you often overdraw those front tires when trying to either accellerate or brake while turning. Sometimes, just steering uses up all of your traction. With RWD, the throttle can give a steering assist when the front is not “coming about” as quickly as is needed.

    I am not speaking here of lousy RWD cars like the 60s Mustang or the 70s GM A body. Those things were truly awful due to being way too front-heavy. But a well balanced RWD car (like your Town Car or an older GM B body or a 60s-70s Mopar C body) will do quite well in poor-traction conditions. And if the roads are too slick to go somewhere in a decent RWD car, most people have no business being out anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      Having both FWD and RWD cars, my winter driving experience is the opposite. I definitely prefer FWD for the reason of straight line stability. The traction control of my RWD is much more aggressive than our FWD, because it has to. There’s nothing quite as “exciting” as driving up an icy hill in a RWD, traction control pulsing away to keep the car from spinning out.

      I can usually corner faster in a FWD also, because there’s not as much of a stability penalty from exceeding the traction limits of the front tires, whereas the read wheels of a RWD can not spin without triggering throttle induced oversteer. I can also simultaneously accelerate and steer in FWD, transferring weight to the rear end to prevent oversteer. Slap on winter tires, and it makes the common Joe feel like a rally driver.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      Yup, my lousy 77 A-body is a pig in snow/ice, but my virtually identical 76 I had as a teen was pretty good. Only difference between the two cars was the rear axle ratio. the 77 has a 2.56 and the 76 had a 3.08. Could be related to the absolutely suck-tastic tires I have on it right now, that are worthless in the wet, and somewhat less worthless on dry. My 145hp 305 has no trouble what ever lighting the right rear tire up.

      My 2wd Explorer with positraction is virtually unstoppable on the ice and snow we had last year. I keep good tires on it and it has no problems with hurting for traction. Now it may be a different ball of wax in more inclined locales, but flat Dallas I had no issues climbing what few hills we have. IT also has a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution thanks to the heavy-ass.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    You didn’t have to go through all this rigamarole to sell the awesomeness of FWD. Just list the greatest FWD cars of all time.

    Acura Integra Type-R
    Renaultsport Clio 180-200
    Peugeot 205 GTi

    etc.

    These are all cars that are fun in ways anyone with a pulse can safely enjoy on public roads without sacrificing much, if any practicality. High strung RWD cars are like motorcycles… you can’t enjoy them fully unless conditions are perfect, and even then their abilities might be so far beyond yours you will never even begin to tap into their full potential. And unlike motorcycles they cost a hell of a lot more to run. Blech. I like supercars & 911s and all that, but as far as what I would actually spend money on… give me a ratty little Sentra or Civic with insurance in the 3-5 sandwiches a month range, gas mileage in the high 20s-low 30s, and scrappy little engines + suspensions that never fail to put a smile on my face. Folks on the internet have become caricatures of what car enthusiasts should be, seeking out abilities to argue meaningless minutiae rather than enjoying cars. **** em

  • avatar
    Zackman

    If FWD makes for better fuel economy, then I’m all for it. I don’t believe I could get up to 35.44 mpg out of my 2004 Impala 3.4L if it were RWD.

    FWD vs.RWD and the efficiencies of them have been discussed some time ago. If I recall, the energy used by a driveshaft then into a differential is inherently not as efficient as when the engine and drivetrain is all inclusive.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s what I remember.

    What I do remember is when we bought our K-Car – a 1981 Plymouth Reliant 2.2L 4-speed, that when it snowed, it literally ran rings around 99% of all other cars on the road at the time and I never got stuck in it and was a real blast to drive. Wifey and I truly enjoyed tearing up the roads in that thing!

    • 0 avatar
      outback_ute

      Did a trip a few years ago in a Falcon at 33.5mpg (US) which could have been better if I wasn’t flooring it every 5-10min to overtake on a 2 lane highway. You are right though, fwd is slightly more efficient through lack of hypoid diff gears as explained in greater detail above.

      Most entertaining fwd car I’ve driven was a Toyota Aurion (aka V6 Camry) – floor it at low speed and the squishy, worn suspension bushes would result in a darty, weaving yet not completely unstable rush of speed. The same sort of thing as you get when a rwd car has the rear end moving around a bit under power.

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    Yep, I caught a great deal of flack for my V70R purchase, but it came down a stable FWD biased AWD setup that was programmed to lock the center clutch pack essentially whenever you had WOT. Add in some big rear away bars and it was just easier to flog than an M3.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Jack, you’re one of my favorite authors and I find myself agreeing with your thoughts and inclinations far more than thought, but thou hath blasphemed.

    Rear wheel drive, all things relative (and even some things not), is and always will lead to a far superior driving experience due to the laws of physics, which have a real place in the real world based on how we humans experience sensory input.

    Just make my RWD chariot with a motor on the lighter side if front mounted (to get as close as possible to that 50/50 weight distribution) and I’d strongly prefer to have a limited slip differential.

    For those worried about snow, most any RWD vehicle with a proper set of capable snow tires, given today’s electronic wunderkit (especially stability control, possibly the most underrated component since seatbelts and arguably more so) is quite capable in any amount of snow and that conventional wisdom gives some advantage to FWD on.

    But what about AWD…oh….that’s irrelevant for purposes of your [flawed] assertion.

    Blaspheme no moreth.

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      I assume that sometime around late fall you install your chosen snow-tires on your RWD vehicle and sometime in March or so you take them off. This is the ideal, spend $600-1000 on some Blizzaks a set of steelies along with a good car jack, store them in your garage. Alternatively you can go to tire shop and have them mounted/ dismounted as necessary this will cost a $$$ in the long term and might incur inconvenient wait if you leave it until snow is in the forecast.

      The problem is most people can’t or won’t do that.They don’t plan ahead, the snow starts when they are at work.

      About 5 weeks ago our neighborhood was littered with abandoned mostly RWD vehicles after about 6 inches of slushy snow. In contrast our Audi and Lexus Rx behaved like the snow was not there.

      • 0 avatar
        lastwgn

        I personally am fully convinced that 95+% of snow and ice driving is based on the skill of the driver. I live in the Twin Cities. Last winter it snowed. A LOT. Record snow. 18 days in January in which we had measurable snow fall. We had a 12 inch snowfall on November 13, 2010, and did not see the grass or ground again until late March 2011. That snowfall was less than one month after bringing home my new daily driver, a 2005 Mazda RX-8. Wearing Eagle RS-A’s. I spent my first 8 years in the Twin Cities driving MN12 platform Thunderbirds. Usually put on Michelin Arctic Alpins, so I am very familiar with the qualities of good winter tires.

        I thought about getting winter tires for the RX-8. Never did, and never once got stuck or lost control. Commuted to downtown Minneapolis everyday, drove my daughter to basketball practices and games. Never, ever, had a problem. The traction/stability control system in that car is fantastic. ABS is great. But the perfect balance of that chassis makes a huge difference.

        My experience going to basketball tourneys in snow/ice storms is that I would drive past every manner of overdriven SUV and CUV on the freeway ditches. I never even had a close call. On the way back from visiting college kid in Ames Iowa, got stuck in a snow and ice fest all the way back to the Twin Cities that we could not avoid. My wife and I counted 22 SUV’s in the ditch on the drive back while the RX-8 just kept moving along, nicely balanced, communicating feel and road conditions while I paid close attention.

        I am convinced that in snowy climates 4WD and FWD are NOT required. What is required is driving skill, patience, and attentiveness. Something that is in very short supply, especially those that get behind the wheel of their behemoth SUV’s and merely assume they will traverse all terrain unscathed just because the have 4WD, then sit back, plug in all the electronic devices, and eventually wonder how they found themselves sideways in the freeway median.

        RX-8 is the best winter car I have ever had. Would be even better with Blizzaks, but not an absolute necessity.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @lastwagon

        I agree with you 100% and then some. My best two cars in the snow have been a ’92 Peugeot 505 SW8, and my current ’11 BMW 328i Wagon. Both of which have more wieght on the rear wheels than the front. Teh Pug has a limited slip, the BMW has the latest electronic gizmos.

        I am a firm believer in winter tires though – not for the going, but for the stopping. AWD, and to a lesser extent FWD, gives you a muddy picture of what the traction is like under you. AWD gives a wonderful false sense of security because you can GO just fine. But you can’t stop any better, and if the mass of a big heavy SUV starts sliding it is not going to stop until you are in the ditch. I LIKE knowing that I can always stop harder than I can accelerate in the snow.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        BritishExPat – You are spot on.

        I swap my wheels with snow shoes already mounted (mounting and unmounting tires on the same or different rims is a bad idea), going from my spring through fall setup of 18″ wheels and summer high performance rubber to 17″ winter alloys with snow tires and then gleefully pass FWD and AWD vehicles (some of which are in ditches) during the first real snow event.

        I never thought it would be so good in the snow with even proper snow tires. I always thought it would be ‘do-able’ or ‘tolerable.’

        Imagine my surprise when the car went from unable to get up the 2 percent gradient of my driveway with the slightest coating of snow when wearing the summer rubber, to blissfully dashing through as much as 8″ of snow with no protest whatsoever when wearing proper snow tires. I tell people that my RWD car is more capable in the snow with snow tires than any FWD car I’ve ever driven and they refuse to believe me (unless they’ve had a similar experience). Of course, the FWD cars were not wearing aggressive dedicated snow tires.

        And you’re correct – most people today couldn’t fathom having to spend the 15 to 20 minutes to swap their wheels/tires twice a year.

        lastwgn said it well, also.

      • 0 avatar
        MrBostn

        After last winter I decided to get snow tires for our 98 Accord. In July I bought four lightly used ones already mounted on wheels. COme October, I was itching to put them in anticipation for some “weather”.

        Long story shot..Still haven’t put them on! (haven’t needed them either)

  • avatar
    mitchw

    I knew you’d been a tad quiet for some good reason, JB. That was a thorough article indeed, except you forgot to advise the kids to never, ever, never, raise the rear tire pressure on their parents’ cars, because doing so will give said cars, whether FWD or RWD, that very, very bad oversteer condition.

  • avatar
    jaybird124

    Very informative, very true article.

    1. Traditionally, the majority of FWD cars haven’t been geared towards spirited driving (there are exceptions). So while you can modify them to be more neutral, it takes knowhow and aftermarket parts. Most just want it to be that way out of the box. That is changing though.

    2. It’s surprising that people gave you crap for the S5. Good car and good looking. My only beef with Audi would be being somewhat nose heavy, but a small gripe and is changing anyway.

    3. Question for you Jack: Do like any of the BMW M’s or are the loads of fanboys and floating calipers too much to stand?

    Keep ‘em coming!

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Here’s my big argument against FWD: while it may be better in the rain and snow, it is way, way less fun. When my daily driver was FWD, a rainy morning meant a boring, slow drive to work. Now that I have an AWD car, rainy streets mean it’s a FUNDAY!

  • avatar
    Snavehtrebor

    Jack has inspired me to keep my Mazda6S another 85k miles.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    You disappointed me with this one Jack…. Like most newer, dare I say snobby car journos, you’re forgetting the one big advantage, the main reason while I almost always buy a RWD car over a FWD car.

    They’re easier to work on myself. As a mechanic myself I prefer other people not to touch my vehicles, but I also don’t want to spend all day doing a tune-up job for free (now, when I’m getting paid for it; that’s a different story).

    No CV joints to replace, no timing belt nightmares where the the engine has to be partially removed to do. That’s why I prefer RWD vehicles, and something with some engine-bay room to boot.

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      That’s a really good point – I’m partial to FWD, but after changing a timing chain in a GM 2.2, I can definatly relate.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      A timing belt is not an inherent property of FWD, and CV joints are easy to replace and usually only required every 12 years or so. Plenty of room under the hood of my Mazda3, and the water pump is not driven by the timing chain. I’ve never paid someone to fix or maintain my vehicles, and I have no problem with FWD.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Try changing the spark plugs on the rear cylinder bank of a transverse V-6. Not fun.

      Front drive cars aren’t too bad to maintain, as long as they have a four cylinder engine and a reasonably sized engine compartment that’s meant to take an optional V6 (think Camry).

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Wow JB… what an awesome article.

    I think I now understand why the wheels of the 2010 Mazda3 has a wider front track (60.4 inches) than the rear track (59.8 inches). It’s to compensate for understeer, right?

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    Great article!

    Myself I think a key characteristic of comparing FWD & RWD handling is how does the car reacts when you invest $1.10 into the corner and it starts to break loose.

    Will that FWD car have the front end slide out and point you off the road with little feedback before that occurs?

    Does that FWD or RWD car that handles neutral give you adequate feedback as it starts to slide to allow you to adjust your cornering speed or other inputs without getting you into trouble.

    Will that RWD car over-steer properly to give you early feedback and allow that Doc Hudson correction to keep your cornering line?

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    FWD is fantastic for small, low-powered cars. Or appliances like CamCordBus. But as the size increases, the space and wieght advantage of FWD decreases, and as power increases, you start having major issues with getting that power to the ground. In a perfect world, AWD would be best of all, but then you have a cost and complexity problem. So what we are left with is that FWD is best for small, low powered cars, and RWD is best for large, high powered cars. And oddly enough, that is mostly what is on the market. Surprise, surprise.

    Pontiac was by NO means the first maker to specify wider tires on the front of a FWD car – Citroen beat them to it by 50+ years.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      And all the V8 W-body cars got wider fronts not just the Pontiac (Impala SS, Buick LaCrosse Super, and Pontiac Grand Prix GXP.)

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Not true Dan. I know the Impala did not get wider front tires, don’t know about the LaCrosse Super.

        Mixed reviews on the GXP out there. Some reviewers dubbed it a torque steering mess, others said that it was well done with the tweaks to the suspension and the larger front tires. I know the LS4 V8 under the hood was lighter than the L67 supercharged V6 so the weight distribution was actually better with the more powerful V8. I had an acquaintance that owned one – 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds in a GM W-Body is an interesting experience, especially when you’re practically sitting on top of the LS4 under the hood.

        I know they had to do all sorts of voodoo to get that engine into the Grand Prix. The sheet metal was different to make some extra room, the engine was installed from the bottom up, and the alternator was attached to the transmission as there was no where else to put it.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Hypnotoad and EdDan: The GXP was the only car to get wider tires in the front. It was C&D’s review (IIRC) of the car that pointed that out. They claimed it made some huge difference in acceleration and cornering. I wouldn’t know personally, as I’ve only ever driven one. Slowly. With the salesman in the car.

        Also, according to the same C&D article, the W-body was designed from the beginning to accept a V8 motor. The writer had reviewed the original ones upon release in 1988, and was treated to a test car, which was fitted with a V8 for production viability purposes. Why it took GM so long to make it a RPO is beyond me.

        There’s not a lot of space in there, so I’m not surprised they had to do a few things differently to accomodate the V8.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimmy7

        They’re right. I own a LaCrosse Super; same size tires all around. Best highway car I’ve ever owned, great passing acceleration, incredibly quiet and 24 mpg cruising.

  • avatar
    dmw

    On uncited reason for the general preference for RWD is 70s/80s cop shows. Their theme-sequences and their last 5 minutes usually featured cars fish-tailing through city intersections to the peal of dubbed tire-squeals, dubbed V-8 noises, and heroic trumpet riffs. This worked profoundly upon the minds of adolescent male Americans.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Required reading; great article Jack.

  • avatar
    xenoxus

    Aside from the driving of a FWD car, how about maintaining a FWD car. How many here enjoy needing a lifting beam and circus midget small hands to change a timing belt? leaking outer CV joint boots anybody? Got a transverse V-block? Have fun with the plugs on the rear bank or anything near the rear valve cover. Even changing a serpentine belt can be a pain in the ass, relatively speaking. I almost find it preferable to just drop the engine and work on it. This is especially true for small FWD cars with engines. Granted, some manufacturers are better, or worse, than others, but RWDs across all marques are easier to keep running.

    FWD cars are more time consuming and more expensive to keep running as they should. It doesn’t matter whether you do the work yourself or pay Earl down at The Shade Tree to do it for you. A daily driver is a car that should obey each and every time you turn the key. It shouldn’t need or deserve all the love, affection and cash reserved for your “special” car(s). If you don’t have any “special” cars, you should avoid FWD like the plague. They truly are less FUN and less reliable. Nobody loves understeer.

    To those who buy a new ride when the odometer rolls over, or uh, switches digits, to 50 or 60 thousand miles; Drive whatever the hell you like. Just remember that you’re passing your nearly missed headache onto the next guy.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “FWD cars are more time consuming and more expensive to keep running as they should.”

      Which is clearly not true. FWD compact/midsize cars (such as Corolla/Camry, Civic/Accord, or Focus/Fusion) are currently the most economical one to keep running. As for service complexity, I don’t care as long as:
      1) they don’t break down more often than RWD (they don’t)
      2) they don’t cost a higher labor rate than RWD (actually they cost lower)

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        And what exactly is RWD in that class that you can make comparisons to these days?

        I’ll make one for you. Any of the cars you cite are FAR more difficult and expensive to keep on the road than a Volvo 940, even if you spend multiples of the cost of a good 940 on the purchase price, and handicap the Volvo with an extra 100K or so on the odometer.

        Or to toss a bone to a particularly strident subset of wingnuts on here, a basic Panther might well be cheaper than any of those front drivers as well. I am not convinced a Crown Brick is cheaper to keep running than a 940 though….

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        An ex-girlfriend of mine had a Volvo 940 that didn’t exactly resemble that remark. It died with about 215K miles, but I would have rebuilt the transmission long before that had it been my car. It kept going, but it slammed its shifts like an old city bus. Also, the interior was made out of plastics that broke in day to day use and it would have been an insult to Mattel to compare them to the toy maker’s materials.

        Much of my ownership experience is with BMWs, and they are certainly no cheaper to maintain than FWD cars of any quality. Their front suspensions are downright frangible and their multi-piece drive-shafts are expensive wear parts. So are their differentials, although I don’t think I ever wore out a half-shaft. The FWD half-shafts that were once such a predictable and expensive failure part seem to have reached a state of development where they’re both durable and affordable if they do need replacement.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      It depends on the FWD, I’ve had a Horizon and now own an ’89 Tercel and they’re both easy to work on, despite being compact FWDs.

      They were both more reliable than my RWDs from around the 70′s80′s, thats for sure.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “Aside from the driving of a FWD car, how about maintaining a FWD car.”

      It’s really not that difficult. You must be jaded by a particularly bad experience.

  • avatar
    TW4

    “The whole idea of “tasteful” German cars is a scam, kids. It was something the marketing people thought up twenty years ago so the dealers could stock a smaller selection of inventory.”

    Isn’t this the onus for FWD, as well? I agree with the crux of your article, and I found it very informative, particularly the maneuvering at highway velocity. However, isn’t the point of FWD to avoid the complexity, cost, and annoyance of designing a 4WD variant for customers who live above the snow belt? Isn’t FWD about the packaging simplicity of transverse engine mounting?

    I have always contended that cost-cutting and reduced consumer choice are the actual reasons car-enthusiasts hate FWD. When companies go FWD, they remove the driveshaft tunnel. Motorsports enthusiasts and RWD/4WD proponents are forced to petition for a 4WD variant to give the vehicle higher performance credentials and motorsports relevance. The manufacturers seemingly love the cat and mouse game of teasing auto-enthusiasts, only to deliver a 4WD variant too late in the product cycle at too high a cost. Soft-demand and apathetic customers are the end result of corporate effrontery, and the insiders, who never wanted to build a 4WD variant, use the poor sales figures to justify FWD-for-all. Naturally, jilted RWD/4WD proponents eventually start to hate the player, not the marketing executives who string them along, and toy with their consumer satisfaction.

    If every production car was built with a driveshaft tunnel, no one would have any reason to complain. Marketers wouldn’t block 4WD variants, and motorsports enthusiasts would have a stronger case to get manufacturers involved in RWD motorsport. I don’t know why a driveshaft tunnel makes the difference, since it is often heavily modified anyway, but that’s the arcane world of motorsports for you.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Last October in rural Connecticut, driving my sisters RWD Grand Cherokee, I managed a feat that could not be done in my other sisters FWD SRX. We had gone out to rescue her when she got stuck. I got up a snowy hill that defeated all sorts of other vehicles. I crabbed the car, spinning the rear wheels a bit all without losing steering control. This let me steer and quickly react when the car began to swing the other way.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. RWD with seriously good winter tires and a bit of driving skill trumps FWD or AWD with all seasons every single time. Having said that, the Cherokee was wearing all-seasons at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      Duncan

      It seems to me like those who champion FWD prowess in the snow are from flat areas. Hill climbing with a FWD in slick conditions is awful. As the angle increases, the weight transfers off the front wheels onto the rears. I used to live in a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a steep hill. 2WD pickups would drive right out when it snowed, FWD cars would make multiple attempts at the hill then collect at the bottom. If I threw chains on my car and drove to the top of the hill, then took them off on the flat road, I was fine and probably more stable and safe than the aforementioned 2WD pickups.

      I also find that having a vehicle that handles well enough to maintain confidence in the snow but can’t climb encourages a dangerous thought pattern – “I’m safe and secure, I just need to carry a little more speed up that hill.” I haven’t spent much time in RWD in the snow, but it seems that they often drive a lot slower because the driver is getting constant feedback that they are near their limit.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I live on a steep hill and I agree. It’s steep enough that you can easily hit 40+ mph down hill on a bicycle. I have both FWD and RWD cars (all with Blizzak WS-70s)and the FWD cars really struggle to climb it. Very little problem with RWD. The weight shifts to the back and the Blizzaks lock right in.

        As an experiment, next time it snows, try finding a 40% grade driveway somewhere and attempt to drive up with a FWD car. Then try backing up to simulate RWD and compare the difference.

  • avatar
    ajla

    You really didn’t consider RWD to be a positive when you bought your Town Car?
    ————-
    Burnouts look cooler and towing is better with RWD.

    RWD cars also seem better suited to crashing over stuff, but that might have more to do with suspension components than driven wheels.

    Plus, you generally get a longer wheelbase so you can feel like you’re a Chinese concrete baron when you drive around.

  • avatar
    meekrab

    Gee, an ES350 ‘rides better and feels more refined’ than an IS350? Stunning insight, given that the former is a full size luxury car and the latter bills itself as a sports sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I also thought that comparison was a little too convenient for the point Jack was trying to make. Besides a different design purpose, the IS350 also has a shorter wheelbase.

      An ES350 vs an MB C-Class is a better match in terms of design purpose and wheelbase, while still offering FWD vs RWD.

  • avatar

    Jack,

    Don’t ever quit being arrogant. It’s entertaining (haha).

    First of all, when you mention how the “kids” feel about German colors and patterns, I never knoew it was such an issue with them. I really dug the Porsche Green on the S5 you had. It was definately a throw-back to the German cars I grew up with. I was born and raised here in the states, but my family is German and I’ve been there several times over the years. Just to back you history up, I remember two cars in particular. One was a 1977 “Jeans” Beetle my parents rented that was painted oraange with a blue denim interior. The second car that comes to mind is the last Porsche 928. I seem to recall a very red leather interior with a metallic lime green paint. It was Porsche’s send-off for the 928. Anyway, I would have to look it up again, but I don’t really care that much about it.

    Secondly, the FWD versus RWD debate. The problem I find is similar to what you mention and what it really comes down to, just like the paint colrs, is ignorance. I prefer RWD for certain reasons the same way I prefer FWD for some reasons. My reasons go far beyond what you describe though. Audi aside, most FWD cars have a transverse drivetrain. It’s not a big deal until you actaully have to perform your own work to keep the an older jalop going. We can’t all buy a new Audi (hehe). When I do pick a FWD car, it has to be an inline engine. I refuse to buy a FWD V-engine that sits transverse under the hood. Ease of maintenance goes out the window at that point. I had a 98 Neon R/T that I successfully campaigned to second place, for the season, in my region of SCCA Solo II. I could drive that car and induce just the right amount of oversteer, something I never experienced in my previous FWD car (LeBaron), and powerd out of the turns after a near perfect down-shift. Yeah.. It was great. My preference for RWD comes out of larger-engine cars and tow vehicles. A Charger with a V6 or V8 needs to be in a RWD chassis. Why? Just overall dynamics. To use your compaeison of the Grand Prix (yuck) with a GM small black V8 versus a DOdge Charger with a V8. Which one would you rather drive? As for towing, it comes with the larger engine territory. I know in the UK they pull caravans with tiny Hyundais and shit, but I pull a 2500 pound camper, a tow dolly (loaded), and the occasional cargo trailer. The heavy trailers require a heavy chassis, and thus, an engine larger than a gas-powered four to safely get me moving.

    Ugh… I’m rambling and I don’t have all damn day to talk about this, but I think you get my point. I agree with you, but what it really comes down to is “what are the needs of the driver” for FWD, RWD, and even AWD/4WD. Don’t even get me started on all the 4WD/AWD SUVs and CUVs in places like South Florida…

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      @Autojunkie
      I have no problems with FWD, but I now own my first and last v-engined FWD vehicle.

      No mechanic I’ve talked to wants to change the rear bank of plugs (120K miles last time I asked) despite my willingness to pay someone to do the job.

      I’m not really a wrench-turner, but the plugs and rear bank of ignition coils on the plugs, are on my spring to-do list.

  • avatar
    itsgotvtak

    I loved Baruth’s S5. Anyone that didn’t doesn’t have a soul. There are a couple of Porsches here in town with decidedly rebellious colors; a poop brown metallic and a dirty vanilla. Even though I wouldn’t check those particular boxes on my build sheet I definitely like seeing them. Odd colors on high end cars have a certain je ne sais quoi that subtle common colored cars could never dream of.

    PROTIP for Baruth: You can build a Carerra 4 GTS on the Porsche website in what I believe is an identical color combo as your S5. If I had 130k to spend recklessly I would definitely think on it for a minute.

  • avatar
    SIGCDR

    Thanks Jack. This article was so good I registered just so I could acknowledge what I think is the best piece of automotive journalism that I have read in my 45 years of reading about all things cars. It also confirms that the exceptional amount of fun I get out of hurrying about curvy local roads in a FWD sport edition of a Suzuki SX4 is OK and a very affordable and sensible alternative to overhyped german rwd coupes driven by the overly status conscious among us.

  • avatar

    someone screwed up! the photo was supposed to be a VW rabbit, not Oryctolagus cuniculus. Sheesh!

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    Excellent article, Jack. Not only greatly clarifies FWD/RWD differences, but the bias Auto Journalists so often exhibit.

    Vehicle usage and location are important to its choice.
    An Audi R8 may be a superb racing vehicle for a light-traveling sheik or vacationer traveling well paved roads (read, Autobahn), but it would quickly become rolling scrap from our Oregonian roads, if not stripped first within minutes of being parked.

  • avatar
    lzaffuto

    The truth is that 90% of the angry internet men complaining about how inferior FWD is don’t have the driving skills to appreciate the difference. Having RWD doesn’t make you Takumi Fujiwara or Mario Andretti, and you certainly shouldn’t be trying to hone those skills on a public street. At 8/10s and perfect conditions where it is even remotely safe to drive with enthusiasm off a racetrack, you won’t notice or care that much about the difference between a well sorted FWD, AWD, or RWD car.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Having been to the Telluride/Ouray, Colorado, area, I can vouch for Automatic AWD. The only vehicles moving on US550 there were an Audi Quattro, a Toyota Sienna AWD and a Mercedes 4Matic, all three ahead of me in our 2008 Highlander 4X4 with studded tires. Everything else was either in the ditch or parked alongside the highway.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “The truth is that 90% of the angry internet men complaining about how inferior FWD is don’t have the driving skills to appreciate the difference.”

      I agree and in addition to that:
      The truth is that 90% of the angry internet men complaining about how inferior automatic transmission is don’t have the driving skills to appreciate the difference.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        No, no, no, wsn.

        It has nothing to do with anger. It has to do with hearing people claim ignorant opinions. ; )

        The truth of the matter is that a manual transmission is superior to ANY slushbox because 1) Automatic transmissions are among the most likely components to break, rendering a vehicle inoperable, statistically speaking, and are notoriously expensive to repair/replace, and 2) even with all the progress made in shift point mapping software, fuzzy logic, and other computer and algorithmic inputs, no automatic can come close to matching the sublime shifting that a manual transmission is able to obtain via the eyes-ears-ass inputs routed to the brain which then sends orders, instantaneously to the hand, heel and toe.

        As far as RWD vs FWD, it’s as simple as being pulled versus being pushed (with the latter offering up superior driving dynamics from the nose to the tail).

        Angry internet men only get cross because they have to keep reminding people of these basic laws of the universe.

        So, for those of you who disagree, enjoy your muddy, confuzzled, bucking and kicking latest DSGs (with or without fauxmanual paddle shifters) and that lovely noseheavy feeling when entering anything resembling a true bend (or corner) and under heavy braking. Oh what a feeling.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      I halfway agree with you, but I think it’s a lot safer to powerslide an old rwd car in a wet roundabout at low speeds,than it would be to go so fast in an fwd car as to make the rearend step out…

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Jeez, 2,820 words to justify the S5? Can’t you just admit you bought it because it looks cooler than an M3?

    For a daily driver commodity car with moderate power FWD is fine, but for high power cars and sports cars it is inferior. It is just not as fun.

    That’s why Bentleys and high power Audis are only available with AWD, even though the basic layout allows for FWD.

    Using a longitudinal engined AWD car with a rear torque bias to argue for transverse engined FWD cars is like using a 9-2x to argue for the reliability of Saabs.

    The S5 was, from what I hear, replaced with a Town Car, not a DTS.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I was looking for a car which could handle 160,000 miles over four years. It needed to be reliable, durable, safe, spacious, and easy to repair.

      The DTS failed on counts 1,2, and 5.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        To the extent that you are right about 1,2 and 5, the failures are in large part because the Lincoln is RWD and the Cadillac is FWD.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        That may be… but my concerns regarding the Cadillac centered around:

        0. The Northstar engine and it’s known penchant for suicide by a half-dozen tricky little methods;

        1. GM’s inability to engineer a sound drivetrain or set of axles;

        2. Chinese electronics and J. Ignacio Lopez-style cost-cutting in the parts bin.

        There are plenty of durable front-driven vehicles out there, from the last-gen Yaris to the first-gen Saab 900. I don’t blame FWD for the DeVille’s shortcomings. I blame GM.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        That’s why you go for an Impala 2LT or Lucerne CXL instead of the DTS.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        I don’t know how this got off track into a Donnie Brasco style discussion of Cadillac vs. Lincoln. But, now that we’re there, a 1996 Fleetwood Brougham, in decent condition, is still a better car than a 2011 Town car.

        Back to the subject, it’s one thing to write a contrarian article to show that the “experts” are wrong. It’s another thing to actually put one’s money behind that contrarian claim.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        JB, I agree with you on the DTS. It’s a shame, really, because it really does drive nicely, IMO, in terms of combining a supple ride with a somewhat lively drive train (even if the steering is less than responsive and, worse yet, dead at 12 o’clock).

        The real problem with the DTS is the Northstar, and no matter how many times GM or others claimed it was ‘fixed,’ using long steel head bolts (that have an affinity for stretching at high temps) in a die-cast aluminum head, thus damaging the head bolt threads under overheating conditions, and on top of this, packaging the motor transversely so that the only way to replace said head bolts (all 20 of them – not that this will be an effective fix, given that the threads would be damaged) if (when) the headgasket goes is to remove the entire motor from the engine bay, thus rendering any Northstar with a head gasket issue a throw-a-way item (some people claim they were able to fix the problem by studding the head bolts; good luck and God Bless) = bad idea.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Another niche application for FWD: Demolition derbies. There’s something fascinating about watching a Honda Civic destroy a Chevy Caprice by outmaneuvering it in reverse, and repeatedly ramming its own mangled rear-end into the Caprice’s drive wheels. The winner often looks like a squashed squirrel dragging itself around in the dirt, but it IS the winner.

    PS: An excellent read, Jack.

  • avatar
    DougD

    +1 On an excellent and informative read.

    Hey I’m a mechanical engineer too, geez how many of us can there be? Nice to see a couple of holes poked in the fanboy conventional wisdom. I live in the Eastern Snowbelt, and FWD with winter tires gets me everywhere I need to go. Unlike AWD I might run out of GO slightly before I run out of TURN and STOP, but that’s fine, if conditions are that bad I’ll choose not to travel anyway.

    One more thing, Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist is an excellent book but Twist of the Wrist 2 has the most atrocious writing ever printed.

  • avatar

    Racing a Neon (or Protege) really does teach one a lot. Well, these days we also have MINI.

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    While I’m sure that everything in the article is accurate, or at least partially correct for the sake of argument, its still more fun to push a car than it is to be pulled. Point and shoot! Yang!

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    My experience of FWD and RWD are a ’89 Honda Prelude Si and an ’89 Mazda Miata. Both were excellent cars that could outhandle and outbrake most of what is on the road. Their “personalities” are on opposite ends, but I discovered with both of them that the limits the car could reach were far above what I was comfortable with anyways. Also, both are “slow” by modern car standards, yet are more fun than most of what is on the road now…

    It would be nice if we knew what we really wanted in cars. I think great brakes and stability at highways speeds (which now means up to 90 mph in some places) are two imporant things on the list, but RWD is irrelevant to accomplishing either of these things.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I remember seeing this back in the day, and I still disagree with a lot of it.

    You aren’t giving RWD and apples to apples test, because one doesn’t really exist nowadays (maybe Taurus vs. 300?). Certainly those Porsche’s and M3′s you reference were never designed to be relaxing at highway speeds, but if you had referenced an S class or ever a Genesis sedan? What then? Keep in mind also that most rwd cars you are likely to drive come factory with too wide for winter all seasons on top of their non-relaxing suspension tuning. Putting narrower Blizzaks on an awd BMW makes it every bit as effective as an Audi in the snow, its just that so few do this b/c of BMW’s criminally overpriced run-flat strategy.

    As to the arrowhead…front engine is front engine is front engine. The fact remains that the majority of weight is on the rear wheels while accelerating any car, even at low speeds, the opposite under braking, advantage rwd. Slow speed uphill accelaration is actually rwd’s greatest advantage (snow belt resident). If you want to argue steady state advantages to fwd noseheaviness, keep in mind that very few front engine rwd cars actually have a 50/50 balance anyway, so its not like the choice is ever that stark. In balance, advantage remains rwd.

    I’d give fwd one advantage, starting from a stop in a snowed in parking spot. It’s not much of an advantage though.

    I do agree that fwd cars can be fun on public roads of course (more than awd even)…just not quite as satifying all of the time as rwd. I actually think your awd is the biggest offender as far as oversold drivetrains go.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    I had my 3.2 AWD A3 in the shop and got a FWD 2.0T A3 loaner. The A3 AWD is a pro-active haldex system that *can* transfer 100% of the power to the rear when pushed like if you floor it from a standstill. I hated going from AWD to FWD. Mainly for 2 reasons. A) The weaker 2.0T caused the tires to spin and squeal all the time when pushed, the more powerfull 3.2 with AWD hardly ever squeals and only when THROWN into a corner b) stomping the pedal resulted in me having to fight the stearing wheel as it jerked about. I can stomp the throttle in my AWD 3.2 and stear myself with one finger, no lurching in one direction or the other.

    And a side note about your car color choice for the Audi. I liked it. But I will only ever buy my cars in black. Not for any appearance reason per say, just prefer the lower lidar profile black offers.

    • 0 avatar
      roverv8i

      Agree Frizzlefry. I certainly enjoy flogging my car around the corners but I certainly have a liking for acceleration. Pedal to the metal in FWD that can get out of its own way = spinning tires (yes you may enjoy a good burnout but my objective is to accelerate). It’s to costly to add limited slip even if available. This is a big problem when pulling out for a right turn and you want to accelerate hard. If it is wet then forget about it. If I want to go I want to go and don’t like having to moderate the throttle to avoid this issue. If you have a car with power this is an issue even on the move if your in tight corners. One reason FWD is thought of more as for econo-boxes is that it is much more civilized when there’s a 4 banger under the hood and 3500 pounds or more to pull around. Though not as fun I have much less complaints with a Camry 4 cylinder than a V6. All the extra power is no fun if you can not use it. Plus, it’s fun to leave everyone else behind at the light in the rain. Maybe this is a personal problem of mine but I just don’t understand why more do not voice this particular complaint.

  • avatar
    dude500

    It is possible to have fun on a FWD car. Hint: learn to left-foot brake.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Well written article and a good reminder to the “mom’s basement” crowd that FWD isn’t necessarily the end of the world. It’s too bad Jack had to promote FWD at the expense of RWD to make that point.

    A well executed car can be fun regardless of drivetrain layout. FWD and RWD are different, each with strengths and weaknesses. I prefer wheels that push to wheels that pull, and also enjoy the better balance that a RWD layout allows for. This doesn’t mean I am going to pick a RWD car at all costs though. There is a lot more that goes into a good car.

    Sometimes it is just a subjective decision, not because of a series of bullet points explaining why one layout is “better” than another. In a lot of ways this debate is similar to manual vs automatic transmissions. It is getting pretty tough/impossible to come up with practical reasons why a conventional three-pedal manual is better than a good automatic; however, many people simply find manuals more fun. I realize that with my skill level a manual is probably a performance detriment on most cars, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun working at it. Same goes for RWD vs FWD. FWD might serve someone’s needs better if you evaluate strengths and weaknesses on a spreadsheet, but that doesn’t mean there is no reason for someone to enjoy a RWD car.

    As sportyaccordy basically said, if a car is well designed just enjoy it and don’t worry about which wheels are driven.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    Jack, you neglected to mention that FWD cars also look cooler when doing a burnout, because all you can see is the front bumper. YMMV.

    -James M

  • avatar
    Vracknal

    My two cents:

    Having owned FWD car, an AWD car and a RWD car I think that for small, light vehicles such as hatchbacks front wheel drive works best, it keeps the car light and allows you to fling it about whilst remaining easily controllable. However, when you start moving into heavier saloons and estate cars RWD becomes preferable, mainly because with these larger cars comes larger engines, and with the power to spin the wheels on demand I prefer to use it sliding the car’s tail about, same story with AWD cars of this type. And when you start getting into trucks and off-roaders, AWD/4WD is preferable for obvious reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      kuman

      First time writing here… so pardon my inexperience…i’ll try to learn fast… i promise.

      I have driven plenty of FWD and RWD cars ever since i got my license,

      As far as i can recall, its the interaction between the car and the driver that matters.

      Not all FWDs are created equal, nor all RWDs.

      Some brands have better sorted FWD that drives much better most RWD.

      What makes a car a great thing to drive is how well the car can make the driver feel GOOD.
      what percieved as GOOD is different from person to person.

      Some ppl like sofa smooth ride, some ppl like to feather with the steering wheels, Some ppl just cared how fast it goes.

      I recommend take all kind of review with generous pinch of salt, get out and drive for yourself, see what suits you best.

      What i dislike is being preached about one solution fits all problem. That RWD is the greatest form of motive… bla bla bla.

      Comparing FWD and RWD ON PAPER is like 2 teenagers debating the possibility of pleasures drived from a certain activities, by judging the size of their privates; While they havent actually ever got to use them as it is originally intended.

      On the sideline… When u just want to go as fast as you can, its probably because you’re already late and your girlfriend is furious… at that point whats going through your head would rather be about what other excuse you’ll give to your girlfriend this time for being late and it is very unlikely to be about which wheels drives the car.

      Another thought i would like to share also is about “We often forgot about getting the most of your property”

      My slow poke diesel 2.5L (101HP/260N.m), 5 speed manual, RWD, SUV, it surely would roll if i do 60KPH on a “U” turn, 0-100kph needs planning ahead, redlined at 4500RPM, max possible speed 155KPH.
      I could make it go faster but its too much hassle…

      Here is how i drive, i shifted at 3500 most of the time, 4000 when over taking and redlined it without slightest hesitation whenever i feel necessary… I dont drive like a lunatic, nor i drive like a geezer. Just around 60KPH on the regular road & around 110KPH on the highway. My personal top speed is as fast as my car and the traffic allows me to go. ( Historically : KPH on Peugeot 307 1.6L on public highway)

      I’m driving my car at nearly 80% of its max performance most of the time and some other time to its max… Oh ya, i got 10 km to the liter and its GOOD enough for me.

      Now, talking about your 6000-8000RPM, 200+HP/300N.m and 268KPH, what do you make out of it?

      Thanks

      *NOTE : I should have commented on the main article and not on the reply… Sorry…

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Great article Jack. I wonder if a lot of the enthusiasm for RWD is because it’s what COPS seem to prefer.

  • avatar
    TAP

    @ Highdesertcat: I once attended a rural wedding reception where everyone parked in the farmer’s field.
    After 3 hrs of heavy rain, it was only those driving small, light cars who were able to drive out, regardless of type of drive. The rest were towed out with the tractor.
    I think the total weight of the vehicle is what matters.

    Still think my ’66 Saab 96 tracked best on the highway of any car I ever owned.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Longitudinal engine FWD cars like your Saab get lost in the FWD/RWD debate. At the cost of some packaging and drivetrain efficiency, they often drive significantly better than transverse engine FWD cars. The equal length halfshafts and 50-50 left-right weight balance over the front end reduce torque steer and balance the car. Too bad the only choices now are base Audis and foreign market Subarus.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        They also have more weight right where you don’t want it when it comes time to change direction. There are pros and cons to almost any layout, but I think a transverse FWD platform with equal length half-shafts that are close to horizontal often do a pretty good job of reducing torque steer while giving better transient response than a typical longitudinal engine FWD. There are exceptions, like the Acura Vigor and TL 2.5 with their set back engines and jack shafts running from the transmission to the differential mounted along side the engine, but they add a lot of complexity for some extra steering lock.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      TAP, in my younger years I was an avid Mudder. I used mostly Jeep and IHC Scout vehicles to go careening over the muddy race courses. All of them with huge balloon tires.

      I was always amazed at how some people thought their 4X4 trucks were invincible, go-anywhere vehicles. One day it took two Jeeps to pull an F150 buried in mud up to its axles out of the muck. All three vehicles with 12 wheels a-spinning. Weight matters and so does the size and width of the tires.

      In the case of our most recent trip to Telluride and Ouray, the vehicles in the ditch or parked along the side of the road were of all size and weight classes, both FWD and RWD, some with chains, others with studded tires.

      Most interesting thing I saw there was the management of a hotel scooting around in Subaru Brat vehicles with studded M&S tires helping out stranded motorists on the road, enticing them to stay at the hotel until the weather cleared and the plows could clear the road.

      The three vehicles I was following and our Highlander made it safely over the pass and into Ouray, and beyond. I’ll take 4X4 or AAWD over FWD or RWD, any day.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I love seeing articles like this. Another good one from Baruth.

    I get so tired of the “universal truth” that RWD oversteers and FWD understeers and can’t handle. There are so many factors other than wheels driven that determine the handling of a car: alignment, overall weight distribution, suspension geometry, damping, springing, sway bars, etc, etc, not to mention finding a driving style that matches a given car (and vice versa).

    I’ve had a FWD econobox that oversteered on trailing throttle, and no one ever believed me. I have the memories of sawing at the wheel to correct it, though, as well as of the feeling of getting hot into a curve, countersteering just the right amount and feeling like a rock star as I powered past the apex, probably with a rear wheel cocked in the air.

    Jack makes the important assertion that there is no stopwatch on the street, and how fast you can ultimately go doesn’t matter. What matters to me is the driving experience – the feel you get when you drive the car. For me, like many others, RWD is more fun, at least among the cars I’ve driven. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever come across a FWD that ticks all the right boxes, though. Mk2 VW and Peugeot 205 GTIs, I’m looking in your direction.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    But luxury car owners want to feel different, they want to know that their car is engineered not like common folks fwd car and luxury car buyer appreciates tradition. So its not always about real-world advantages or disadvantages.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I’ve found that most luxury car drivers don’t have a clue what goes on under the sheetmetal. They don’t know how their engine works, or their transmission, and especially not which wheels drive it. Why pay so much for a car if you have to worry about that stuff yourself?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      I live amongst them. They have no idea which end of the car the engine is at. I remember explaining to one neighbor that his mid-1980s Mercedes 300 SE had a straight six. I had to open the hood and show it to him. He was amazed.

      They know the marketing slogans about ultimate driving machines and German engineering, but they have no idea what the slogans refer to. All they really know is what is fashionable, and what is expensive. Their cars a just another way of saying look at how rich I am.

  • avatar
    sfenders

    I’ve been driving my first FWD car for the past five years now, in a region where we do get winter, and I don’t understand at all why everyone says FWD is better in the snow.

    The car is set up to be reasonably well-balanced on dry pavement. On loose gravel, the extra weight at the front gives the front tires much more grip, and I can see the advantage. It tends to oversteer in that condition, but that’s fine with me.

    On packed snow or ice, the weight doesn’t seem to make as much difference as the added energy needed to change the direction of that extra mass, and it is that “understeering pig” in the worst way. So if I go slightly too fast into a corner, instead of the rear sliding a bit but still having steering control, I’ll just go straight off the road. Not an advantage.

    Crawling up a hill at low speed in the snow is not something this particular FWD car is at all good at either, not even as good as the RWD pickup I used to have, although I’ve no idea to what extent that’s just a difference in tires. But there will be weight transfer to the rear if you’re going uphill at constant speed, so I’m skeptical of the idea that there’s any great advantage there.

    There may be some benefit in stability for some types of “emergency handling”, but I wonder how much of that perception comes from the fact that most of the RWD cars you’re thinking of are designed to prioritize other handling characteristics ahead of that, to a greater extent than the average FWD hatchback or even your German luxury AWD sedan.

    FWD isn’t the end of the world, but trying to argue that it’s inherently better is going too far. If it was anyone other than Jack Baruth, I’d guess you were just trying to rationalize the fact that for anything that isn’t marketed as a serious performance car, we’re stuck with it. Since it is JB, I’ll just suspect there might be a bit of willful contrarianism in there.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    My RSX has a beef with the statement that FWD can’t handle. Last track day I was on the ass of every Miata through the twisty parts, and was beating the hell out of a 350Z driver in all but the main straight.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I don’t think anyone is saying FWD CAN’T handle. But there is certainly a limit to how much it CAN handle. All of the cars praised as wonderful examples of FWD handling are all relatively small, relatively light, and relatively low powered by modern standards. Your RSX, my former trio of VW GLIs, Minis, 205GTis and all the other Euro hot hatches are great handling cars. But they are all small and light and low-powered by modern standards. I can tell you from personal experience that a 160hp stock Saab 900T is pretty vice-free, but crank the boost up to about 200hp and you had better have a good grip on the steering wheel when the boost comes on. With modern design, ~200hp is pretty comfortable in a current GTI

      Once you get to a fairly powerful mid-size or larger car, they lose the plot. As I mentioned previously, the current Maxima is probably the poster-child for this. Even with modern safety nannies in place, it has WAY more engine than it has chassis. I am sure that it will get around a nice smooth racetrack in short order, but a RWD Infinity with the same engine will probably be a lot more fun and much less of a handful. The Maxima on a bumpy windy backroad is no fun at all.

      And even for small and light, for pure driving enjoyment, RWD is still the way – the Miata is not FWD, nor is the FR-S. And certainly both Mazda and Toyota know a thing or two about making a FWD car go around corners.

      Jack is just being Jack in this one. That boy should have gone to law school, he’d make a great lawyer.

      • 0 avatar
        chaparral

        I think that since future cars will be significantly smaller, lighter, lower inertia than present ones, that FWD’s advantages can come to the fore for fun-to-drive cars.

        3700 lbs, 300 hp FWD vs 3900 lbs, 300 hp RWD? Yep, give me rear-drive.

        2000 lbs, 125 hp FWD vs 2200 lbs, 125 hp RWD? Harder decision. A ST-class Civic Si with those stats is as much fun to drive as a STS-class Miata with the other stats.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    One thing about FWD vs RWD. You don’t see any youtube videos of some schmuck spinning his SRT4 into his neighbor when showing off. FWD doesn’t get loose under power. If they get loose you mash the throttle to extract your credits from the front and apply to the rear. Of course if you overcooked a corner this just determines which end of the car hits the wall first.

    I would have to agree that for 8.5/10ths and higher driveing, FWD is inherently safer.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I like FWD and RWD for different reasons. Having a Mini and a 3-series in our household allows me to play with both back to back.

    My biggest beef with FWD is the weight transfer on hard acceleration from a stop. It’s easier to engage traction control in the 121 hp 2500 pound Mini on hard acceleration from a standing stop than it is in the 225 hp 3300 pound BMW, especially on wet roads.

    My biggest beef with RWD is that even with decent snow tires, climbing steep icy hills is a sketchy proposition at best. With Blizzaks, the FWD Mini got around amazingly well in all the snow that hit Seattle last month.

  • avatar
    redav

    I really enjoy Jack’s articles on the science of driving. I was especially eager to read this one, since I personally believe many so-called ‘driving enthusiasts’ don’t know half the jack they think they do about such things.

    But to my surprise, it wasn’t about FWD/RWD. It was about something called “grey” which seems to be some sort of British shade of the color gray. But fortunately, after 650 words or so, it started getting good.

  • avatar
    patman

    I’m a believer in RWD but for mass market cars, transverse FWD makes the most sense from just about anyway you look at it.

    The reality is that drivers can’t, don’t or won’t drive hard enough on public streets (on dry roads) to find the limits where drivetrain layout and suspension design really make their differences felt, and even then the margin is small enough that almost nobody is good enough to exploit those differences. In just about any situation, a FWD car is going to be more predictable, stable and thus safer in the hands of the majority of drivers as well as in the hands of the majority of drivers who think they’re better drivers than the majority of drivers.

    Relatedly, manufacturers devolved back to struts and beam axles after a decade of double-wishbones and multilinks ’cause it just doesn’t matter in the real world.

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      Suspension geometry matters a LOT when you’re dealing with modest power, narrow tires, and a demand for a good ride in a short-wheelbase, narrow car.

      Drive a Civic (strut/torsion axle) back-to-back with a Mazda3 (double wishbone/multilink). One of them feels like an old Cavalier. One of them feels like it should cost thirty grand.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        Civics abandoned the torsion beam for a fully independent suspension at all 4 corners in 1988, and had double wishbone front suspension until 2001, when it was dropped in favour of McPherson struts – partially validating patman’s statement of manufacturers reverting back.

        GTIs had torsion beams up until 2005 or so. The Cobalt SS had a torture beam, too, and both were acclaimed for their handling balance (even if certain iterations of the GTI were accused of being too soft for a performance model). I’ve driven a base ’99-era multi-link Focus that handled and gripped more poorly than my well worn torsion-beamed ’92 Jetta.

        When it comes to FWD, fancy-pants rear suspension setups aren’t as important as tuning them correctly.

  • avatar
    wjmark

    Geared motor refers to the speed reducer and motor, the integration of the body. This integration body usually can also be called gear motor or gear motor. It is mainly classified into inline and coaxial types. As for inline helical geared motor, it has two parts, helical in-line reducers and geared motors. They share some features, continuous working inr difficult conditions and durable to use.

    Usually by professional reducer factory assembled by the integration after complete supply. Geared motor widely used steel industry, machinery industry, etc. Make the advantages of gear motor is simplified design, save a space. Speed reducer is through the general motors. Internal combustion engines or other high speed running power through the reducer input shaft of the less number of gear engagement on the output shaft of big gear to achieve the purpose of the slowdown.

  • avatar
    wwest

    This “positive” position of FWD vs RWD, or F/awd vs R/awd, is easily refuted, put to BED with absolute finality.

    But first. Since ~’84 I have been the proud owner of a metallic green, Seafoam green, 1978 Porsche 911 Targa. Some years ago I bought my son a perfect duplicate, VIN separation by only 900.

    He drove it for a year while all the while expressing dissatisfaction with the color, or more correctly the expressed dissatisfaction of his friends. In the end he returned the car and I subsequently gave it to my grand-niece in Fresno.

    My ’78, pictured, is currently on “loan” to my nephew in McCall ID.

    That’s where the picture was taken.

    http://forums.pelicanparts.com/porsche-911-technical-forum/666155-twins.html#post6629809

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      While I’m here . . .

      “This “positive” position of FWD vs RWD, or F/awd vs R/awd, is easily refuted, put to BED with absolute finality.”

      If it’s so easily refuted, then why didn’t you do so?

      Try this: sometime when the highway is a sheet of ice, grab a RWD vehicle – preferably rear-engined – set the cruise at 70 mph, and spend the next few hundred miles completely relaxed, listening to music and drinking coffee, like I do in my FWD car. Then get back to us.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    The dollar theory of tire traction does account for dynamic loads, in the form of loans from one tire to another.


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