Winter Is Only Solidifying My Desire to Drive Rear-Wheel-Drive Cars for the Rest of Time

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
winter is only solidifying my desire to drive rear wheel drive cars for the rest of

I’m beginning to worry that many vehicles I once fervently desired to own will never again appear on my shortlist of possible daily drivers.

These vehicles, from the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Fiesta ST to the Audi S4 and Porsche Macan and numerous others in between, possess one of two common traits. Their internal combustion engines send power either to the front or all four wheels.

I don’t want to be that guy; I don’t want there to be any hint of sounding like this. You know the kind of guy I’m talking about: a real, living, breathing version of the 14-year-old forum addict who, never having driven any car of any kind, suffers all manner of teenage angst over the very notion that BMW sells all-wheel-drive M cars while scolding Ford for emasculating the Mustang GT350R with electronic aids.

But a hard-hitting winter manifested itself early on Prince Edward Island, and I’m worried that the fun quotient exhibited by a 2013 Scion FR-S could never be replicated by a front or all-wheel-drive car.

Who’d’ve thunk that winter, a snowy and bitterly cold early winter at that, would be the event that (potentially) precipitates long-term FR-S ownership?

It’s not as though I acquired a low-mileage 2013 FR-S with the intention of holding onto it until my children grew old enough to drive it, as I did with a 2004 Miata that I sold 13 months after buying it. Recognizing my personal shortcomings and scanning past purchases – the 13-month Miata, the 3-year Honda Odyssey, the 3-year Kia Sorento, a 2-week Honda Civic many moons ago – made me realize the FR-S would likely hang around for a bit and then depart in favor of something different.

As summer turned to fall, with below-average temperatures and rainfall totals that made the Island’s potato harvest a nightmare, miserable weather made me appreciate the Miata/FR-S switch.

Then, seemingly in a moment, the bizarrely wet autumn that turned everything to muck became a frigid winter that turned everything to frozen tundra. A quick switch to winter tires allowed me to beat the snow by a couple of hours, and then I was ushered into the unknown.

Oh, it wasn’t completely unknown. I’d driven plenty of rear-wheel-drive cars in the winter, including a fun week of icy roads in a 2015 Ford Mustang. But I’d never lived with a rear-wheel-drive car in the winter, let alone a tail-happy 2+2 drifter like the FR-S. I’d yet to fully experience a proper PEI winter, either, as the winter of 2017/2018 was pitifully light on snow (or dirt, as many Islanders call it.)

Yet here we are in late 2018 with multiple significant snowfalls, temperatures cool enough to leave some less-travelled roads partially covered in snow and ice, and no sign of abatement. Far from letting me down or sending me sideways through every intersection (unless so desired) the FR-S simply highlights the benefits of balance. Officially, the Toyobarus are 53/47 cars – that’s 53 percent of the weight on the front; 47 on the rear.

But there’s more to balance than a pair of numbers on a spec sheet. Balance also relates to ride quality that’s on the tolerable side of stiff, steering that’s accurate and perfectly weighted, a reasonably well-modulated throttle, and to a friendly clutch and short-throw shifter that make unexpected gear changes uneventful.

This is not to suggest that I can blast through drifts like a 4Runner, nor do I expect to drive home from work when accumulations, well, accumulate faster than expected. That’s what coworkers with ride height are for. In all other scenarios, however, my right foot is the controller of how much traction I want to possess. And yes, on the right road or in the right parking lot, I often wish to break traction, and I wish to do so all evening. That is one of the benefits of balance.

Balance, of course, is not something that goes hand-in-hand with every jacked-up pickup truck, the truck that’s too often driven by an individual who doesn’t recognize that multiple extra car lengths are required to come to a halt and that the truck’s centre of gravity is miles high. Nor is balance the first word that comes to mind for Ford Escapes, shod in all-season rubber, that can’t climb the hill out of Hunter River.

“But it’s an all-wheel-drive ess-you-vee!”

To be fair to my old vehicular wishlists, stuffed with fun front and all-wheel-drive vehicles, it is only November. For all I know, and against all odds, this winter could turn into a copy of 2014/2015, when roads near my current homestead were often impassable, to say the least. I could live to regret this commitment I’ve made to a low-slung rear-wheel-drive sports car.

Or, if the prevailing sensations predominate, the FR-S will be second in an unending line of RWD daily drivers.

Hot hatches? Fuggedaboutem. S-badged Audis? Who needs ’em. Hi-po SUVs? Perish the thought.

[Images: Timothy Cain/TTAC]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram. No, the pictured tracks from 11.18.2018 were not created by the FR-S.

Join the conversation
2 of 51 comments
  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Nov 27, 2018

    Having had 3 RWD sports sedans prior to now, I was a firm believer in RWD/winter tires, but the past 4 winters have been so mild in KC, that those said winter tires would have turned to goo by Jan 1.I felt that my supercharged zhp and G37S were probably just as dangerous on X-ices or blizzaks at 60 degrees,as on all seasons in a snow storm. We just had the largest snow fall this past weekend in at least 3 years.Probably 5 inches or so. But the kicker is that it was over a 1/4 inch layer of ice, which we all know winter tires really don't help that much.The day before it was 62 degrees F, I saw a 458, F type R, and a bunch of P cars stretching their legs. Maybe I just cursed the metro for the next decade , with a 3feet of snow a winter but it just seems like it's just not that bad here. When I get to buy another RWD car, I'm leaving summer tires on them year round . I'll just take the AWD Sienna.

  • DelsFan DelsFan on Oct 12, 2019

    Years ago, having moved from overseas to Central Illinois, I was thinking about an A6 quattro as my next sedan. Until I purchased a set of Continental Xtreme Winter Contacts for my (then) wife's RWD (strike?) 6-speed (strike two?) Mercedes C230 Sport. WAIT!, her winter performance was spectacular, she could literally run circles around SUVs with the wrong (all-season) tires. Plus, ride noise and comfort were still 90% as good as with her Pilot Sport A/S "regular" tires! If she was not pushing fresh snow with her spoiler, she could drive anywhere. Happily, I wound up with a RWD 5-series BMW instead - a set of factory wheels off ebay and a set of Michelin X-ice winter tires and my performance on snow (and/or ice) was the same. Would you tell a guy running slicks in the summer (were it legal): "A FWD car will accelerate better in the wet (notwithstanding that cornering and braking will be crap no matter what) so you'll be better off with a FWD car since you are running slick tires?" Then why use the same reasoning with FWD cars/SUVs running all-season tires in the winter? I'd rate the winter performance of a RWD car shod with all season tires about 2 out of 10, but with the all-conquering FWD car I'd suggest a rating of around... 2.5 out of ten. If conditions are not too bad, you can get started a little better with the FWD car, but braking and cornering will still be abysmal. Compare that with the 6-speed RWD Mercedes with winter tires which I'd rate at about 8 out of 10. Talk to any northerner with a sedan (with winter tires) and an SUV and ask them which car they'd take out after 2" of fresh snow. They'll all tell you their SUV with all-season tires is worthless compared to their sedan. I believe Tire Rack has a video of two BMWs stopping from 50 mph in light snow, one with winter tires and one with all seasons. Of course the BMW with the winter tires stops in about half the distance, but what is shocking is to watch the all-season tired BMW pass his motionless counterpart still traveling at 25 mph! In Germany, after November all cars on the road (including complete fleets of rental cars) are required to run winter tires - that is how much difference they make. The only reason we have torque steering vehicles that handle like a pig now is because of Congressional mandates to meed unrealistic CAFE regulations - so saving 100lbs and producing a car no one who knows or cares would want to drive is a last resort. Notice that Subaru's sales are up year after year - at least their vehicles in the dry, which is 90% of my driving, have 40% torque NOT going to the tires I'm trying to steer with. The Outback (for example) isn't a superior vehicle, but I'm also not paying $50K for an SUV that is a dog to drive! (My mom and two sisters bought Outbacks two years ago - three Outbacks in two months! Mostly because they are decent cars, reasonably priced, and there were no RWD alternatives.)

  • Del My father bought GM cars in the 60's, but in 1971 he gave me a used Datsun (as they were called back then), and I'm now in my 70's and am happy to say that GM has been absent from my entire adult life. This article makes me gladder than ever.
  • TheEndlessEnigma That's right GM, just keep adding to that list of reasons why I will never buy your products. This, I think, becomes reason number 69, right after OnStar-Cannot-Be-Disabled-And-It-Comes-Standard-Whether-Or-Not-You-Want-It and Screw-You-American-Car-Buyer-We-Only-Make-Trucks-And-SUVs.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Does this not sound and feel like the dawn of ICE automobiles in the early 20th century, but at double or triple speed speed!!There were a bunch of independent car markers by the late 1910’s. By the mid 20’s, we were dropping down to 10 or 15 producers as Henry was slashing the price of the Model T. The Great Depression hit, and we are down to the big three and several independents. For EVs, Tesla bolted out of the gate, the small three are in a mad dash to keep up. Europe was caught flat footed due to the VW scandal. Lucid, Lordstown, & Rivian are scrambling to up production to generate cash. Now the EV leader has taken a page from the Model T and is slashing prices putting the rest of the EV market in a tail spin. Deja vu……
  • Michael Eck With those mods, I wonder if it's tuned...
  • Mike-NB2 I'm not a Jeep guy, but I really, really like the 1978 Jeep Cherokee 4xe concept.