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

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

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 Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram. No, the pictured tracks from 11.18.2018 were not created by the FR-S.

Timothy Cain
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  • 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.)

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.
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