Front vs. Rear Wheel Drive

| 7 Comments
Over the lion's share of the automobile's history, most cars had an internal-combustion engine in front of the driver powering the wheels in back of him. But the fuel crises of the 1970s changed that. Manufacturers scrambled to save weight to save fuel, and they adopted assorted variations of the front-engine/front-drive layout...

Lately there has been a resurgence of rear-wheel-drive family cars. And, their makers claim better traction and handling than front-drive models, thanks to sophisticated electronics...

Popular mechanics performs a matched-pair experiment on a set of V-4, V-6, and V-8 powered cars:
One in each pair had front-wheel drive, the other rear. We ran them through our normal battery of performance tests. Then, we soaked the track and repeated all the tests to replicate the conditions you would face on a rain-slick road.

The reviewers conclude that computer control has eliminated the expected difference in power and handling between front and real drive:

Neither front-wheel drive nor rear-wheel drive is really better than the other. Today's sophisticated traction and stability control systems are so good they can mask or enhance the true driving dynamics of a vehicle. That said, through most of this test we found the effectiveness of these systems had more to do with a car's performance than which wheels were actually doing the driving.
One could quibble over the sample size of the test--in terms of cars and drivers--and insist that there must be some difference, but that would miss the point. Computers have made the difference between front and rear wheel drive so small that finding its exact level, or range of levels, is a waste of time...

7 Comments

Here is everything you need to know about fwd vs. rwd:

BMW and Mercedes don't make fwd cars.

Despite what Popular Mechanics thinks, you can't really get more than about 220hp to the ground with a fwd car. As cars continue to get more and more hp, fwd will fade and rwd or awd will become more commonplace.

Unless, of course, these high gas prices are here to stay. In that case, expect hp levels to come down and fuel economy to increase. In that case, fwd has an advantage in terms of gas mileage.

I am so tired of the assumption that every red-blooded driver wants to go faster. I want beauty, safety, features, comfort, handling, and economy. I don't want super speed. You guys pushing speed and fast driving are doing America and the world a disservice. Yes, high gas prices are probably here to stay, but even if they are not the environment is here---until we totlally destroy it. I would like a comparison of front and rear wheel drive of cars as normally driven, not race cars on a track.

What is the reason behind not making a pickup with FWD? Less gas consumption when loaded, better handling on a slick surface when empty.

In Europe most pickups are FWD

i have a mitsubishi eclipse spider '03. it has front wheel drive. i must say, this car is very nice. I dont know if it is just the car, but i think it handles better, and has alot more power than most cars i have driven. its prolly just the car, but im just sayin, i like front wheel drive. plus it does good in snow.

Of all the FWD vehicles I've owned/driven, I've experienced more (automatic) transmission failures than w/RWD vehicles. In fact, I haven't had any transmission problems w/RWD vehicles whatsoever - If I ever did, at least the gearboxes (and engines) on RWD vehicles are much easier to change (less labor intensive). I can be back on the road the same day.

If I ever buy a FWD vehicle again, I'll make sure it's a maunal gearbox, but then again, if you want to replace the clutch, you gotta tear out the gearbox on most of them. Sure, FWD's may handle better on slick surfaces and in general, but when something breaks down (engine, transmission, etc) they're a pain in the ass to repair. BTW: My old '89 Cadillac Brougham (RWD) handled the snow surprisingly well - that car was built like a tank!

I've driven a lot of both and in general I prefer the feel and predictablity of RWD. If it comes down to it I'd rather have the back end go and take my chance of catching it than get into heavy understeer and have to lift off and hope. I've just been driving a Merc C220 Coupe for several months and with the ESR turned on it is pretty much impossible to lose the back end anyway. having said that I'm just about to get a FWD Peugot 407 SW. It doesn't handle as well as the merc, a bit twitchy , which I often find with FWD, but I need a family car. They are great in the snow though. If I ever have the dosh to get a decent fun car it will be a RWD.

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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on October 17, 2004 2:40 PM.

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