All-wheel-drive is the future of performance cars.
When discussing our dream cars with high school friends, my allegiance was firmly in the Audi corner - my mom had one and I thought they built the coolest looking cars at the time - but my friends were adamant that BMW M cars and Mercedes AMG models were better because they used rear-wheel-drive instead of all-wheel-drive. "You can't powerslide an Audi," my friends exclaimed. To which I replied, "who cares?"
Since we collected most of our car opinions by watching Jeremy Clarkson slide around the Top Gear test track, you can see why my friends placed such an emphasis on how well a car slides. As it turns out, Clarkson's criteria for a good car doesn't really match opinion the general population. Mercedes-AMG has just announced its future models will all feature AWD and I finally feel vindicated.
This AMG news comes after BMW has already introduced its own AWD system on several M models, with plans to do the same on the next-generation M3. Mercedes-AMG boss Tobias Moers cited several reasons for the change including safety and stability. When the company offered a choice of RWD and AWD on the E63, over 90% of customers opted for AWD. As luxury performance cars continue to offer more and more power, it is becoming increasingly difficult to use them on the road, making RWD less viable.
When we recently tested the 2019 Mercedes E63, for example, we cautioned against using the built-in 'Drift Mode' unless conditions were perfect and the roads were clear. Drift mode shuts off the 4Matic AWD system, making the E63 RWD only and deactivating the traction and stability controls. In other words, hold on for dear life.
The M Division's version of xDrive has a similar feature, which can turn the M5 into a purely RWD vehicle while leaving on the traction control. When you've got over 600 horsepower going out to the rear wheels, it's nice to have some electronic assistance. Since automakers have now figured out a way to give people the ability to slide the car when they want, while not having to worry about losing control during normal driving, it seems like the reasons for having a RWD performance sedan are minimal.
Audi is the only one of the three German automakers to not offer a 'RWD mode' because its cars are mostly based on FWD platforms (with the exception of the R8). The smaller cars, like the S3 and RS3, use a Haldex AWD system, which operates as FWD until it detects slip. Even the larger cars like the RS7 are biased more towards the front wheels than rivals from M and AMG, meaning they are more challenging to slide on-demand.
So while M and AMG may have surged ahead in terms of offering the best of both worlds with RWD and AWD modes, Audi realized that AWD was the future of performance much sooner. AWD performance cars are able to produce much better 0-60 mph times and can do so easily with launch control. This is why Audi's performance models were always much quicker off the line and I could use 0-60 times to help win arguments. Although it's debatable which automaker now builds the best performance AWD system, I feel happy knowing I can finally rub this news in the faces of my high school friends. I was right about AWD and so was Audi.