It's another CarBuzz debate!
The debate between car nuts over front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive isn't a very lively one. Most gearheads prefer RWD, end of story. Or is it? Does front-wheel drive offer some advantages that rear-wheel drive doesn't? Or are we just talking to crazy. To find out we had Gabe Beita-Kiser and Brian Grabianowski take sides and debate the merits of the two layots. Gabe is arguing in favor of front-wheel drive and Brian is keeping it old school and fighting for rear-wheel drive. First up is Gabe fighting for FWD.
There is a reason why front-wheel-drive cars are much more common than rear-wheel-drive vehicles nowadays. It's the same reason why not that many people still hunt with spears and wear animal skin as clothes: People discovered a better way of doing things. Rear-wheel drive is for cars with lazy engineering that haven’t evolved to benefit from all of the positives that FWD provides. We'll admit that the majority of these benefits are practical and not about performance. Cars with FWD usually get better fuel economy due to a lighter powertrain (and therefore a lighter car). These cars are often cheaper to design and build, which leads to cheaper sticker prices. Also, front-wheel drive is known for being able to do well in any sort of weather.
Yes, oversteer is fun but not when you're trying to maintain control on a snowy or wet road. Now in terms of a performance advantage, well...Accelerating in a car that engages only its front wheels is like rabidly pulling back every inch of pavement in front of you as you race to the horizon. That's admittedly about it. However, just because there aren't big advantages to FWD over RWD doesn't mean the disadvantages are major. The one biggie is torque steer. Even with all our technology advances that will forever be a gearhead's biggest grip against FWD. But still, that hasn't stopped cars like the Ford Focus ST and Fiesta ST from becoming hits. Also, has anyone ever heard of the VW Golf STI? The Acura RSX or Honda Prelude?!
Yeah, you can't really drift a front-wheel-drive car or beat a RWD car in a straight sprint. But the compromise in performance is made up in price, both at the dealership and beyond. Like anything in life, front wheel drive is what you make out of it. Remember, if Paul Walker can have the time of his life in a front-drive Mitsubishi Eclipse, then so can you.
Inevitably in the argument of FWD vs. RWD the proponent for RWD is that “it’s just more fun.” While this is a good argument by itself, and frankly should be the end of it, there are better reasons why rear drive is better than front. The simple answer is RWD cars are quicker off the line, because the weight transfer to the back on acceleration means more traction for the rear wheels. There’s an ominous feeling that FWD advocates are going to need a bit more convincing though, so let’s go further. FWD cars tend to understeer, RWD tend to oversteer. Controlled oversteering is drifting, so case closed on that one. Another thing to consider is that all of the fastest cars are RWD. There was that NISMO that competed in Le Mans which was FWD.
If you recall they discontinued that model soon after the season, though. FWD cars can also suffer from a nasty syndrome known as torque steer, which involves the car pulling to one side under heavy acceleration. This is because commonly FWD engines are transversely mounted. Because of the transaxle’s physical dimensions, in order to fit the whole apparatus the engine and transaxle are fitted off to one side of the engine bay. There are two driveshafts, but one shaft is shorter than another, therefore the shorter shaft delivers more torque, and so the torque delivery is uneven between the two wheels. FWD is such a limited, tunnel vision option because rear-wheel drive gives the driver ever more control and flexibility.
It is also less complicated, easier to maintain and fix (everything isn't in one place), and more balanced, because things like torque steer don’t happen. To lightly tailor the immortal words of Bruce Lee, RWD is formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. If you steer a rear-wheel-drive car into a corner it becomes the corner. Rear-drive cars can flow, or crash. Be water. Be rear-wheel drive.