With more and more vehicles switching to rear-wheel drive, is it better than front-wheel drive?
Wheel drive? We’ll see.
Since the 1920s, front-wheel drive has not caught on with American consumers.
until the gas crisis in the 1970s. As Americans struggled with high fuel prices,
Automakers began looking for new ways to increase fuel efficiency. The best way to
Of course, it was reducing the size (and therefore the weight) of most of the vehicles. Like Detroit
In order to make cars smaller, they needed a more efficient design that would produce
more interior space in a smaller package. Front-wheel drive was the solution. For
placing the engine and transaxle in the front, there is no big gearbox
or transmission shaft tunnel that runs through the passenger compartment. What’s more,
The engines were positioned crosswise to reduce the size of the engine compartment. And there
it was another plus too. With 60% of its weight in the front, 40% in the rear,
fwd has an advantage in slippery conditions like ice or snow as there is more weight
on the drive wheels reducing slip during acceleration. But most of the advantages
finish there. Like most of the weight up front, a front car is not as well balanced.
therefore, it does not handle as well. Also, as vehicles continue to be more
Powerful, front-wheel drive becomes a growing responsibility. Steering torque (when the
steering wheel pulls to the side during acceleration) is a serious problem with many
front-wheel drive cars that exceed 250 hp. As such, we have seen a resurgence in the
popularity of rear-wheel drive in more powerful vehicles.
Rear wheel drive
Before the fuel crisis in the 1970s, rear-wheel drive was king. Almost every
The vehicle, from economy to luxury, came with rear-wheel drive. The change from behind
front-wheel drive took about a decade. Since the mid-eighties, almost everyone
economy car, family sedan, minivan and even many sports coupes came with the front
wheel drive. Luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz continued with the rear.
wheel drive, but Cadillac eventually moved all vehicles to front wheel drive. Ounce
again, times have changed. In recent years we have seen more and more
vehicles (re) introduce rear wheel drive. Why? Well it’s simple. As the cars get more
Powerful it is difficult to have a set of wheels doing the steering and the
throttle. Making the front wheels do the steering and the rear wheels drive
the car, you get a better balanced vehicle. This eliminates torque steering and
improves acceleration. Rear-wheel drive offers better weight distribution (a lot
closer to 50/50 than fwd), which in turn offers more predictable handling. Finally,
With the advent of stability management and traction control systems, the front
The advantage of wheel drive in slippery conditions has been significantly reduced. More
and most rwd vehicles also have the AWD option. If nothing else, this is a
great way for automakers to hedge their bets. However, some consumers are skeptical about
rear wheel drive. Perhaps they are victims of the clever marketing of Madison Ave.
who tried to get people to accept fwd and completely forget about the virtues of the rear wheel
handle. They did a great job. Maybe too good.
Today, cars are more powerful but offer better fuel economy. As such, we can look at
fwd and rwd more objectively. Is one better than the other? Fwd still has a
advantage in terms of packing efficiency, offering more interior space in a
smaller package. Rear-wheel drive provides better handling and acceleration and
With the addition of traction control, it virtually eliminates the advance advantage in the
snow. In the end, it depends on what you want from your car. If it’s about performance,
you are looking at rwd. If you are indifferent, you may be looking for a small car with
greater interior volume, this is the front-wheel drive for you. For the past 20 years,
Technology has improved both designs, reducing the advantages of fwd to a point
where rwd is a viable option for most people. Ultimately, you have more options
And when more options are offered, we all win.