Journal: Which Drivetrain Drives You?

Which Drivetrain Drives You?

By Jonathan WC Mills
December 30, 2013
29 comments

Front wheel? Back wheel? All of them together? It’s an eternal debate among consumers, engineers and car enthusiasts.

Front-wheel drive fans point to efficiencies of interior space, traction benefits, and the inherent value of pulling the car behind you. They ignore torque steer. Meanwhile, traditional American enthusiasts prefer the heady feel of rear tires clawing for grip as the front wheels point the intended direction. (The rear-wheel drivers get to make pretty cool burnouts as well.) Finally, there are those sophisticated—and often snow-bound—WRC enthusiasts who will claim the added traction of all-wheel drive makes up for the penalties in steering feel and weight.

It’s a debate that remains waged in the showroom and in some ways, the rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are certainly the drivetrains of the moment.

What do you prefer?

Image Sources: petrolicious.com, petrolicious.com, speedhunters.com

 

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Francois Wenker
Francois Wenker
8 years ago

Front wheels – Golf 1 Cabrio
Back wheels – Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV

Deep
Deep
8 years ago

RWD. Because, BMW.

Amen.

Paul Steel
Paul Steel
8 years ago

My last 4 or 5 cars (including 2 current) have been RWD, in the dry IMHO you just can’t beat the feel of a RWD, but in winter, especially when the snow hits, I’m stuck on the drive and my wife’s Saab gets us around with minimum effort. Horses for courses.

Jeff Stone
Jeff Stone
8 years ago

P J O’Rourke said it best:

Some say a front-engined car; some say a rear-engined car. I say a rented car. Nothing handles better than a rented car. You can go faster, turn corners sharper, and put the transmission into reverse while going forward at a higher rate of speed in a rented car than in any other kind. You can also park without looking, and can use the trunk as an ice chest. Another thing about a rented car is that it’s an all-terrain vehicle. Mud, snow, water, woods – you can take a rented car anywhere. True, you can’t always get it back – but that’s not your problem, is it?

Kris Willis
Kris Willis
8 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Stone

This is golden.

Jono51
Jono51
8 years ago

On balance I’d go with rear drive (pun intended). Front drive can also be a lot of fun in a small car, and I have fond memories of an early 90s Honda Civic that could be persuaded to 4 wheel drift out of slow corners, but that required you to get the car unbalanced first. Rear drive handling has always felt more intuitive to me. AWD I don’t have a lot of experience with, but what I have had has convinced me that it takes all the fun out of driving on unsealed roads at normal speeds 🙂

BiTurbo228
BiTurbo228
8 years ago

I honestly couldn’t care less so long as a car has soul.

Xander Cesari
Xander Cesari
8 years ago

I had driven exclusively RWD until my Saab SPG. Though I love the Saab as a daily and winter car, it really highlighted by RWD is so often preferred. You drive the Saab from your shoulders, you drive my Alfa (GTV6) from your hips.

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman
8 years ago

offroad & sports car should not be used in the same sentence …
🙁
those with long memories will remember the awd craze in the 80s when every manufacturer was coming out with oft-half baked 4wd versions of their cars. autocar uk compared most of them to their 2wd counterparts and found all were wanting.
😉

Frantisek Simon
Frantisek Simon
8 years ago

RWD for me, please.

Hayden
Hayden
8 years ago

I’m sporting the mid-rear layout in my 89′ MR2… It’s about as unconventional as kosher pork; but, when all your weight and inertia is between the axels, the car tends to balance itself in a good drift. And nothing flatters the ego more than a good confident drift.
Keep in mind that this has no abs, traction control, power steering, trick diff, airbags, stability control… no assists or safety features whatsoever, and yet it feels safe and at home when sideways.

Jake Williams
Jake Williams
8 years ago

I would have to say it’s very situational. In terms of off-roadness, AWD is almost necessary for sports car.

For general fun, RWD is awesome in terms of ability, style, and in many ways, actual handling.

I only see FWD cars as being economical and efficient. When’s the last time you saw a FWD supercar or even serious sports car? Not knocking FWD, it’s very capable, but it is less special.

Kris Willis
Kris Willis
8 years ago
Reply to  Jake Williams

In general I agree with you about FWD cars, excluding the current Focus ST. I haven’t driven but all I’m hearing is that it’s one of the better FWD cars on the market when it comes to eliminating torque steer. Overall I see it as efficient, not excluding the fact that it has the lowest amount of drivetrain power loss.

I drive an A4 Quattro and while it’s a mite heavier and loses more power after the crank, she grips the corners like a champ and has never left me feeling out of control going around a bend. For me, AWD wins by a hair for a daily driver, but sports car I’d be more tempted to go RWD.

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman
8 years ago

i don’t mind rwd, fwd, awd

as long as it isn’t one of those half-assed haldex type part-time awd transmissions !

Jon Warshawsky
Jon Warshawsky
8 years ago

Mid-engined, rear wheel drive seems to be the correct answer for internal combustion engines for cars on dry pavement. Anything else is a compromise based on luggage space, seating capacity, winter driving, etc.

I currently have an Audi TT with quattro, though, and for a real driving in real weather I can’t imagine a better car right now.

With the onslaught of electrics, though, I would guess that any-wheel/as-needed drive will make the question moot.

transaxle73
transaxle73
8 years ago

RWD of course, but transaxle system is better!

D Levesque
D Levesque
8 years ago

Front or rear, as long as it has a straight eight attached, I want to buy it.

Peter Sente
Peter Sente
8 years ago

I also think that generally speaking the drivetrain itself doesn’t really matter. What is important to me is how all the components of a car work together (like gas response, steering feel and precision, etc.). I drive a FWD Alfa Romeo, which can feel a bit heavy iin the nose at some points. But thanks to the passive steering of the back wheels (and of course the overall set up of the car), the front doesn’t bury itself in the road in tight corners and the car goes around them like few other FWD cars do!

BiTurbo228
BiTurbo228
8 years ago
Reply to  Peter Sente

FWD Alfa Romeo? Passive rear steer? It’s not a 156 perchance?

If so, I can vouch for the quality of the setup. Very entertaining car to drive. A bit soft for the V6 version in stock format, but a set of GTA ARBs has perked mine right up 🙂

David P
David P
8 years ago

I don’t stress about it like some, and if you prefer FWD then good for you. I certainly find you can take lots more liberties and relax the brain a little.

But, if you want a backside like this,
[IMG]http://i1106.photobucket.com/albums/h362/Dr_Nookey/P1040793-1.jpg[/IMG]

you need RWD….

Kyle Hamilton
Kyle Hamilton
8 years ago

I believe that it is the overall package that is whats important. That being said if I could have my pick… AWD with rear wheel bias. 😀

Tim Beazley
Tim Beazley
8 years ago

I have a pretty standard ’63 Morris Mini. It’s such a master stroke that the excellent packaging and fwd layout not only made one of the roomiest small cars, but also a dynamite handler and the low ride height accentuates the feeling of speed (which is good because it doesn’t have much).

It’s slow, loud and bumpy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!

Zachary Simard
Zachary Simard
8 years ago

I also agree that the overall car is more important. However, it is also important to consider what the vehicle is being used for. For example, I live in Canada (there is about 4 ft of snow on the ground right now) so I prefer all wheel or front wheel. However, for a car that I use on a track-or for driving for pleasure-I prefer a rear wheel drive for the simplicity of work and modification.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
8 years ago

Rear wheel drive for me. Specifically front engined rear wheel drive with the gearbox mounted on a transaxle at the rear for optimum weight distribution.

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram
8 years ago

I’d agree with the other commenters here – ultimately, drivetrain doesn’t matter so much. I often err towards rear-wheel drive, before realising that some of my favourite cars – Saab 96, Alfasud, Peugeot 205 GTI, and many more – are front-drive.

Like other aspects of classics, such as engine layout, gearshifts, sound, interior details and exterior styling, there are too many facets to a car to be able to pick on drivetrain preference alone.

Bertram Wooster
Bertram Wooster
8 years ago

To paraphrase E.H. Carr, consider the source. Looking in my Northern California (no snow, great roads, lots of opportunity for track time, autocrosses, club events, etc.) garage, I’m seeing only rear-wheel drive! I do love me some hot hatch, though, I just don’t happen to have one right now.

Johnny Breinholt
Johnny Breinholt
8 years ago

Hi guys,
I drive one FWD (SEAT Leon, year 2009), one AWD (AUDI TT Quattro, year 2002) and one RWD (FIAT 500, year 1969). An European cocktail of Spanish, German and Italian.
Thank you Petrolicious for giving us this wonderful place to fuel our sweet classic dreams 🙂
johnny b

Balazs Barna
Balazs Barna
8 years ago

In a vintage car it’s mostly just cruising in a car that you love, so drivetrain doesn’t matter. But when you want to have real fun, I think RWD is the real thing.

Future Doc
Future Doc
8 years ago
Reply to  Balazs Barna

Agree, it does not matter (in a way)… it is more about the overall package. A RWD Mk1 GTI just would not be the same. It is about the character of the car and often that reflects the drive-train… but the drive-train does not dominate the “soul” of the car.