Front Wheel Drive VS Rear Wheel Drive (with four wheel drive for good measure)

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In this month’s blog we will delve into the topic that divides car enthusiasts the world over: front wheel drive VS rear wheel drive! This never-ending debate can drive a wedge between friends and in my experience creates sub groups in pretty much every car club in the country: front wheel drive VS rear wheel drive. Everybody has their preference and opinions and once a side is picked drivers will defend their clan with more vigour than if someone insulted their mother! That being said…what exactly are the pros and cons of front wheel drive VS rear wheel drive?

Front Wheel Drive 

Let’s start where most of us start. Front wheel drive. This set up is the cheapest to manufacture and therefore the cheapest to buy hence why most of the cars we all start off in are front wheel drive. I am deliberately refraining from explaining what “front wheel drive” means as firstly it is 100% self-explanatory and secondarily if you don’t know then why on earth you are reading these blog’s is beyond me.

With the power the engine produces only having to travel a short distance to the front wheels some will argue this over tasks the front wheels as their main focus should be steering. The rear wheels simply stop its arse from dragging along the floor. Now I know I sound disparaging and I will admit this drive set up is my least favourite, I have had some amazing fun in front wheel drive cars. I am not talking about cars with all these modern clever diffs and “drift” buttons. I am talking about old Minis, Peugeot 205 GTIs, Renault 5 turbos etc etc. All these heroic icons are front wheel drive and the fun needle is bouncing of “MAX”! So, lets not turn our noses up here…

Yes, front wheel drive is lacking in the skill requirement compared to rear drive but so what. Is this a competition or do we drive because we love to? I think sadly sometimes people lose sight of this and get lost in the competition of it all. I see you’re 350BHP and top you with my 380 and on and on it goes. Dull and pointless. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes 150BHP in a little hatch back on a track day is more fun that massive power. You can use everything the machine has to offer and really push the limits without death being the consequence! This can’t be said if you climb the food chain far enough. Understeer is the main criticism and there is no getting away from it. There’s no real defence either. If you go into a corner too hot the front tyres wont handle dispensing power and cornering making the apex visible only through binoculars. 

So, in summary: yes, it’s flawed but so what? It’s cheap and you can’t get in too much trouble if your bravery exceeds your skill…which is always a bonus.

Front Wheel Drive Summary:

  • Cheapest to manufacture
  • Cheapest to buy
  • Provides a “push” motion
  • The front wheels provide power and steering

Rear Wheel Drive

This drive system takes your flaws and lays them out before you. If you have owned a rear wheel drive car and you haven’t ended up facing the wrong way, then it was wasted on you. The learning curve when you progress to a rear drive can be steep but isn’t that what you want from a hobby? Don’t you want to be pushed, to learn, fail, learn again?

Real wheel drive provides balance – that really is the key word here. The front wheels are doing the steering and the push from the back gives a car balance without over tasking one axle over the other. The physicists out there will ramble on about how pushing is better than pulling…i’ve never really understood that but I am sure they are right. If you think about the forces at play when a car launches all the weight is over the rear axle so that explains why rear driven cars launch better than front. Naturally the launch is where four-wheel drive cars have the advantage though. Their 0-60s will normally win at Top Trumps (until the transfer box explodes).

Rear Wheel Drive Summary:

  • Rear wheel drive provides balance
  • The front wheels steer while the rear wheels provide power

Four Wheel Drive

Next, four-wheel drive. Many believe this is the holy grail of grip, feel, safety and driver involvement. I personally think they could well be right! This is where technology plays a huge part both mechanically and electronically. 2020 cars now have so many computers managing grip and power distribution along with differentials making thousands of decisions for us a second it really is astounding. I can go too far however. There is a very strong argument here that an educated chimp could do a ten-minute lap around the Nurburgring in a new Nissan GTR. Hey, if they can get into space…hold my bananas…

Modern four-wheel drive systems can vary power front to back and left to right resulting in the driver having their cake and shoving it into their faces at 90+ mph. They get 50/50 power split on twisty roads providing maximum grip but then on a run the car will become predominantly rear drive to save fuel. All clever stuff! The purists will say it takes away from the “raw experience” and to be the devil’s advocate I am not saying they are wrong. 

Do they however go home and watch their black and white tvs while doing their tax returns on an abacus? No. So like all things a happy medium seems logical. Nobody wans to feel they are a passenger to a NASA rocket on four driven wheels, but we do want that cosy guardian angel looking out for us. I can honestly say there have been many times when I know the wizards under the bonnet have saved me and my feet bouncing like drummer’s feet on bass pedals tells me as much! 

Four-wheel drive cars are hugely impressive and provide Go – Kart handling so who can fault it? Not me. 

Four Wheel Drive Summary

  • Hugely influenced by modern technology
  • Power and grip is automatically balanced across all four wheels
  • Largely considered the safest

I am sure, like me you all have your allegiances and that is a good thing. How dull would it be without variety and if we all agreed? Where would the slurred pub duals between friends be about why their choice is the best? I would hate to lose that, and I hope we never do. So, to recap! Front wheel drive VS rear wheel drive? I’d go four wheel personally…

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