Myth-Busting: rear-wheel drive is more fun than front-wheel drive?
This is the one that will have purists fist pumping, but is rear-wheel drive more fun than front-wheel drive?
THE ANSWER TO THIS myth, all depends on your definition of fun. If it means balancing a vehicle via the throttle through a corner on the cusp of grip and slip, or if it involves drifting then, yes, a rear-drive car is likely to be more ‘fun’. But it really is a myth that front-wheel drive cars can’t be fun.
Let’s cast our mind back to 1964 when the Mini conquered the Monte Carlo Rally beating out more-powerful rear-drive rivals. At that time, a front drive rally car was a novelty but the Mini excelled on the Monte because of its lightweight and agility. The legend of the Mini as a fun-to-drive, excellent handling machine was born… and it’s a reputation that Mini today trades on. Any and every press release about a new Mini will reference its go-kart-like handling.
Indeed, if you’ve ever piloted a John Cooper Works Mini you’ll know just how much fun a well set-up front-drive car can be. And then there’s the Golf GTi and Peugeot 205 GTi of the 1980s…these two vehicles sparked the hot hatch movement and no-one’s ever accused one of them of not being fun to drive…sure, subsequent generations might have lost their way a bit, but the modern incarnations of the Golf GTi are rippers to drive…in the case of the Pug, it’s the 308 GTi that’s taken over that mantle and it, too, is a great car to drive. And then there’s the DC2 Honda Integra Type R, arguably one of the finest front-driving cars of all time.
The counter argument is that under-steer, the default handling trait of front-drive cars (because it can be hard to get the power to the ground and turn at the same time) is less fun than oversteer. But the former is a whole lot easier to handle for the average driver.
But very few drivers can actually control oversteer…believe me, I’ve watched motoring journalists tasked with oversteering an M5 around a wet corner at Phillip Island (something you can do at just 40km/h) and almost every single one of them has spun it. Similarly watching the same group try and drift an M5 around a course on a wet skid pan…just as the back came out they would either back off and regain traction or pile on the power and spin. The only one who could do it was a bloke who raced in a muscle car series.
Don’t get me wrong, drifting and oversteering can be a whole heap of fun. I’ve done it an X5 on ice (the surface, not the drug) and been a passenger in an M3 on an ice track; it was sideways just about everywhere. But that’s the question…is a rear-drive car more ‘fun’ because you’re walking that fine line between ‘hero’ and picking bits of tree out of your face.
More than that, it’s illegal to drift or oversteer on a public road.
Some will argue that even without drifting or oversteering, vehicles like the MX-5 and Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ make driving fun because they’re an affordable jump into rear-drive motoring with great balance. But I’d argue that neither of those cars will be as quick in the hands of the average driver along a twisting road as, say, a Golf GTi or the new Hyundai i30 N.
Obviously, I haven’t touched on more-power rear-drivers like the Kia Stinger and beyond…but surveys have shown that the vast majority of car owners (and I’m talking more than 80%) don’t know or care which end of their vehicle does the driving.
Personally, I think it’s a dead-set myth that rear-wheel drive cars are more fun than front-wheel drive vehicles. Of course, there are some rear-wheel drive cars that are a hoot to drive just as there are some front-wheel drive cars.
Arguing about rear-drive vs front-drive isn’t the same as whether an automatic is as much fun as a manual…that’s a question to be answered at another time, but one I’m sure you can guess the answer.
I’d love to hear what you think about this topic…do you think a front-drive car can be as much fun as a rear-driver?