Car Advice

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?


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Der0
Der0
2 years ago

Don’t you know though? Keyboard wielding motoring warriors will always tell you that a rear-drive manual-shifting car is the only car that you should be driving otherwise you’re not in possession of enough e-peen to demonstrate your adeptness or authority to being in control of a car!

Maybe 30 or so years ago the run-of-the-mill rear drive car probably handled better than the run-of-the-mill front drive car but today’s day and age, these things have been sorted out and the perceptible differences have all but been ironed out.

Ben Tate
Ben Tate
2 years ago

Isaac. Yes FWDs require a different approach. Trailing throttle oversteer (if available) can be a quick way through a corner in an FWD.

But consider this. RWD is considered the PREMIUM format. Look at the Car Co’s that have made their money selling affordable RWDs … and now their RWD models have an elitist badge and cost up to 50% more! The attitude of many Car Co’s: If you want RWD be prepared to dig deep in your pockets.

FWD is just as good as RWD? Please get back to me when Porsche Ferarri and LAMBborghini (howdy Sam) go FWD. And get back to me when you find a RWD that suffers from torque steer and traction issues that comes anywhere near most FWDs. I am totally unbiased Isaac. My last FWD was the trike I traded in on my first bike at age 6. 😉

I agree with anothet of your points. Not many of us are able to power slide a RWD around a wet tarmac corner. But there’s more of us who are able to power slide a RWD around a gravel corner (not on a public road if course) and that’s a part of the fun of a RWD … for those of us in car clubs with access to off road circuits. And it’s practice on gravel and other slippery surfaces that helps us to cope with a patch of diesel on tarmac (the dang silly bus driver took off from the depot without screwing on the fuel cap) when we encounter it unexpectedly.

Ben Tate
Ben Tate
2 years ago

And anothet thing. Remember the blown Mitsubishi 3.5L V6. A Muttering Rotter of that era wrote somthing like ‘this is bordering on as much power as can be fed through the front wheels.’ I’ve forgotten the flywheel kw count for that car. 220kw?

There are plenty of blown RWD V8 HSVs and tweaked XR6 Turbos that are able to get 400 or more kw’s to the ground without terminal wheel spin.

Theo
Theo
2 years ago

Does it even matter anymore with all the electronic nanny devices which are designed to prevent under and over steer?

Ben Tate
Ben Tate
2 years ago
Reply to  Theo

Theo. I agree. ESC does a wonderful job of preventing us from wrapping ourselves around gum trees. But it kicks in when it detects radical things like wheels spinning at different rpms and yaw. I think that the ESC systems in cars such as the XR6T and SS-V (and others no doubt) allow the rear end to yaw a small amount before they step in to save the day. I don’t think that ESC masks a car’s basic handling traits. A predisposition to understeer shines through.

A fun drivers car is close to neutral and can be encouraged to an amount of “steer from the rear” with the correct amount of throttle (I am NOT talking about opposite lock with smoking tyres). And the ESC systems I have sampled allow that smokeless tyre squealess amount of yaw.

Here’s why some of the cheapie FWD buzz boxes are a pain (IMHO). Without computer smarts they’d suffer from wheel spin and torque steer. And I think that the PCM and other electronic control modules are used to cripple torque until the car reaches 20 kmh. I don’t want a Traction Control Off button to revel in the joys of torque steer and wheel spin. I want a car that gets its power to the ground effectively avoiding the need for nanny cripples. The FWD Hot Hatches may do this well with things like LSD etc. The Subaru WRX shows what can be achieved with AWD.

Alan
Alan
2 years ago

For the 99.9% of drivers who wouldn’t notice the difference, no.

And for that 0.1% who would – in 99% of their driving, I bet it wouldn’t make any difference. Stopped in a traffic jam, edging through peak hour traffic – it is irrelevant.

And since the do-gooder politically-correct types have stopped young drivers experimenting (learning!!) with car control (like drifting) – I can’t see the point.

As I get older – “fun” in a car tends more toward comfort and convenience items.

My demographic would miss a CD player more than RWD. Personally – I’d prefer a 6 speed Manual – but they’re taking them away from us too.

Camsand
Camsand
2 years ago

It’s all in what you do with it. 😉
Peter Brock was known for driving around the cars weakness and using its good bits. Personally I’ve owned mx5, cooper s, golf gti, A3 Quattro Audi, a Gemini wagon and amarok utes, plus a heap of others. The mini and mx5 stand out for laugh out loud fun and the gti (current) is just phenomenal all around. But… they’ve all been fun at some time. The Amorok on a gravel road is a blast. So I subscribe to brocky’s theory. If your a driver, you can have fun in all of them.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober