FWD vs. RWD. Which is better?

With more and more vehicles shifting to rear wheel drive, is it better than front

wheel drive? Let’s take a look.

Front Wheel Drive

Around since the 1920’s, front wheel drive didn’t catch on with American

until the gas crisis in the 1970’s. As Americans struggled against high fuel prices,

automakers began to seek new ways to increase fuel efficiency. The best way of

course was to reduce the size (and thus the weight) of most vehicles. As Detroit

aimed to make cars smaller, they needed a more efficient layout that would yield

more interior room in a smaller package. Front wheel drive was the solution. By

placing the engine and transaxle in the front, there is no large transmission housing

or driveshaft tunnel running through the passenger compartment. In addition,

engines were positioned transversely to reduce the size of the engine bay. And there

was another advantage as well. With 60% of its weight at the front, 40% at the back,

fwd holds an advantage in slippery conditions such as ice or snow as more weight is

over the drive wheels reducing slip during acceleration. But most of the advantages

end there. As most of the weight in up front, a fwd car is not as well balanced

therefore it doesn’t handle quite as well. Also, as vehicles continue to become more

powerful, front wheel drive becomes more of a liability. Torque steer (when the

steering wheel pulls to one side during acceleration) is a serious issue with many

front wheel drive cars that exceed 250hp. As such, we’ve seen a resurgence in the

popularity of rear wheel drive in more powerful vehicles.

Rear Wheel Drive

Prior to the fuel crises in the 1970’s, rear wheel drive was king. Just about every

vehicle, from economy to luxury, came with rear wheel drive. The shift from rear

wheel drive to front took about a decade. Since the mid eighties, just about every

economy car, family sedan, minivan and even many sport coupes came with front

wheel drive. Luxury marks such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz continued on with rear

wheel drive but eventually moved every vehicle to front wheel drive. Once

again, times have changed. Over the last few years we’ve seen more and more

vehicles (re) introduce rear wheel drive. Why? Well, it simple. As cars become more

powerful it is difficult to have one set of wheels doing the steering and the

accelerating. By having the front wheels do the steering, and the rear wheels driving

the car, you get a better-balanced vehicle. This eliminates torque steer and

improves acceleration. Rear wheel drive offers better weight distribution (much

closer to 50/50 than fwd), which in turn offers more predictable handling. Finally,

with the advent of traction control and stability management systems, the front

wheel drive advantage in slippery conditions has been significantly reduced. More

and more rwd vehicles have the option of AWD as well. If nothing else, this is a

great way for automakers to hedge their bets. Still, some are skeptical of

rear wheel drive. Perhaps they are the victims of clever marketing by Madison Ave.

that tried to get people to fwd and forget all about the virtues rear wheel

drive. They did a great job. Perhaps too good.

Today cars are more powerful yet yield better fuel economy. As such, we can look at

fwd and rwd more objectively. Is one better than the other? Fwd still holds an

advantage in terms of packaging efficiency, offering greater interior room in a

smaller package. Rear wheel drive provides better handling and acceleration and

with the addition of traction control, virtually eliminates the fwd advantage in the

snow. In the end, it depends on what you want from your car. If it’s performance,

you’re looking at rwd. If you’re indifferent, perhaps looking for a small car with

greater interior volume, it’s front wheel drive for you. Over the last 20 years,

technology has improved both layouts, reducing the advantages of fwd to a point

where rwd is a viable option for most people. Ultimately, you’ve got more choice,

and when more choice is offered we all win.

About Nirbhaya 17399 Articles
Nirbhaya has been interested in doing something on his own from the days when he was in college. But, things didn’t favour him in the beginning, and he had to work for others. Later, he finally started Onhike.com as a news portal, and then never looked back. The website is gaining popularity every day. He puts all of his skills into his work and making his dream come true. He covers Tech and General news on this website.