Front-wheel-drive vs rear-wheel-drive

Front-wheel-drive vs rear-wheel-drive, which one is better? And which one is better suited for you?

May 31, 2018

If you’re in the market for a new car, you may have picked up a motoring magazine, where the writer has imparted 200 precious words describing why the car he or she is writing about, is benefitting from being rear-wheel-drive.

But what does it all mean?

Essentially, front-wheel-drive (often abbreviated to FWD) means that the power from the car’s engine is delivered to the road via the front wheels. And rear-wheel-drive (abbreviated to RWD) means that its power is sent to the rear-wheels.

Front-wheel-drive pros and cons

Pros

  • Cheaper
  • More compact
  • Simpler

Cons

  • Less fun
  • Less powerful engines
  • Usually less-well made cars

Front-wheel-drive cars, think Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Astra, and Nissan Qashqai, all have the engine’s power sent to the front wheels. This means that the engine, at the front, is connected to the front wheels, which negates the use of mechanical components to send power to the rear.

This means that there is more room in the rear seats for occupants. It also makes the car cheaper to make, as there are fewer components involved. An added benefit is that in slippery conditions, like in snow, the weight of the engine over the front wheels means that there is more grip than in a rear-wheel-drive car.

The drawbacks of front-wheel-drive cars tend to be driving focussed. Front-wheel-drive cars essentially ‘pull’ rather than push, which means that they’re generally less fun to drive. They are also inherently nose heavy, as the engine and all the mechanical parts relaying the power are kept in the same location.

Rear-wheel-drive pros and cons

Pros

  • More balanced
  • Can handle more power
  • Usually better-made cars

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Less compact
  • More to go wrong

You might read that rear-wheel-drive cars are more balanced - this is because the engine is at the front, but the power is being sent to the rear. This distributes the vehicle’s weight more evenly between the front and rear of the car.

The rear-wheels-are receiving the power, but aren’t in charge of any of the steering inputs. This means that more power can be sent to the wheels, which is why sports cars, like the Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-type are rear-wheel-drive. Although, both of these are also offered in four-wheel-drive.

Essentially, rear-wheel-drive is better for performance. But it’s also more expensive. Rear-wheel-drive cars from BMW and Mercedes are more expensive than equivalents from Ford and Vauxhall for a number of reasons, but one major reason is this formatting. Incidentally, Ford and Vauxhall mostly use front-wheel-drive, and BMW and Mercedes generally use rear-wheel-drive.

Rear-wheel-drive cars are more prone to oversteer too - which is where the rear wheels try and overtake the front wheels. Rear-wheel-drive cars are by no means unsafe, but it’s something to remember during ‘spirited’ driving.

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