Rear-Wheel Vs Front-Wheel Drive
Very few of us actually know the difference between front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive in terms of what each can offer, but they can have an influence on the cars we buy.
For a long time, rear-wheel cars were the only domestic cars available, until the 60s came along and the first front-wheel drive cars became available to buy to the public. The new configuration became popular as car makers were forced to downsize their vehicles and help meet fuel economy requirements.
Most mainstream cars in today’s market are produced with front-drive systems, although rear-wheel drive is still reserved as the configuration of choice amongst luxury cars and sports cars. By having the engine positioned in the front of a vehicle and a rear-drive, the differential layout balances the vehicle’s weight more evenly between the front and rear axles, generally enabling more precise handling.
Rear-wheel drives accelerate smoother and quicker off the line than front-drive vehicles, since the vehicle’s weight is effectively transferred rearward, over the drive wheels, increasing speed as well as grip.
Rear-drive set ups are not without their flaws. They tend to fish tail easily and more abruptly on slick surfaces, although modern chassis control systems and improved tyre technology have helped minimise these risks.
Front-wheel-drive cars generally fare better under adverse weather conditions, simply because they place more weight directly over the drive wheels. Snow-challenged parking spaces need a car to be pulled rather than pushed to help it successfully dislodge.
Front-drive powerchains are cheaper to build as they combine the engine and transmission into a single unit, and as that unit weighs less, front-drive cars tend to have a better fuel economy than comparable rear-drive models.
Unfortunately, front-drive cars are nose-heavy. This can adversely affect their high-speed cornering and means the turning radius is larger than with most rear-wheel drive cars.
When buying a used car, always assess whether you will benefit more from a rear-wheel or a front-wheel drive before making a purchase.