FRONT WHEEL DRIVE vs. REAR WHEEL DRIVE-Real safety or just a security blanket?


There are a few schools of thought about whether a car should be front wheel drive or rear wheel drive. I intend to throw out the highly complicated all wheel drive systems found on some of the world’s better touring cars in this debate.

I will also exclude the very simple Fred Flintstone drive system which ran courtesy of his two good feet.

I’ll concentrate on standard issue front wheel drive in a highly subjective comparison with rear wheel drive based upon my own driving experiences with both systems.

Primarily my vehicles have been rear wheel drive, mostly due to my experience as a Baby Boomer and many years of rear wheel only options.

That and the fact that I like trucks. I live in a part of the world where pick up trucks are standard issue because it is primarily oil and cattle country.

Yeah I know, trucks come in four wheel drive but it’s not really all wheel drive. 4WD in trucks usually just gets you stuck a lot further from help and probably a lot deeper in trouble. I have only owned two wheel drive trucks for this reason.

My first experience behind the wheel of a front wheel drive vehicle was in 1974 when I drove the wheels off a Honda Civic in a high speed testimonial to blatant stupidity mixed with unbalanced teenaged hormones.

The little Civic handled the beating fairly well and I remember that I was basically impressed with the nimble steering and reasonably powerful 4 banger under the hood. Not enough motor to give me a harsh lesson in torque steer, but enough to know I was getting pulled –not pushed in the little rig.

Over the years I’ve driven many more front wheel drives with added features like intercoolers, multi-port injection, superchargers, DOHC and several other reasons why I learned about torque steer with big horsepower.

There is a very practical place for front wheel drive in everyday driving and these days we have many young drivers who know no other system. This new generation of drivers has grown up with the concept and it really works for them.

It only kind of works for me.

I live in an area with crappy winters. The kind of winters that would get polar bears mad at Al Gore for trying to stop global warming.

The beauty of front wheel drive is its ability to navigate through most conditions of ice and snow. Right up to the point where you over-drive the winter conditions and find yourself behind the wheel of a big sled with no steering control.

I’ve found myself in more than one of these situations in a front wheel drive car where the only option is to straighten the front wheels and enjoy the ride into the curb.

Front wheel drive will give you a heightened sense of confidence and that is a good thing for most drivers. However, it offers fewer options when you ultimately lose control.

That is its biggest drawback.

Which brings me to rear wheel drive. Personally I have a better road feel with rear wheel drive in the Dirty Harry “A man’s gotta know his limitations” sense.

I rarely push a rear wheel drive past its break-loose point but, when I do, I believe that my gas pedal will help steer me out of trouble. I’m confident that I share this philosophy with guys like Michael Schumacher and Jimmy Johnson.

They just do it so much better.

The auto racing big leagues all run rear wheel drive rigs. In fact I have little doubt that NASCAR will ever put a stock Focus or Chevy on a track. These cars will pull people nicely down any street on the planet, but they would get buried on a track and they would probably take a few drivers with them.

The power ranges in today’s road rockets are the main reason I prefer rear wheel drive– if you leave out the training wheel options like traction control in either drive system. Front wheel drive wants to run the show too much in basic car control and I still believe that I’m smarter than the car.

Give automotive technology a few more years and I might change my mind when my car beats me at poker…

Jim Sutherland

For more mostly rear wheel drive classci stuff click here…

COMMENTS:BOB”I own a supercharged front wheel drive car. I was sure glad it was this past winter. Getting back to my car after it had been snowing all day catching the DPW off guard and leaving drivers on their own for the drive home. I never got stuck but it took me 5 hours to go 18 miles. The rest of the time I wish Chevrolet would have left the Monte Carlo a rear wheel drive car”.