FWD vs. RWD. Which Is Better?
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Posted: Monday, March 27, 2006
by Peter Johnson
There is an endless debate on automotive forums throughout the internet. Which is better Front Wheel Drive (FWD) or Rear Wheel Drive (RWD)? Let's look at each.
Front Wheel Drive
Around since the 1920's, front wheel drive didn't catch on with American consumers 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.
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 Cadillac 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 consumers are skeptical of rear wheel drive. Perhaps they are the victims of clever marketing by Madison Ave. that tried to get people to accept 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.
This Article has been viewed 64,324 times. (Not updated in real-time.)More comments
» left by George 1 year 280 days ago.
FWD is far superior in snow. Not just because of the weight pushing the tire harder onto the road (if that was the case, RWD trucks with weight on the bed would perform similarly). The reason is that an FWD car's tires point to where you want to go. Thrust is on those same tires, resulting in the tires pulling the car along. A RWD vehicle in snow fishtails wildly because the front wheels may be stuck a bit, and the rear wheels have all the power and it can;t direct the power to where it wants to go. I'm speaking from first-hand experience, when I had to go rescue my friend from his truck that was stuck in a few inches of snow in my small FWD sedan. I have driven it in a lot of places where I've seen big RWD trucks/suvs.sports cars stuck and fallen into ditches by the side of the road.» left by Mario from Canada 1 year 244 days ago.
Your example can be applied to both FWD and RWD depending on which wheels are stuck. With this situation there is no single better option. If your rear wheels are stuck than you would be better off with FWD or even AWD, and vice versa applies to when your front wheels are stuck.
In regards to your comment about there being more traction for FWD cars in the snow due to weight; this is correct...but if we are concerning ourselves with traction and handling in which weight distribution plays a key role then consider the point in this article that said "RWD offers better weight distribution (much closer to 50/50 than fwd), which in turn offers more predictable handling".
And just to be fair, I see a fair share of both FWD cars and RWD cars in the ditch. Plus it is more dificult to dicern whether a car is RWD as opposed to which ones are FWD since most RWD cars have AWD models.
» left by Kyle 1 year 275 days ago.
Think about it this way, when you go to push a lawnmower out of your garage, do you push the back, or pull on the front? which is a better way of doing it? pushing on it.» left by Mario from Canada 1 year 244 days ago.
Not really a well thought out analogy. The inference is lacking a key factor from which you have benefited drawing your conclusion; a lawn mower only has a handle on one side and depending on which way it is facing and which way you are intending on going, you may push or pull the mower. If your mower is pushed into the garage so that the mower is facing forward and the handle is at the back you cannot tell me you will walk the mower around and push it when you have the option of just pulling it out. This analogy has no credence regarding this debate.If you are pushing or pulling it, the power is external and not supplied to only two wheels; all wheels are receiving the same power.» left by alex 1 year 176 days ago.
if your inferring that people will actually mow backwards just to prove a point then you sir are semi-retarded have fun with your gas guzzling suv and explain to me how a 190 hp fwd tuner can beat a 250 hp rwd mustang in a race ... makes a ton of sense to me im sure the extra 400 pounds definitely explains everything ... not» left by nonya 1 year 133 days ago.
some people do mow back woard it les work then turning the mower around and i have seen a 190 hp beat a 320 mustang just so you know» left by Azul from east coast 1 year 59 days ago.
When you guys are comparing a fwd tuner (import) to a rwd (american), yes in most cases the import will win because of import is usually half the weight of the american car, also they have a little better acceleration, BUT you are comparing it to a heavy american muscle car. Also, it depends on the driver if they know what they are doing and can launch their car correctly they could still become equal or very close. Mustangs have a lot of torque and are more front heavy. This arguement is one sided and only and you are comparing one rwd car to an array of fwd cars. They both can easily be equals depending on the drivers.
» left by Rob from New Zealand 1 year 175 days ago.
FWD for me. I've driven a lot of different cars in my life FWD and RWD. The snow analogy is of relevance as it shows that ultimate grip when you need it is there in an FWD but not RWD. I live in place where there is no snow, but plenty of mud and loose gravel roads in these conditions FWD beats RWD hands down. AWD is an obvious answer though weight, increased cost and complexity take the fun out of that. Mini's ruled the rally world at one stage between the reign of RWD cars (usually mid mounted) and AWD cars becoming standard. Torque steer is being cured with technology just like technology is used for traction control on RWD.
» left by Jon from U.S 1 year 162 days ago.
all i can say living in a state where we have snow 4-6 months of the year, RWD's are a pain. i'm sure they're nice in place where it doesn't snow, but if you have strict RWD that doesn't have 4WD it's no fun driving here. if you can manage with one that's great, but it's still a pain.
» left by Roc from Rochester, NY 357 days 15 hours ago.
In my experience the RWD, sucks in the rain, I have a crossfire and yes it's super fast and powerful! Who care abt speed when the speed limit is 55-65 mph. I did a 360 when there was only 1/4 of a inch of snow! That sucker would not even make it in the garage!!! Everyone knw that FWD is better in all road conditions! Vehicles with both FWD and AWD are a pain! My suv that is RWD get stuck in 2 inches of snow. Then I have to waste time switching it to AWD. AWD is a gas guzzler! Who compares lawn mowers to vehicles!!! Hell lets compare camels to donkeys! Which one is faster!!!
» left by Damian 348 days 13 hours ago.
If you dirve your car like a grown-up the "FWD vs RWD which is better?" question is irrelevant. If your car is a toy that you want to play with on public roads perhaps this is a question you need to consider. In which case you should also ask yourself another question: "Am I mature enough to be using a vehicle on public roads where I risk not only myself but others?"
» left by Mark from Puerto Rico 347 days 14 hours ago.
If you're looking for the closest 50/50 weight distribution for superb handling try mid engine cars like a Lotus Elise or the Toyota Mr2 ( AKA as the poor man's Ferrari )
» left by Mark from Puerto Rico 347 days 14 hours ago.
If you're looking for the closest 50/50 weight distribution for superb handling try mid engine cars like a Lotus Elise or the Toyota Mr2 ( AKA as the poor man's Ferrari ) I forgot to mention both these cars are two seaters and are rear wheel drive. The engine is fitted between the seats and the trunk (boot).
» left by unkn0wn 341 days 15 hours ago.
Those two vehicles that you mentioned are not close enough. The Mazda Miata is a front engine RWD 2 seater convertible, that has a perfect 50/50 handling ratio. Also, the MR2 is not as forgiving around the corners as the Miata.
» left by Lane 183 days 9 hours ago.
I mob a Mini Cooper everywhere. Your arguements are invalid.