Front Wheel Drive Cars

April 26, 2022

What is front wheel drive

The word says it all: with front-wheel drive, the engine drives the front wheels of the car. Quite simply, the wheels pull the car forward – like a horse’s cart. Very logical, because as the saying goes: you should not put the cart before the horse.

That’s not to say that rear-wheel drive isn’t good at all. In fact, especially sporty and powerful cars – traditionally especially BMW – have the engine in the front and rear-wheel drive. The rare other extreme of the modern front-wheel drive is the rear-engined, rear-wheel drive car. Think of the Smart Fortwo (nowadays only electrically powered) and the Renault Twingo – and some sports cars, such as the Porsche 911.

Advantages of front-wheel drive

In almost all modern cars, the combustion engine is mounted in the front. As a result, the front-wheel drive technology takes up less space in the car and the interior offers proportionally more space. After all, the drivetrain does not run to the rear, but via the shortest route to the front wheels. Therefore, a large transmission tunnel is unnecessary and the bottom plate is almost flat. In addition, the driving characteristics of a front-wheel drive car are particularly ‘user-friendly’ – even in bad weather conditions.

Front-wheel drive stable and good-natured

Front-wheel drives are more stable and react more according to the driver’s expectations. Less adept drivers – the vast majority of motorists – instinctively let go of the gas when they have to swerve unexpectedly. In such a case, a front-wheel drive car clearly reacts more good-natured than a rear-wheel drive car. The first slows down and follows the steered direction, the rear-wheel drive can ‘turn the ass’ in extreme situations, as if the rear wants to overtake the front.

Front-wheel drive and understeer

In principle, a front-wheel drive car mainly wants to go straight, and you notice that when you take a bend (too) quickly. In extreme situations, the car begins to slide over its front wheels to the outside of the bend. The driver is of course startled as soon as he notices this and takes his foot off the gas in a natural reflex. The car slows down and then the front wheels regain grip on the road, so that the car continues the steered route. Exactly as the driver wants and expects.

Does front-wheel drive also have disadvantages?

The technology of front-wheel drive is complex, but that does not matter in practice, because most people are not concerned with car technology at all. What you can experience as a disadvantage is that the front of the car is relatively heavy. This can manifest itself in a little more understeer in fast corners and in very tight corners. The turning circle is also generally somewhat larger than that of a car with rear-wheel drive. Finally, the pulling power of a front-wheel drive car can sometimes be a little more difficult to transfer to the road. Especially when accelerating from a standstill, the nose of the car rises and then the pressure on the front tires is reduced. This can cause the front wheels to spin (spin) and lose traction. Today, however, this problem has been overcome by advanced technology. In general, you can say that the front tires of front-wheel drive cars wear faster, because they have to process the forces of both the steering and the drive.

Preference for front-wheel drive

We already talked about front-wheel drive understeer – that the car wants to go straight and seeks the outside of the corner. The opposite of understeer is – indeed – oversteer. This is inherent in rear-wheel drive cars and is associated with sportiness. It normally doesn’t bother you at all, but you can be surprised, startled and slip backwards around the bend. Experienced and over-enthusiastic drivers really enjoy when they succeed in generating oversteer, whether or not controlled, and to drive ‘right’ through a bend or over a roundabout.

Four-wheel drive cars are largely neutral when cornering, although in extreme cases they are more difficult to turn in and the extra weight of the expensive technology is an important factor when choosing front, four- or rear-wheel drive. But you can in any case say that front-wheel drive is preferred these days. Of course partly because most practical utility and family cars are only available with front-wheel drive. But that is not easy.

From rear-wheel to front-wheel drive

The oldest cars were almost without exception rear-wheel drive, with the engine in the front. This configuration, now regarded as a conventional layout, was obvious: because the front wheels steered the car, it was then still technically impossible to drive it. Although experiments had been done before, the Citroëns 11 CV Traction Avant (meaning ‘front-wheel drive’) and 2 CV and the original Austin/Morris Mini were the cars that ensured the breakthrough of front-wheel drive.

In the fifties and sixties of the last century, many models were marketed with the rear engine and rear-wheel drive (including the Renault 4 CV, NSU, Skoda, Chevrolet Corvair, Porsche and of course the Volkswagen Beetle was a very tough perseverance. ), but the handling of such cars was quite… challenging. Crosswinds painfully exposed the great instability of such cars.

Four-wheel drive has also been on the rise in recent decades. First in off-road vehicles , later in SUVs and increasingly in passenger cars. Many hybrid and electric cars are also four-wheel drive.