RPMGO answers: Front wheel drive or rear wheel drive – Which is better? | Rpmgo.com

Welcome to another edition of RPMGO answers, our bi-weekly feature in which we tackle various questions or debates from the auto world.

We’ve already revealed the advantages or disadvantages of the manual and automatic transmissions, but now we will take on another spirited debate: front-wheel drive or rear wheel drive – Which is better?

Hit the jump as we reveal to you which is better in unfavorable conditions like snow, mud or rain; which more fun to drive and which is better in the long haul in terms of cost.

Let’s start with a brief mechanics lesson. The engine develops power which it sends through a shaft to any number of wheels. Normally, it’s either to two of them, which vary in terms of position: front or rear, but it can also send to all four of them, at least in regular vehicles (excluding trucks or anything like that).

Front-wheel drive is used when the engine sends its power straight to the wheels in the front of the car, which effectively pull the car along. This is the setup which is most common today in passenger cars, because it is both cheap to implement and provides the most traction, as the weight of both the engine and the secondary systems is right above the driving wheels. The increased tractions means FWD vehicles are better in the snow, mud or rain. A few other advantages include more interior space in the back and overall lower weight, as no differential or drive shaft needs to be added.

But it’s not all honey and milk with front-wheel drive cars, as the engines are usually placed longitudinally, aka from side to side, meaning the car, unless it is unreasonably wide, can’t incorporate bigger capacity units, like V8 ones. That’s why you will only see sportscars with rear-wheel drive systems, or in some cases AWD. Another problem is understeer, which means it takes longer to get around the corner, as the front wheels aren’t only tasked with steering the vehicle, but also powering it, which results in loss of power during cornering maneuvers. This same problem causes torque steer, meaning when you press the accelerator and let go of the wheel, it will jolt into one direction, which adds resistance when you are trying to steer. While the traction may be better in FWD cars, the added weight in front means such cars have problems going up hills, when the car doesn’t need to be pulled, but pushed.

That is why many enthusiasts prefer the rear-wheel drive setup, where the engine sends power to the wheels which effectively push the car forward. Advantages of such a technology involve an even weight distribution, as both the front (due to the engine) and the back (due to the differential and various other systems) weigh almost the same, but is still a bit on the chunky side, as opposed to FWD vehicles. This is also the preferred setup for many sportscars, as it allows for bigger engines to be placed up front, and provide a better feel while going around the track. You should be careful though, as stepping on the gas too hard may cause loss of traction, and oversteer (or drifting) in corners.

While RWD cars are worse in the snow or mud, going up hill is where they shine, or when they tow another vehicle. On dry roads, a RWD offers better acceleration and handling, if the driver is experienced enough and finds a balance between using the throttle and not losing traction. But even though they have a few more advantages than FWD cars, the RWD setup is more expensive to implement, so you’ll only see them on slightly pricier cars and with brands that have a tradition in offering them, like BMW or Mercedes-Benz.

Overall, it comes down to what you want your car to be. Will you use it everyday as a tool in any type of weather, or use it to indulge yourself in some fun. With the proper driving techniques and maintenance though, both setups provide a great experience for the person behind the wheel.

What’s your choice? Share your views in a comment below and check back next week when we’ll tackle all-wheel/four-wheel drive.

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