FWD: It stands for Fun-Wheel Drive. Alright, technically it stands for front-wheel drive, but it’s fun-wheel drive in my mind.
Many car enthusiasts believe that front-wheel drive is some kind of perversion, or built-in compromise that can never be righted, and that rear-wheel drive is the only thing inherently right in the car world.
(All-wheel drive, these hardliners tend to think, is something of a compromise. This often leads to lots of arguing about what’s a ‘real’ AWD system and what’s some FWD+ Haldex nonsense.)
Friends, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Front-wheel drive, as it is normally constructed, is indeed often a compromise. For a car with its engine in the front, it makes sense for packaging reasons to have it send power to the front wheels alone. With the whole drivetrain packaged ahead of the windshield, you leave more room for the cabin, for you, your passengers and all of your stuff. There are no driveshafts or differentials under the seats. Front-wheel drive makes cars neat and tidy.
This is why so many cheap cars, economy cars, family cars are front-wheel drive: space efficiency. And it’s also, I fear, why so many gearheads hate FWD: rear-wheel drive is more normally kept to niche cars, dedicated sports cars and luxury cars. To tell the world that you only like rear-wheel drive cars is a declaration that you think you know better, that you think you’re above a Honda or whatever. You’re a BMW person now.
This is trash. Leaving aside all of the wonderful, surprisingly fast cars in front-wheel drive’s history, your car doesn’t make you who you are.
Now, there is a technical trade-off with front-wheel drive when it comes to how a car handles. The front wheels have to be in charge of both steering and accelerating, and it’s easy for a bad driver to ask too much from the front tires. This is what gives front-wheel drive cars their reputation for terminal understeer. Bend a front-wheel drive car into a corner too fast, lay on the gas, and your front tires will screech in pain, the whole car drifting towards the outside of the corner.
This isn’t front-wheel drive’s fault. Don’t be mad at FWD. Be mad at your bad driving.
I say this because I, too, once felt this way about FWD. That is, until I spent a day at Team O’Neil Rally School and went more sideways in a wrong-wheel drive Ford Fiesta than any other car in my life.
Throw a front-wheel drive car into a corner, either with a sharp lift of the throttle or some adept left-foot braking and the back of the car will slide out. There are plenty of rear-wheel drive fanboys who probably don’t even know that this kind of slide is possible in a front-drive car.
What’s more, once you’re into a slide in a front-wheel drive car, laying on the gas pulls the car straight. It doesn’t feel like holding a slide in a rear-drive car; it feels like some kind of cheat mode. It feels like you’re cheating physics. What you’re really doing is using them to your advantage.
I’ve now spent a reasonably amount of time in a number of different front-wheel drive cars, from other little Fords to vintage Saab rally cars to even hulking V6 Toyota sedans new and old. There’s nothing about front-wheel drive that holds you back from having a good time. The only thing that’s stopping front-wheel drive from being fun-wheel drive is your own prejudices, and probably a lack of experience.
Give front-wheel drive a try if you think it’s impossible to enjoy. Your biases aren’t helping you. Let them go, and practice some left-foot braking, too.