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FWD vs. RWD vs. AWD Whats Best?

February 10, 2020

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Cars drive very differently from one another, this is influenced by a multitude of things such as ride height, suspension stiffness, tires and so on. But the main thing that will make you notice differences in driving behavior will be the drivetrain of your vehicle.

There are 3 types of drivetrain that you will find in cars: All-wheel-drive, four-wheel drive and, front-wheel-drive. There is a bit of a slap fight about which one is the best but like with a lot of things, there is no objective answer. We will be going over these three and what they excel at as well as their cons! 

1. Front-wheel drive 

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This one is relatively common amongst more affordable cars such as the Honda Civic. FWD is when the power of the engine is being delivered to the front wheels. It is the one that is the most controversial; but why is that? You’ll hear a lot of complaints such as 

● They are not fun! 

● So uncool! 

● Not fast enough! 

What is so bad about front-wheel drive? 

Like with the others we will be talking about today, there are cons to FWD and we would rather just get them out of the way first to give a better understanding of why some aren’t so keen on it. For starters, you can say goodbye to drifting and doing donuts. If those are your thing then you are not going to be very happy! 

Understeer and torque steer. 

Another aspect of FWD cars is they are a big victim to understeer. This is when you are trying to turn but it feels like your steering wheel isn’t doing a darn thing. The reason for this happening is due to the front wheels handling both the turning and the power delivery. You can imagine that if you can’t easily get traction you are just going to have your front wheels wheel-spinning while they are turned. 

Another let’s say, unique attribute to FWD is what is known as torque steer. This is when the car will start to veer to the left or right during hard acceleration. This happens due to the transmission being offset which results in the drive shafts being a different size from one another. 

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Weight distribution 

Due to the nature of FWD, you have a lot of weight in the front of car which can be a bit of a challenge for tracking. When you hit a corner at high speeds with all the power of the car going to the front wheels and the fact a lot of mass is also in that area, you get videos of cars flipping over on track day.

Of course, this is a very extreme example but the point runs home that this is something to consider. 

The positives of front-wheel-drive 

Now we move onto the good stuff. There are multiple great things going for FWD such as the fact they do pretty well in rain or snow besides the understeer issues when you lose all traction. You will have an easier time driving FWD all year round in all types of weather as opposed to a RWD vehicle. This will also translate to performance; FWD cars tend to be quite nimble. 

Next, cars using FWD are cheaper to produce due to them being easier to install and fewer parts are needed. Fuel efficiency is also noted which is why a lot of popular, affordable fuel economy cars have FWD. 

2. Rear-wheel drive 

Ah, yes; the most favored drivetrain in the car enthusiast community. RWD is when the power goes to the rear wheels. Tracking, drifting, burnouts, and donuts. This is all done here, it brings different types of driving styles together and is the go-to for many performance-oriented cars. It is a solid foundation for many cars, but is it perfect? 

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Traction is precious. 

You might have seen those videos where a Mustang floors it out of a car meet/dealership and ends up losing control and smashing into something such as another car. Out of all the drivetrains, power control plays the biggest factor here. 

RWD is the exact opposite of FWD and so instead of understeer, you now have oversteer. This is when you slam the throttle, turn the wheel and you are now spinning out. Things can get pretty dicey when you lose traction unintentionally; this is why traction control exists friends! 

In rain and snow, RWD performs the worst for this very reason. Many people who have high-performance RWD vehicles have a “beater car” for winter just so they do not have to deal with the challenge of trying to drive a 400hp pony car through snow. Of course, you definitely can get around fine in those conditions: throw on some winter tires that actually work and maybe some sort of weight in the trunk and you will be fine. 

Superior weight distribution 

The nice thing about RWD cars is the weight is evenly distributed throughout the vehicle. This is due to them having a rear differential and drive shafts as well as the transmission being moved further back. So, instead of everything being in the front with the already heavy engine, the weight can be more balanced due to the components being more spread out. 

This advantage makes RWD a solid choice for performance driving and is why you don’t really see high-end powerhouses using FWD. Rear-wheel drive isn’t the only choice for high-level performance, however; which leads us to AWD. 

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3. All-wheel drive 

We have seen many cars use AWD over the years, from the Subaru WRX, to Audi RS3 all the way to the Lamborghini Aventador. Then, there is the Tesla Model S which has been setting acceleration records for production road cars. Some might argue the purest driving experience is RWD but it is impossible to ignore the advancements AWD has been making. It doesn’t mean AWD is objectively the best, but it has a slew of reasons why you would want to choose it. Even so, there are some things to keep in mind with AWD. 

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Cost and weight 

Since all-wheel drive is the most complicated of the bunch since all 4 wheels get delivered power with each wheel getting a certain amount of power delivery to retain performance depending on what you are doing, it is going to be the most expensive to both manufacture and repair. 

Because of AWD having more going on with it, this adds weight, there are just more components need to support the platform such as more differentials and drive axles as well as a bunch of other things that add up. However, AWD has major tricks up its sleeve to mitigate this. 

Putting power down 

AWD is great for keeping the wheels glued to the road; because all four wheels are working to gain traction, this reduces wheel spin by a pretty significant amount and so things like acceleration and cornering are AWD’s specialty. There is also the fact that AWD is the definitive go-to for driving in the snow, dirt, and rain for this reason. 

In the end 

All three exist together in the same world still for a reason. There are many, many cars to choose from and they come in either of the 3 drivetrains. Different cars serve different purposes and cater to different strengths. It all comes down to what you value the most! 

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