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All-wheel drive, front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, you've heard of these terms, but do you know how they affect you as a driver, and which is for you?
Category: Car Technical Advice
Unlike the pull-back toy cars that you had when you were a kid, cars aren't all driven by their rear pair of wheels. Different drivetrain configurations can be found on different types of cars, and each resulting in vast differences to how the car drives.
Did you wonder why so many people were kicking up a huge fuss when BMW introduced front-wheel drive cars to its lineup? Did you scratch your head when the salesperson at the showroom was telling you how the all-wheel drive system on that SUV is what you need? Fret not, here's what you need to know about the different drivetrains and how it will affect you.
Front-wheel drive (FWD)
Contrary to what you might assume, front-wheel drive cars are likely to be the most common drivetrain. While in the past, most cars are rear-wheel driven, the introduction of the transversely mounted engine and the transaxle up front, signalled the shift to front-wheel drive for most economy cars.
The front-engine, front-wheel drive layout removes the need for a bulky transmission tunnel and rear differential - the complicated bits are kept to the engine bay area, allowing a spacious cabin with a relatively flat floor.
Front-wheel driven cars are also favoured for its easy handling characteristics. As the front powered wheels pulls the car along, in the instance where the car loses traction, it will be less likely to spin out of control as it will naturally understeer.
However, tasking the front wheels with both the steering and propulsion of the vehicle taxes the tyres out and often result in poorer performance. As such, most econoboxes which places an emphasis on practicality, such as the Toyota Corolla and MPVs, are front-wheel driven.
If you are looking for a car that is practical and easy to drive, front-wheel drive is likely what you'll want.
Rear-wheel drive (RWD)
It's pretty much self explanatory - the rear wheels pushes the car along. Unlike front-wheel driven cars, the front wheels only have to deal with steering the car.
This 'fairer' distribution of workload means rear-wheel drive cars are what you want for performance driving - just look at the upper echelons of road racing such as F1.
While almost all front-wheel driven cars have their engine in front, rear-wheel driven cars are found with various engine layouts. Sedans such as the BMW 3 Series can be found with a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, Porsche 911s are traditionally rear-engine, rear-wheel driven, while supercars tend to have their engines sitting near to the centre of the car for excellent weight distribution.
But rear-wheel drive cars often demands a skilful driver because in low grip conditions, it is easy for the rear end of the car to break loose under power, resulting in a spin.
The rear-wheel drive layout is perfect for a sporty driver that places an emphasis on driving dynamics.