As I’m still amazed at car owners’ lack of knowledge, I thought it was high time to continue my highly prized education series of posts in order to get you all up to speed on what your car is, what it does and why it does it. Today, I’d like you all to consider the wheels that are powered – the ones that move when you press the accelerator.
Front Wheel Drive
Here, when you press the accelerator, the front wheels are powered. They move the car, as well as doing the steering (we will come back to that bit). The drivetrain is all at the front of the car as there isn’t a need for a long driveshaft connected to the rear wheels. Front wheel drive is on a lot of cars and it serves to make them very easy to control in everyday driving
You may notice better traction in adverse conditions as the weight of the engine block is above the wheels that are getting powered. You won’t find a front-wheel-drive car that is tail happy.
You may find plenty of front drive cars that suffer from understeer with speed, or worse, torque steer under acceleration. To top that, you need grip for acceleration and cornering so doing both with one set of wheels is not good.
Vauxhall Astra, Renault Clio, Peugeot 206 and many more.
Rear Wheel Drive
When you press the accelerator in this type of car, the rear wheels are powered. While the engine block is still at the front end, the wheels that need the traction are at the back. This type of drivetrain setup tends to be used for race cars, performance cars and prestige models.
You find oversteer to your liking (when the back end swings out and you can go a bit sideways), the turning and accelerating wheels are separate, balance can be better in a rear drive car.
Can be twitchy in the wet, dangerous in snow, you’ll need skill and practice to get the most out of it.
BMW (many of the series), Porsches, Race cars.
Four Wheel Drive
When you need a car that can tackle any type of terrain, then this is your drivetrain. All wheel, always on, four wheel drive gives you more traction. Don’t listen to those who claim it doesn’t, they don’t understand the science. Traction is how much power you can put down on the road and therefore having four wheels to do so equates to more traction (though traction is frequently controlled separately by electronic means).
Whether you’re a rally driver or a farmer, you may well find four-wheel drive your thing as it can handle almost anything chucked at it.
It’s going to cost you in fuel as you have to power all of the wheels; it makes some street-drivers think that they are invincible.
Land Rovers, Subaru Imprezas, Mitsubishi Evos, Rally cars.
So there you have it, a brief guide to drivetrains used. I hope that you can take this knowledge and impress your mates down the pub. Or, even better, use it to inform your next purchasing decision. My money is on the Mitsubishi Evolution X by the way – I’ll try to run a feature on it next week. It has four wheel drive but also some of the most complex electronic controls that you’ll ever see in a car.