103 RWD vs. AWD vs. FWD

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Everyone has their own preference when it comes to drive-train layout. There are those who want the organic feel of a RWD car, those who prefer the every day grip of AWD, and even a few misguided souls that scream “FWD FTW!” at the top of their lungs. I only kid about the misguided souls bit, but you get the point.

When you boil them down to their basics though, you find that they all have their inherent advantages and disadvantages and they all serve their purpose, just by different means.

We're going to stick to front engine for these scenarios as it gets murky when you consider mid and rear engine.

Let's get FWD out of the way, as it's the easiest to dissect. FWD was originally designed as a means to reduce cost, improve fuel economy, and increase the space available in the cabin of the car. But most of us don't care about all that. In a racing application, it has some advantages. They typically have slightly less drive-train loss, as there is no drive shaft needed from the transmission to a rear differential. It is also slightly lighter as a result of this same fact. As a disadvantage, you're using the same wheels to propel the car as you are to turn. This means that it's difficult to feed more power and increase speed during a turn without resulting in understeer.

AWD. It's made some major advancements in the last 10 years, but lets cover the basics. AWD has a couple disadvantages. It weighs the most of the three layouts and has the most drive-train loss. It can also negatively impact the balance of the car in regard to front vs. rear weight distribution. On the track, a basic AWD system can apply power earlier out of a turn then the other formats, but because the front wheels are still supplying power and trying to turn, understeer can result. Car makers have combated this lately with trick and techy differentials and electronics that modulate power to the right wheels as the car goes through and accelerates out of a corner. So much so that the car is sometimes virtually RWD for a few moments (sometimes 3wd too).

RWD. Okay, I'll say it, my personal favorite. I've owned all three from 150hp, up to 400+hp. It has a certain feel to it the others can't replicate, idk. But ok ok ok, facts! Rwd has more drive-train loss than FWD, but less than AWD. It's also in-between, in regard to weight. With RWD, it's also much easier to create a car with neutral balance, where weight distribution is an even 50%. RWD can also apply power around a turn without much trouble, but can get tail happy towards the end if the car's power outweighs its grip limits. With the right tires and enough aero, this issue is virtually non existant except on a very tight course.

So let's play out a scenario. Sorry FWD, but you're going to sit out on this one.

We have in our possession, two identical cars. Same strong down-force, same engine, and same weight without its drivetrain (tranny, axles, diffs, half shafts, etc). But one is AWD and the other RWD. The result? One car will weigh a little more and make a little less at the wheels, the AWD car. This means, on a straight, the RWD will slowly edge out the AWD. But the AWD car has great grip, which gives it the advantage around tight corners. One would imagine that on a well rounded course that the two cars would be even. The AWD completely taking the hairpins, the RWD even or quicker around wide sweeping turns, and the RWD edging ahead on long straights. In the end, they would likely be dead even, or at least extremely entertaining to watch.

So there's my extremely abridged and abbreviated take on the three. I'd go on rambling, but I figure I've already either bored or knotted the panties of anyone who's bothered to read all this.

I'd be interested in seeing what others think of the three layouts. What's YOUR favorite?

8y ago by FastestLaps
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Joe  3y ago

This was actually very informative; not boring. Panties are still one (figuratively)


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5secondsbob  7y ago

Unlike Mercedes-Benz and BMW, Audi doesn't want its cars to have rear-wheel drive, but when it comes to Porsche, that's a different story!


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Piorun  7y ago

I like low speed fun - and such a thing do not exist in FWD cars, there is too much wheel spin. But since You are already in move, it can be good. Actualy most of FWD cars could have some rotation at some corners


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BR2+  7y ago

To be honest, Ive found Fwd harder to get to the limits of then Rwd, But saying that, There really isn't such a car that's rather extreme like a 911 Turbo or ZO6, or cars of the like in the Fwd scene, so it can be hard to say fullheartedly unless its a tuned one. But Id rather have Rwd all day anyday, I cant see a reason unless I really need one to get Awd(EVen though I own a Awd car-_-) But I didn't get it because of its drivetrain, nor would I pick a car simply because of that(Like Some people) But I wouldn't have my car any other way. But I think Rwd is the better drivetrain overall.


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Hans  7y ago

Viking, Because in WEC AWD is not allowed.


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Viking  7y ago

@N there is much truth in what you say. FWD cars are easy to get to their handling limit: just trail brake at corner entry, be patient in mid-corner, and unwind while feeding in power on exit. If it understeers lift throttle, if it oversteers add throttle. Real simple. Some drivers only feel comfortable with this set up. RWD cars are much more complex at their handling limit, and of course mid-engined cars are even more demanding of the drivers skill. It really depends on what the driver feels confident with as far as drivetrain layout. Of course if one is a very skilled driver comfortable in any layout, then judging by racing success a mid-engined RWD drivetrain should get the best lap times (theoretically). Despite the advances of AWD cars, I still don't see front engined AWD being used in LMP cars. Just my observations. :)


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N  7y ago

It fully depends on the drivers skill and how intouch he/she is with the balance of the car that they are driving. Weather its an FF, FR, or AWD layout. Totally depends on the driver.


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Piorun  7y ago

AWD systems in EVO and GT-R actually create more usable overstr than most of RWD cars with too much torque.

RWD is plain and simple but it still have to be set up good, and gave good suspension and mass balance front/end and lower center of gravity.

MOdern FWD cars actualy can also create some kinf of small oversteer. Like new FocusST.

The worst sports cars are with bad FWD and AWD system. Audi RS3 and Audis in general except R8 create hevy understeer. Same with VW AG cars based on heldex.


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Fangio Man  7y ago

Generally:

FWD: understeer
AWD: neutral (depends on force distribution)
RWD: oversteer

I prefer RWD. :D


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anoni  7y ago

I'm not feeling confortable with RWD. from my opinion, AWD should not be considered if the engine have under 190HP 400NM.
For an audi A4/A5, because the car is heavy and AWD is adding weight also, 2.0tdi with 177HP&380Nm is to less power for fitting an AWD. at least 190HP is mandatory for AWD


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Olong Johnson  7y ago

Hmmm...
At the last 24h of Nürburgring there were AWD and FWD Audi TT where the FWD had faster lap times because of the wheight deficit.


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Matt  7y ago

Surely there's no point arguing about who is right or wrong when everyone builds cars for a different purpose or taste. I'm sure someone who builds a 7 sec drag car doesn't feel dissapointed that it won't handle as well as a Ferrari. I'm sure he doesn't cry at night knowing it doesn't have power steering or predictable handling. He built it to be crazy fast in a straight line and make him feel like he just poked a black bear with a big stick. Just got off the phone with Nasa. They are saying there's no point in building any more rockets they can only get 0.02 mpg and a really poor turning circle. Parking is a an issue as well.


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Apathy  7y ago

@Anon.

You're still missing a lot.

First of all, I was saying that the most recent camaro has an IRS, and most people don't swap out the irs for a solid axle, as the stock irs is strong.

Also, even the camaro with an sra has pretty good handling. It can even be made better. The 4th gen camaro dominated many classes in scca racing, despite its solid axle. It's main competitor in its class that repeatedly lost to it? BMWs.

Nothing really funny about an older camaro with a live axle. It works on the street, at the strip, and at the roadcourse. It's not the best on the street, but it works very well and is lightweight.

You're right, it would be funny to see a corvette with a live axle. Primarily because very few have them. Only the most hardcore drag racers have them, but their cars are very far from a stock corvette. Many of them are basically tube frame cars with a fiberglass shape of a corvette.

Your original comment is derisive and derogatory.


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CoolShirtGuy  7y ago

@Anon
Had to laugh at that. Clarkson? Sharp? I've seen chicken eggs more pointed than him. He's an opinionated tool who happens to get lucky and say the right things every now and then. The guy doesn't even know how forced induction works; that alone is enough for me to disregard pretty much anything he says about cars.

No, you don't get it. If the owner isn't going to use that "ultimate" performance car on the track or what have you, then there's no point in it. But if he IS going to use it for drag racing, and drag racing only, then there's certainly merit in "ruining" a formula that doesn't apply to drag racing. That is why your initial comment is not at all funny and doesn't make much sense. Yes, that setup would help someone achieve faster times on a prepped strip. And if that's where they plan on using it, speed is all that matters. The "ultimate" performance car formula doesn't apply to drag racing, so you bringing it up was utterly pointless. If it was your attempt at humor, even Dane Cook wouldn't steal your jokes. Also, it should be "MadCoolShirtGuy", "CoolShirtMadGuy" looks stupid. Seriously, don't quit your day job.


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Anon  7y ago

@CoolShirtMadGuy
what Clarkson is doing here? If you find my comments to the Clarkson's sharp remarks about automotive world, then I am pleased :)

You are still not getting it, aren't you? Of course, live axle has some advantages on the dragstrip. That was the whole point in the beggining. Let me ask for help from Admiral Apparent here. Matt told us a story on how to build the ultimate performance car. The recipe was simple, put enough power to almost overcome the traction with the most stickiest widest tyres possible. Even with the car like that there will be a guy in a shirt who will put a blown big-block in that car and make SRA conversion to put even more power at the wheels. Maybe It would help him achieve faster trap time on a prepped strip, but Matt's recipe for the ultimate performance is already ruined.

Don't get me wrong, I love drag racing, especially top fuel classes. I like classical muscle car era drag cars. But I find the destiny of those fastest corvettes mentioned in prev post is somewhat miserable. ZR1 is already at the point where Matt's way won't help you. But yet we have below 7 second drag prepped street corvettes that can't turn for shit. Thanks God ferraris, porsches and other exotics are too expensive to ruin with drag-strip performance packages


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Anon  7y ago

@Apathy
Thanks for the input, but you sound like a Captain Obvious here to me
1) of course I was talking about recent gen comaros
2) sentence doesn't make sense, but I agree :)
3) I even know the history of the fastest quater IRS Corvette
And who was talking about IRS vs SRA in handling aspect


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CoolShirtGuy  7y ago

@Anon
And I sense a huge pocket of empty air between your ears.

The only people who would find your comment funny are idiots who know little about cars beyond what they've heard from Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the Top Gear crew.

See, when it comes to drag racing, a live rear axle is better than an IRS setup 9 times out of 10. It doesn't genius to figure out that maybe you should use the setup best suited for what you plan to do with the car. Yeah, it may be "archaic" technology, but what does it matter when that LRA humiliates your IRS? What are you going to say? "My suspension's more advanced"? Fat lot of good it did you.


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Apathy  7y ago

@Anon:

There are several issues with your joke in regard to the camaro and corvette:

1) Most Camaros come stock with a solid rear axle

2) The new ones that don't have a very strong rear axle so they keep the IRS.

3) Most corvettes keep the IRS in drag racing. It's one of the strongest IRS' in the industry AND a Corvette holds the record for the quickest drag car with an IRS.

Also, I'm a bit tired of derogatory comments related to SRAs and handling. An SRA car can handle as well as an IRS car, it's just going to be more finicky and less stable on uneven and rough surfaces.

Though, there are actually tracks where solid rear axle cars are at an advantage. Sebring for example, its choppy sections around turns actually lends to an SRA car being more stable for some reason. IRS cars begin to pitch around the turn due to the sections.

IRS has a real advantage when only one wheel is disrupted, causing a change in camber in the other wheel in an SRA application.


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Anon  7y ago

@Coolshirtguy
I sense a huge pain below you back.

Anyways, a lot of people find it funny to see, lets say, a highly prepped Camaro or Corvette for a dragstrip to have a live axel.


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Matt  7y ago

Quote: 'In the end if you have a truly powerful car, there will be americans that will add even more power, cut front drive and put live rear axel.'
Yes that's true. As yet there is no FWD or AWD solution when the front wheels are off the ground. I did email GM about using the front suspension design from 'Big Foot', but they aren't returing my calls.