Why 2WD cars suck: An essay

It is my intention that with this short essay I will show how AWD automobiles are superior to a 2WD automobile. In fact I made a mistake with the title of the essay. It should read "Why FWD cars suck". I do not have much against RWD automobiles since there are some superb models out there in this category. Further they are sometimes more fun to drive than an AWD automobile. Therefore in this essay I will bash only FWD automobiles.

In the beginning there were RWD vehicles. Why people thought running an engine in such a manner and using a propshaft I have no idea; I am not a scholar in the early history of automobiles. I am also not sure which came first, AWD or FWD. One was created out of necessity while the other was made out of convenience. Well isn't that nice, making autos for convenience! In case you don't know AWD, or 4WD if you prefer, was the drive made out of necessity. Where there were places people needed to go without roads or even good trails these early AWD vehicles could go. FWD probably came about due to the invention of the transverse-mounted engine. The advantage being that for mom and pop to go to the grocer this type of drivetrain would be more suited for those slow hauls.

For a while FWD became increasingly popular. At initial acceleration they had better grip due to the weight of the engine being over the drive tires. Even during light acceleration this was true. This made getting around in adverse weather conditions such as rain and snow a simpler duty. Muscle car fanatics learned that the performance characteristics of the FWD auto were not all that pleasing. Granted there was probably less drivetrain power loss in a transverse-mounted engine due to there being less drivetrain between the engine and the ground, but they suffered from grip loss during heavy acceleration due to the weight transfer to the rear under such conditions and the drive tires losing that weight. Thus muscle cars of the 60s and 70s were mainly RWD. The use of AWD in a regular road car was still in the making at this point. Indeed for the purpose of muscle cars AWD would not have been as efficient as RWD anyway as the drivetrain loss in an AWD car is worse than that of a RWD car (in most cases). They were also heavier, not that the increased weight would make such a difference in a car that already weighed over 4000lbs.

When AWD cars first came into the mass market most people took them with a grain of salt. They didn't know what to think of this new idea. Sure there were trucks that had 4WD for when they needed to cut through the bush, but what good was AWD on a car? Well as compared to a FWD or RWD vehicle an AWD car was able to get twice as much grip due to twice as many drive tires. However AWD cars were slightly more expensive and so what remained of the RWD cars still sold and FWD gained popularity, again due to its convenience.

Enter the import auto boom in the 1990s and the FWD cars increased dramatically. More and more classic cars were becoming FWD: the Chevy Monte Carlo for instance. Manufacturers switched to this drivetrain since further studies showed that even an idiot driver could control a FWD car over a RWD or AWD automobile. Oversteer would be a thing of the past even though professional drivers would yearn for that over the understeer that a FWD would create. Then the import tuner folks started in with the drag racing of FWD autos. Who came up with the idea that FWD cars should drag race? By definition of performance dynamic they were the least equipped of any of the other drivetrains to tackle this endeavor. The hard launches would almost instantly pull away weight from the drive tires and create some spectacular, albeit ludicrous, FWD burn-outs. Then as they ripped away down the stretch the weight might slowly transfer more evenly and give them some more grip. RWD cars are the best suited for this type of racing. FWD cars have to make up for their lack in drivetrain by putting more money into their engine. I've witnessed this in action before. A 1967 Shelby Mustang was on the line with a 1998 Acura Integra R. One had an almost-stock 450hp V8 while the other had a heavily modified 600hp 4-cylinder. The Integra jumped the line and was in the lead at first, but then the Shelby started gaining fast. Both hit the 1/4 mile mark about the same time. Had they kept going the Shelby would have won out. Had there been a stock Porsche 911 Turbo there it would have had the jump on all three and may have stayed with them until the end.

What can we learn from this? A RWD car is more efficient at acceleration over distance, an AWD car is efficient at getting all its power to the ground faster, and a FWD car is more efficient at what? Getting groceries.

~Ed

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