Front-Wheel-Drive Cars: More Fun Than You Think
Years ago, choosing a car with front-wheel drive meant settling for less fun. Typically, front-wheel-drive cars suffered from performance-related problems compared to rear- or all-wheel-drive models, such as extreme steering under acceleration, poor handling and weaker engines.
But today, it's hard to say that front-wheel-drive cars have these problems. Automakers have taken steps to make front-wheel-drive cars just as sporty as rear- or all-wheel-drive ones. We've listed two of those steps here -- along with a few front-wheel-drive models that we think car enthusiasts should consider.
Modern front-wheel-drive cars use a system called torque vectoring to improve handling. Also common in all-wheel-drive cars, torque vectoring transfers power among the wheels to help guide a car through turns. For example, in a tight left turn, a torque-vectoring system will automatically brake the left-front wheel -- and send power to the right-front wheel -- to help the car turn more sharply.
Torque vectoring won't completely erase understeer -- the tendency for front-wheel-drive cars to continue forward, even with the wheel turned -- but it certainly helps. The system is standard on the sporty Ford Focus ST, and will be included on the upcoming Mercedes CLA.
Torque Steer Control
Many powerful front-wheel-drive cars have a major problem with "torque steer." Torque steer happens when you floor the gas pedal in a front-wheel-drive vehicle and the car pulls to one side. Rear-wheel-drive cars don't suffer the same problem, since their drive wheels aren't the same as their steered wheels.
Many automakers are addressing this issue with electronic systems that monitor and eliminate torque steer. Cars with these systems include the Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus ST and MINI Cooper S. Torque-steer compensation systems control power to the front wheels, easing off a little if it detects the car is starting to pull to one direction.
Exciting New Cars
If you count out vehicles with front-wheel drive based solely on their drivetrain, you'll definitely miss out on some cool technology, as we've described above. But you'll also miss out on some great new cars.
The Volkswagen GTI, for example, offers spry performance -- including 0-to-60-miles-per-hour times of around seven seconds -- for a starting price of $25,000. The same money will buy a quicker Ford Focus ST and MazdaSpeed3, both of which are only available with slick manual transmissions. And the MINI Cooper starts under $20,000, making it an easy choice for budget-minded shoppers interested in a fun vehicle. Most importantly, all these cars are a joy to drive, whether driving quickly in a straight line or on an exciting back road.