Just about any car enthusiast will tell you that rear-wheel drive cars are more fun than their front-wheel drive counterparts. Enthusiasts argue that since weight is naturally transferred to the rear of a car under acceleration, rear-wheel drive cars are quicker off the line and grip better in corners than front-wheel drive vehicles, leading to a more exciting driving experience. But while most sports cars are indeed rear-wheel drive, buying a front-drive car doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing fun for the added traction and boosted fuel economy that often accompanies the "lesser" drivetrain. On the contrary, we've compiled a list of our favorite exciting front-wheel drive cars that prove rear-wheel drive isn't the only way to have fun on the road.
Every version of Acura's sporty TSX impresses us, including the 201-horsepower base model and the handsome SportWagon. But to us, the pick of the range is the recently released TSX V6, which borrows the muscular 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 powerplant from its upscale TL stablemate. While it's only available with a 5-speed automatic transmission, the TSX V6 will hit 60 miles per hour from a standing start in around 6 seconds, which is thrilling by any measure. Plus, its long list of luxurious standard features includes leather upholstery with heated front seats, Bluetooth, 17-inch alloy wheels and a power sunroof, making the $36,000 sedan something of a bargain. Although it could be used as a tame highway cruiser, we think it'd be easy to have a lot of fun in the TSX V6.
With a hybrid drivetrain and just 122 horsepower, Honda's sporty CR-Z may not seem like fun - but we're here to tell you the attractive, sporty little hatchback is actually a hoot behind the wheel. Although 0-to-60 times of around 9 seconds leave something to be desired, the CR-Z is best enjoyed through the curves thanks to terrific steering feel and confident braking power. And while we're a little down on the hatchback's skinny 16-inch tires, we think just looking at its fluid design - and $20,000 base price tag - helps make up for any deficit on the road. Best of all, the hatchback achieves more than 30 miles per gallon in city driving, making it a sporty car with a very economical flare.
While Hyundai's recently announced Veloster Turbo won't be available until this summer, we felt it deserved a spot on this list due to its combination of a high-performance engine with eye-catching styling that includes a sporty new twist. According to Hyundai, the 2013 Veloster Turbo will start around $22,000 including destination and features a standard 6-speed manual transmission and an available 6-speed automatic. Under the hood, the high-performance hot hatch offers a 201-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant, which is a substantial - and much needed - boost over the base model's 138-horsepower non-turbocharged motor. We're also taken with the Veloster Turbo's styling upgrades, which include a sporty new body kit, an enlarged front grille and a rear diffuser.
It's hard to top Mazda's five-door MazdaSpeed3 hatchback for fun per dollar. With a base price of around $24,500, the MazdaSpeed3 offers a standard 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces a stunning 263 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Although the MazdSpeed3 does suffer from some torque steer due to its front-wheel drive setup, keeping it under control will lead to 0-to-60 times of around 6 seconds thanks to its muscular engine and a quick-shifting 6-speed manual, which is the only available transmission. Standard equipment is also impressive and includes dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels and Bluetooth.
Although we love just about any Mini Cooper, we've included the Cooper S on this list because we think it represents the best value in the hatchback's lineup. Although the Cooper S's 181-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine may not seem too impressive at first glance, the hatchback's small size and stellar 6-speed manual transmission help it reach 60 miles per hour in around 6.5 seconds - and to us, it feels even faster than that. But the Cooper S is more fun than pure acceleration numbers would suggest due to its perfectly-tuned sport suspension that helps direct the sporty hatchback nearly anywhere you might point it. Most importantly, the Cooper S starts under $24,000 including destination, making it a great choice even if you're on a budget.
The sporty GTI is one of our favorite zippy front-wheel drive cars thanks to its near-perfect handling and tremendous acceleration. Now in its sixth generation, the three-door GTI starts around $24,000 and features a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission or an equally exciting optional 6-speed "DSG" dual-clutch automatic. Regardless of your transmission choice, expect to hit 60 miles per hour in the low-6 second range and fly around corners with ease thanks to standard 18-inch alloy wheels and sport suspension. To us, the GTI's appeal is further enhanced by the availability of a five-door hatchback body style with a starting price tag of under $26,000, making the hot hatch practical fun for the whole family.
What it means to you: Just because you're looking for a front-wheel drive car doesn't mean you have to compromise driving excitement.