Pros: Good traction in slippery conditions; generally more affordable and fuel efficient than rear-wheel drive

Cons: Wider U-turns; torque steer during hard acceleration; arguably not optimal for performance driving

Summary: If you're shopping for a car and you see the term "front-wheel drive," it means that the car's driven wheels -- i.e., the wheels that receive power from the engine -- are the ones in front. In other words, the front wheels have two jobs: steering the car and putting the engine's power to the pavement.

One advantage of front-wheel drive (FWD) is that the driven wheels are right below the engine, so the engine's weight is always pressing those driven wheels downward. This enhances traction, especially on slippery roads, which is one reason why FWD continues to be preferred over rear-wheel drive (RWD) in snow-belt states.

Another advantage is that FWD vehicles are typically more affordable and better on gas. This hasn't always been the case, but these days FWD is the norm if you're talking about fuel-efficient vehicles under $30,000.

On the other hand, FWD vehicles provide less room for the front wheels to turn, because both suspension and drive line components have to share space down there. As a result, a FWD car generally can't make the same tight U-turns as a similarly sized RWD car.

Also, sometimes power will flow unevenly to the front wheels under hard acceleration, leading to distracting sideways tugs at the steering wheel, which is also called torque steer. RWD vehicles, on the other hand, tend to accelerate dead straight with no side-to-side drama.

Finally, enthusiastic drivers may prefer the superior vehicle control of a RWD layout, even though numerous entertaining cars, such as the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen GTI, feature FWD.

What it means to you: Many of the best-selling vehicles in the country are front-wheel drive, and most folks seem to appreciate the familiar FWD recipe of fuel efficiency, affordability and foul-weather security.

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Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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