Front-wheel drive (FWD) has been common in mainstream cars for decades. It’s a practical way to package the powertrain of a car or SUV since it gives a vehicle good traction on snowy roads. It also leaves lots of room for a spacious interior since there’s no driveshaft sending power to the rear wheels. You can find front-wheel drive in just about every class of car, including sedans, SUVs, minivans, and even some pickup trucks and commercial vans.
What is Front-Wheel Drive?
When a car’s engine powers the front wheels, it’s called front-wheel drive. The engine, usually located in the front of the vehicle, produces power that goes through a transmission. Power is delivered to the front wheels via CV (constant velocity) shafts in a front-wheel-drive car.
Advantages of FWD
One of the most significant advantages of front-wheel drive is good all-weather traction. Compared to rear-wheel drive, FWD offers superior traction on snowy roads. Of course, you need to use proper tires, and dedicated winter tires are best, but all things being equal, front-wheel drive is what you would want when the snow flies, vs. rear-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive is generally better on snowy roads and off-road, but front-wheel drive almost always has the advantage of better fuel economy than the same car or SUV equipped with all-wheel drive.
One of the cars that made FWD mainstream was the original Mini Cooper. By using a front-wheel-drive powertrain, the Mini Cooper was a compact car that actually had a pretty roomy interior. This highlights one of the significant advantages of FWD. Without a driveshaft and rear differential in the way, the body of a front-wheel-drive car can be used more space efficiently.
Disadvantages of FWD
Driving enthusiasts sometimes avoid cars with front-wheel drive because they generally have a disadvantage in performance. Since the front wheels bear the burden of both steering and putting power to the ground, FWD cars generally don’t handle as well as RWD cars. Also, front-wheel-drive cars are typically limited by how much power they can handle. That said, there are some genuinely sporty FWD cars out there, like the Honda Civic Si.
Another downside of FWD is that it’s not very good for off-road driving. It can handle a gravel or dirt road just fine, but if you want to get any more adventurous than that, you’ll want all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive.
What Types of Cars have Front-Wheel Drive?
You can find FWD in almost any class of vehicle. Most compact sedans and hatchbacks like the Toyota Corolla and Kia Forte and midsize sedans like the Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu are front-wheel drive. With a couple of exceptions available with all-wheel drive like the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna, all minivans are front-wheel drive. Most modern compact and midsize SUVs like the Nissan Rogue and Ford Edge have standard FWD, but all-wheel drive is a popular option for SUVs, especially in snowy climates.
A front-wheel-drive truck used to be almost unheard of, but it’s been gradually getting more common. Until recently, the Honda Ridgeline had standard FWD until it made the switch to standard AWD. Now compact, unibody pickup trucks like the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz come standard with FWD.
FWD vs. RWD
The difference between front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive is simple. FWD powers the front wheels, and RWD powers the rear wheels. FWD provides better traction on snowy roads, but RWD delivers a sportier driving experience.
Is FWD Right for You?
Front-wheel drive is recommendable if you value traction and fuel economy over performance. If you live in an area that gets frequent snowstorms, it may be best if you invest in a vehicle that offers FWD, if not AWD.
However, if you like to go off-roading or want a car with great speed and acceleration, front-wheel drive might not be what you need. Options like rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive allow for better performance and off-roading at the expense of traction (RWD) and fuel economy.