You’ve come across terms like rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. While some of these terms overlap, the simplest explanation is that they refer to the location and number of wheels that receive propulsion from the vehicle’s powertrain. So, why is rear-wheel drive (RWD) prominent in sports cars?
Why are sports cars RWD?
In a vehicle with an internal combustion engine and RWD, the piston uses the energy from the combustion process to drive a crankshaft that produces rotational power. This rotational power passes through the transmission and allows selectable gear ranges to adapt the engine’s RPM range relative to vehicle speed. The drive shaft rotates in the vehicle’s rear differential to reduce diversion to the rear tires and another gear ratio.
According to Car and Driver, sports cars primarily feature rear-wheel drive for enhanced weight distribution. Typical American muscle cars use heavy V8 engines to generate horsepower. Also, powerful engines require strong transmissions and drivelines. Putting that much weight directly on the front tires requires a larger front suspension system. Instead, a typical RWD system spreads the weight across the length of the car.
Advantages and disadvantages of rear-wheel drive
There are advantages and disadvantages to rear-wheel drive systems that are often found in sports cars. Benefits include:
- Increased launch traction as weight transfers to the rear under acceleration.
- Better cornering under acceleration as the RWD front tire’s only job is turning.
- Straight line acceleration is not subject to “torque steer” in front-wheel drive cars.
- Weight distribution and center of gravity provide a good driving sensation.
However, there are also disadvantages:
- The transmission, driveshaft, and rear differential require floor pan seating that cuts into passenger and cargo space inside the vehicle.
- RWD cars can lose traction under acceleration with less weight on the drive wheels on slick roads.
- Heavier RWD drivetrains get lower fuel mileage.
Which sports cars have rear-wheel drive?
Modern sports cars like the Toyota GR86, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Chevrolet Corvette still have RWD. However, the new Corvette generation takes advantage of lighter engine components to move its V8 behind the two-seat passenger compartment, further increasing its weight distribution.
Autotrader points out that “some all-electric cars, including the Tesla Model S, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Volkswagen ID.4” also feature RWD but for more of a driving experience than weight distribution. Additionally, some luxury vehicles such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class offer enhanced drivability using RWD.
Sports and luxury cars are not the only passenger vehicles that use RWD. Light-duty pickup trucks also rely on RWD for increased cargo carrying capacity, towing heavy trailers, and better stability. Additionally, pickup trucks typically offer four-wheel drive systems by adding a transfer case, front driveshaft and front differential to the standard RWD components.
Is a rear-wheel drive sports car worth buying?
While we have noted some of the disadvantages of RWD vehicles, the advantages outweigh the negatives. This is especially true when applied to sports cars, luxury vehicles, and light-duty pickup trucks. Although RWD components take up some space in a sports car’s already small interior, a sports car conforms to you and becomes an extension of your body. The true advantage of RWD over a sports car is the ability to drive with the steering wheel and accelerator pedal.
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