You’ve likely 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 receiving power 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, pistons use energy from the combustion process to drive a crankshaft that produces rotational power. This torque is passed through the transmission allowing the gear range to be selected to optimize the engine rpm range in relation to the vehicle speed. A drive shaft carries the torque to the vehicle’s rear differential for deflection at the rear tires and another gear ratio reduction.
According to Car and Driver, sports cars have rear-wheel drive primarily for improved weight distribution. Typical American muscle cars use heavy V8 engines to generate horsepower. Also, powerful engines require strong transmissions and drivelines. Putting this weight directly on the front tires would require a massive front suspension system. Instead, the typical RWD system distributes weight across the length of the car.
Advantages and disadvantages of rear-wheel drive
There are advantages and disadvantages to the rear-wheel drive system often found in sports cars. Advantages include:
- Increased launch drag as weight is transferred to the rear under acceleration.
- Better cornering under acceleration since the only job the RWD front tires do is spin.
- Straight-line acceleration is not subject to the “steer direction” typical of front-wheel drive cars.
- Even the weight distribution and center of gravity provide a better steering feel.
However, there are also disadvantages:
- The transmission, drive axle and rear differential require floor accommodations, which cut into passenger and cargo space inside the vehicle.
- RWD cars can lose traction during acceleration with less weight on the driving wheels on slick roads.
- Heavier RWD powertrains tend to 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. Although, the newest generation Corvette takes advantage of lightweight engine components to move its V8 behind the two-seat passenger compartment, further increasing weight distribution.
Autotrader points out that “several all-electric cars, including the Tesla Model S, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Volkswagen ID.4,” also have RWD, but more for the driving experience than weight distribution. Additionally, some luxury vehicles such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class offer an improved drive using RWD.
Sports and luxury cars are not the only passenger vehicles that use RWD. Light-duty trucks also depend on RWD for increased load-carrying capacity, towing heavy trailers, and better stability. Additionally, pickup trucks typically offer four-wheel drive systems by adding a transfer case, front drive axle, and front differential to the standard RWD components.
Is it worth buying a rear-wheel drive sports car?
While we have noted some disadvantages to RWD vehicles, the benefits outweigh the negatives. This is especially true when applied to sports cars, luxury vehicles and light trucks. Although the RWD components take away some space in the already small interior of a sports car, a sports car conforms to you and becomes an extension of your body. The real advantage of RWD in a sports car is the ability to drive with the steering wheel and gas pedal.
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