You’ve probably come across terms like rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, two-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. While several of these terms overlap, the simplest explanation is that they relate to the location and number of wheels driven by the vehicle’s powertrain. So why does rear-wheel drive (RWD) stand out in sports cars?
Why are sports cars RWD?
In a vehicle with an internal combustion engine and RWD, the pistons use energy from the combustion process to drive a crankshaft that produces rotational power. This rotational power passes through the transmission, allowing selectable gear ranges to optimize the engine’s RPM range based on the vehicle’s speed. A driveshaft carries the rotation to the vehicle’s rear differential for directing rotation to the rear tires and another downshift.
According to Car and Driver, sports cars primarily feature rear-wheel drive for improved weight distribution. Typical American muscle cars use heavy V8 engines to generate horsepower. It also requires powerful engines, powerful transmissions and drivetrains. Putting that much weight directly on the front tires would require a massive front suspension system. Instead, the typical RWD system spreads the weight over the length of the vehicle.
Advantages and disadvantages of rear-wheel drive
The rear-wheel drive system often found in sports cars has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include:
- Increased take-off traction as weight is transferred to the rear during acceleration.
- Better cornering when accelerating, as the only job of the RWD front tires is to turn.
- Straight line acceleration is not subject to the “torque steering” typical of front wheel drive vehicles.
- Even weight distribution and center of gravity provide a better driving feel.
But there are also disadvantages:
- The transmission, driveshaft and rear differential require floor plate placements that cut through the passenger and cargo space inside the vehicle.
- RWD cars can lose traction under acceleration with less weight on the drive wheels on slippery roads.
- Heavier RWD drivetrains tend to achieve lower fuel consumption.
Which sports cars are rear wheel drive?
Modern sports cars such as the Toyota GR86, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Chevrolet Corvette still feature RWD. The latest Corvette generation uses lightweight engine components to move its V8 behind the two-seater passenger compartment, further increasing weight distribution.
Autotrader points out that “some all-electric cars, including the Tesla Model S, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Volkswagen ID.4” also have RWD, but more than just weight distribution for the driving experience. In addition, some luxury vehicles such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class provide enhanced driving convenience using RWD.
Sports and luxury cars are not the only passenger cars that use RWD. Light-duty vans also rely on RWD for increased payload, towing heavy trailers and better stability. Additionally, pickup trucks typically offer all-wheel drive systems by adding a transfer case, front driveshaft and front differential to standard RWD components.
Is it worth buying a rear-wheel drive sports car?
While we have noted some disadvantages of RWD vehicles, the benefits outweigh the negatives. This is especially true when applied to sports cars, luxury vehicles and light-duty pickup trucks. While RWD components take up some space in the already small interior of a sports car, a sports car fits you and becomes an extension of your body. The real advantage of RWD in a sports car is that it can be driven with the steering wheel and accelerator pedal.
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