In the sports car world there’s a common misconception among some that rear-wheel drive is better than front-wheel drive – that scrabbling for grip at the front is better than spinning it away at the rear.
I recently spent some time in Peugeot’s new hot RCZ R coupe, which made me think that this isn’t the case.
On the soaking wet roads around Oulton Park in Cheshire, even this performance-focused coupe – pushing 270hp through its front wheels – didn’t want to understeer. One reason: its front differential.
The RCZ R uses a Torsen limited-slip diff on the front axle – this means, unlike most front-wheel drive cars, when one wheel starts to spin, power is transferred (up to a set split amount) to the other wheel, giving the spinning tyre an easier time.
In a car with an ‘open’ diff, the inside front wheel would simply spin away a serious chunk of your motive force, with the car most probably lapsing into understeer earlier.
With the Peugeot that’s not the case. It’s like the car is attached to a peg on the apex of a corner by a rope – with the differential doing its thing the car hooks onto a line and pulls you round and through the bend. No histrionics, just loads of grip – even in the wet.
It was even better when I got it on the track and could explore the amount of grip on offer (or not as the case may be – lots of rain and new Tarmac seeing to that).
You can play with the Peugeot, even though it’s not rear-wheel drive. And all the while you know the front end is going to be super solid the moment you step on the gas.
But it doesn’t have to be mechanical componentry that makes front-wheel drive fun. Take the Fiesta ST – for many at MR the car of 2013.
Its black magic understeer control system uses the brakes to tame front-end slides, but the traction is still fantastic (albeit not quite as good as the Peugeot) and, coupled with some judicious use of the brakes mid-corner, the grin factor can be overwhelming.
In 2012 I had a similar experience in the dry at Bedford Autodrome in a Renaultsport Megane R26.R. Boiling hot Tarmac this time and super-sticky track day tyres.
The effect was pretty much the same as last week in the Peugeot and reminded me that while I love a nicely balanced rear-wheel drive chassis on the track for its adjustability, on the right road and at the right time, a properly sorted front-wheel driver can be just as much fun. Yes, really.
What do you think? Can front-wheel drive cars really cut alongside the best rear-drivers? Share your thoughts, and your preference, below…