I can’t really remember exactly why we were talking about it, but for whatever reason David and I ended up talking about front-wheel drive layouts. I think it was triggered by the realization that the Dodge Intrepid was a longitudinal FWD design, which, buy modern standards, is pretty unusual. That, of course, made me think about other longitudinal FWD cars, like Audis and Citroën 2CVs, and then the other kind of longitudinal FWD, where the transmission is in front, like Saabs and Citroën Traction Avants and and Cords. Anyway, it got in my head, and the only way to exorcise thinking about this is to rope all of you poor bastards into it. So, with that in mind, now I’m curious and desperately want to know this: do you have a favorite FWD layout?
Here, let’s walk through all of the FWD layouts I can think of; I tried to include all of them, including at least one that I don’t think has ever been tried, because of stupidity. So, here we go, time to evaluate and see what grabs you, deep and tight:
Okay, these two transverse-engine versions, just mirror images of one another, are by far the most common FWD layout – and, most likely, the most common drivetrain layout of any kind on the road today. I suppose the original Mini is a bit different, in that it has the transmission below the engine, but it’s pretty much like these. Their biggest advantage is most likely packaging; it’s a really compact and space-efficient design.
This layout is perhaps most commonly seen now in Audis, and lends itself well to having all wheel drive variants. It does push the engine very far forward, making the car pretty nose heavy, but there are plenty of great-handling cars that use this method despite the seemingly very understeer-y layout. It’s less space efficient than the transverse version, but you still don’t need a driveshaft, so it’s not too bad.
I always liked this sort of layout, probably best known in Saabs, because it forces a front-mid engine layout, which I’ve always been a fan of. It also lends well to a sloping hood and easy transmission access, though getting to the spark plugs on the rearmost cylinders can be tough.
Okay, those are the mainstream options. Let’s look at the weirder stuff:
Now, this just seems bonkers: rear engine, front drive. This seems like a layout specifically designed to find the worst qualities of every layout: you still need a driveshaft, you have to deal with rear-engine oversteer, and you get none of the traction benefits of putting the engine over the drive wheels. There seems to be zero reasons to try this, yet it has been tried a few times! Never successfully, but I did once catalog all the loons who tried this for The Old Site:
Why do this? I have no idea. Maybe some kind of latent distaste for rationality, I get that. I suppose you could also do this with the transaxle up front:
Would that be any better? Maybe a little, but not much. At all. It’s still ridiculous. I suppose technically the Dymaxion may have actually been rear-mid, front drive? Oh jeez. Fine, let’s make one of these for that absurd layout:
I’m not making a transaxle front version of this, though, because it’s never been done since, you know, it’s just that stupid. It’s got all of the problems of the rear-engine/front drive layout, but with worse packaging. It’s kind of achingly beautiful, in that miserable way.
Okay, one more weirdo, this one was actually attempted:
The legendary T-Drive! This was a design attempted by Ford to accomplish something I can’t imagine anyone actually asked for: shoving a straight-eight engine transversely in a Ford Tempo.
They did manage to do it, by tapping power from the middle of the crankshaft instead of either end. It’s bonkers. If there was a good reason to do this, I can’t figure out what it might be. But I’m glad they did it?
Everyone got all of these? Take a moment to really consider which one moves you the most. Technically, emotionally, erotically, all of it. Time to vote!