Home tech Rear-drive cars are back, darlings, and we’ve got electric vehicles to thank

Rear-drive cars are back, darlings, and we’ve got electric vehicles to thank

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Front-wheel drive cars have been an industry standard for decades. Whether it’s your grandma’s Toyota Camry or the hatchback hood you’ve always dreamed of, there’s no shortage of casually put-together cars that have called home over the years. And why wouldn’t they be? Front-wheel-drive (FWD) cars were cheaper to build and often resulted in roomier, more economical packages than the rear-wheel-drive cars of the 1970s and 1980s. But that also meant sacrifices in performance.

Fast forward to 2023, and vehicle platforms that were previously intended for a combustion engine mated to an FWD drive configuration instead receive battery power with an electric motor at one or both ends. For single-engine vehicles, many manufacturers have backtracked and opted for rear-wheel drive instead.

Many car manufacturers have already committed to rear-wheel drive. Tesla, Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen have already taken this step with their single-motor electric vehicles. Now, Volvo and its electric sister brand, Polestar, will join the latest two automakers in announcing their forays into the RWD concept. For Volvo, this means its first commitment to a rear-wheel-drive car in a quarter of a century.

But why change? Decades of the automotive industry have definitively proven that front-wheel drive is the ultimate drivetrain. LAW?

Well, not exactly. FWD has always been a bit of a concession. Sure, the wrap made sense – just look at the Chrysler K cars of the 80s – but it was really a cheaper way to build more fuel-efficient cars. (That being said, the transmission setup was also a great response to the oil crisis and the Clean Air Act.) Sure, the automakers did their best, but there were plenty of performance and handling benefits. have been removed from everyday vehicles.

In addition to moving the drive wheels to the rear, the electric car has the advantage of shifting weight. For example, a heavy combustion engine that lived under the hood of a car could be permanently placed in the rear of a single engine vehicle directly above the drive wheels.

“So we improve traction, improve directionality and responsiveness, and together it gives more driving pleasure. This means we can improve comfort without sacrificing performance and handling. »

But that’s not all. Floor-mounted battery packs in modern electric vehicles have helped balance weight distribution considerably. So while electric cars are already heavier, it’s easier to achieve that near-perfect front-to-rear axle ratio by distributing the weight across the length of the vehicle.

In addition, modern traction control systems are just as good. This isn’t something specific to electric cars – even gasoline-powered cars have achieved adequate torque vectoring by independently adjusting the brakes at each wheel, but modern electric vehicles augment it by running thousands of torque-dependent programs. software every second. And by placing the drive unit directly above the drive wheels (like in a front-wheel-drive car), the extra weight helps with traction.

“Before, one of the downsides of having a lightweight rear end was that rear-wheel drive was sometimes ‘exciting’ due to loss of traction,” said Christian Samson, Product Attribute Manager at Polestar.

Not every automaker has jumped on the RWD bandwagon yet.

Nissan, for example, claimed to have retained the Leaf’s front-wheel-drive system to increase space in the hatch area. Meanwhile, the all-new Ariya EV is available with AWD two-wheel drive, but it still retains FWD front-wheel drive for its single-motor setup, meaning the reasoning behind the Leaf probably doesn’t apply to the Ariya.

Regular car buyers should rejoice. The return of RWD makes driving even more enjoyable. So despite the phasing out of the combustion engine personality across the board, there are still exciting things to look forward to when it comes to electric cars, and rear-wheel drive is one of them.

Do you have a tip or a question for the author? Contact them directly: rob@thedrive.com

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