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2011 Ford Mustang 5.0 GT (Ford Ford)
2011 Ford Mustang 5.0 GT (Ford Ford)

You & Your Car

Front versus rear-wheel drive Add to ...

I have a question about the relative performance of front-wheel-drive versus rear-wheel-drive, now that many cars have electronic stability control and traction control. I am used to thinking that rear-wheel-drive tends to provide better performance on dry roads, and so is popular on performance cars. But it has trouble with spinning tires on slippery roads. Conversely, front wheel drive is thought to provide better traction in snow, which is very practical in Canada. But its tendency to under-steer on curves makes it less sporty when roads are dry. My question is: to what extent has the introduction of electronic stability control (which should reduce skidding in turns) and traction control (which should reduce wheel spinning in snow) reduced these performance differences? - Michael St Catharines, Ont.

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You've summed up the dynamic differences between front- and rear-wheel-drive rather well. Of course, there are huge variations caused by weight distribution, suspension design, tires, etc. but generally your synopsis is correct.

As for the difference electronic stability and traction control make, remember that in both cases sensors are used to detect a loss of grip at a particular wheel. At that point, the system intervenes to use the brakes at an individual wheel to pull the vehicle back into the intended direction (ESC) or reduce slippage (traction control). In any case this intervention does not take place until that wheel or wheels have lost traction.

The simple fact is that the differences you mention between front- and rear-wheel-drive remain in effect to the point of loss of grip, it is what happens after that where the electronics comes into play.

In back-to-back tire testing, I've tried to determine if a RWD car with ESC is superior to a FWD one without, but it has always come down to the tire being the determining factor because it is what ultimately determines traction.

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