Is The Front-Engine, RWD Car Going Extinct?

Front-engine and RWD has been the layout of choice for performance cars for over one hundred years. This configuration survived the advent of technologies such as the automatic transmission and independent rear suspension, not by being the quickest or most efficient, but simply by being the most fun. Today, it lives on in modern sports cars and muscle cars. Can the front-engine, RWD sportscar survive the electrification revolution?

Why are sports cars front-engine RWD?

The front-engine, RWD sports cars do a good job balancing the drivetrain weight along the length of a car and can accelerate and corner without pulling to one side. They can accommodate a large engine and are often very durable as well. Finally, you can break their rear wheels loose and drift through a corner.

A row of Mazda Miata sports cars, the skyline of LA visible behind them.
Mazda MX-5 Miatas | Mazda

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For decades, almost all cars were front-engine RWD. This is because the layout offers the most room for a bulky, primitive drivetrain. And according to Motorists.org, many front-engine, RWD cars are more rugged. They have room for a beefier axle, transmission, and larger engine. This is why they are preferred by police and Taxi services.

When you are accelerating, the weight of your car shifts onto its rear wheels. If the rear wheels drive the car, this makes the entire car more stable. This is one reason NASCAR still uses RWD cars.

An FWD car, or an FWD-based AWD, suffers from torque steering: when you accelerate quickly the vehicle can pull hard to one side. Modern RWD cars do not have the same issue.

Finally, by accelerating hard in an RWD car, you can “break” its rear end loose and skid the car for a short distance. This drifting creates a very different experience which some sports car drivers prefer.

Which internal combustion cars are front-engine, RWD?

Front-engine RWD is a popular layout for retro cars, such as American muscle cars. But several foreign manufacturers also build nimble front-engine, RWD sports cars.

Dodge Challenger muscle car with a front-engine and RWD races down a highway.
2022 Dodge Challenger SRT Super Stock | Stellantis

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Here are some of the front-engine, RWD sports cars

  • Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
  • Aston Martin DB11, Vantage, and DBS
  • BMW “Series” Sedans and the Z4
  • Chevrolet Camaro
  • Dodge Challenger and Charger
  • Ferrari 812, Portofino M, and Roma
  • Ford Mustang
  • Jaguar XE
  • Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Mercedes C Class, S Class, and E Class.
  • Nissan Z
  • Toyota Supra, and GR 86

Can you build a front-engine, RWD electric car?

Most early electric cars are FWD or AWD. But you could, hypothetically, build a front-engine, RWD electric sports car. You could even equip it with a manual transmission.

Electric Jeep Wrangler concept vehicle parked in the desert, a rocky slope behind it.
Jeep Wrangler Magneto 2.0 Concept vehicle | Stellantis

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Because electric motors are much smaller than internal combustion motors, many early electric car manufacturers install a motor longitudinally along each axle, or just along the front axle. This eliminates the need for a driveshaft and transmission.

Jeep’s Wrangler Magneto electric concept vehicle retains a front-engine RWD/4WD design. It leverages an axial flux electric motor which can make 850 horsepower but maxes out at 5,250 RPMs. Therefore, the Jeep uses a six-speed manual transmission show its drive can shift it just like an internal combusiton Wrangler.

Will we see Stellantis use a similar layout in its eMuscle electric cars? We’ll just have to wait and find out.

That said, most of an electric vehicle’s weight is not in its engine, but in its batteries. A rear-engine RWD electic sports car could have handling akin to a front-engine RWD combustion car. This is becasue its batteries would distribute its weight along the length of the vehicle.

Next, read about the intriguing history of AWD vs 4WD or see the main differences between FWD and RWD for yourself in the video below:

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