Selecting Cars for Your Family

Rear-Wheel Drive Versus All-Wheel Drive: Which Drivetrain Should You Choose For Your Next Sports Car?

Rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive layouts both offer numerous advantages and disadvantages when it comes to sporty driving. Generally, sports cars are designed from the ground up to squeeze every bit of performance out of one drivetrain layout or the other.

However, some sports car models are offered with both rear-wheel and all-wheel drivetrain options in different trim levels. Contemporary examples include the Genesis G80 and G90, the Tesla Model S, and the BMW 3-Series. If you're in the market for a sports car that's offered with both drivetrain layouts, it's important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each so you can get the model that best suits your driving style.

All-Wheel Drive for All-Out Grip

The biggest advantage of all-wheel-drive cars is increased traction. When you launch your car from a standstill you have all four tires clawing at the asphalt for traction. When you rip around a high-speed corner you have both your front and rear tires pulling your car through the turn to maintain forward momentum.

Those attributes generally make all-wheel-drive sports cars easier to drive aggressively and more predictable.

The Downsides of All-Wheel Traction

Sometimes having all four tires pulling you forward from a stop makes the engine bog down. It's much more difficult for the engine to spin all four tires and do a burnout, so if you don't have ample low-end torque your car can feel sluggish as the engine chugs its way up the rpm range into its peak powerband. All-wheel-drive launches also put a substantial amount of stress on the transmission, differentials, and other drivetrain components.

Additionally, the extra weight of the front differential combined with the torque going to the front wheels makes all-wheel-drive cars more prone to understeering, which happens when the front tires lose traction mid-corner.

Rear-Wheel Drive for Tail-Happy Fun

Rear-wheel-drive sports cars don't experience those disadvantages. When you launch from a standstill the engine can easily spin the rear tires to quickly reach its peak powerband. Being able to spin the tires also takes a lot of stress off of the drivetrain.

Similarly, there isn't much risk of understeer since no torque is being delivered tot he front wheels. Skilled drivers can instead use the throttle to make the rear tires dance with oversteer in order to more precisely point the front end in the direction that they want.

The Downsides of Rear-Wheel Drive

The more tail-happy nature of rear-wheel-drive sports cars can easily catch untrained drivers off guard. You have to be more careful when cornering because if you go overboard on the throttle you'll wind up spinning the car around. Unlike all-wheel-drive cars, you can't simply mash the throttle to get the front tires to pull you out of trouble.

Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. If you want a car that is easier to drive fast and better-suited for slippery conditions, opt for the all-wheel-drive model. If you're a skilled driver who knows how to steer with the throttle and you enjoy drifting around corners, opt for the rear-wheel-drive model.