By The Lenspeed Team
What drives you? It’s not only Caltex, according to Lenspeed
“There are certainly ingredients to help us achieve this intangible blend of mechanical pleasure geared towards putting a smile on your face”
A lazy and humid Sunday afternoon led to this entry, very possibly fueled by thoughts on what makes a car tick all boxes when Lenspeed embarks on an unceasing search for the perfect driver’s car. This time, we delve deeper into the mechanical insights of a vehicle’s drivetrain. More specifically, we leave out the transmission and focus only on driven wheels.
Yes, we will omit all-wheel drive for a full-fledged three-way impression, and will save this comparison for a rainy day (rightly so!). So now we are left with rubbers that are in charge of powering the car from either end of the chassis.
One might opine that RWD will be the obvious choice for car enthusiasts, as most cars of a sportier nature comes with this configuration in default mode. We wouldn’t disagree, because Lenspeed had plenty of fun in cars set in motion by the rear wheels. They typically offer a well-balanced ride, since the weight distribution is often engineered to be more neutral as the bulk of the drivetrain’s weight is tilted to the rear to counter the heft up front for a front-engine vehicle.
There are also advantages for a RWD drivetrain even when the engine is mid or rear mounted. This sensation is more apparent in high-powered vehicles. Cars tend to squat when it starts to accelerate as they labour for grip from the rear rubbers. It plays to their advantage because the engine’s weight helps the car to gather traction on the wheels that are powering the vehicle. This, we feel, makes RWD such a special drivetrain if engineered by the right minds.
Precious wheel time with RWD machines yield positive results most of the time. We spent a day with the BMW 1 Series M Coupe, and were impressed by how adjustable the chassis is, and its ability to handle 335bhp just by two rear rubbers. Mid corner adjustability is superb – you can get the tail wagging with electronic aids switched off just by teasing the throttle and letting the front rubbers work only on directional changes. It’s a natural way of enjoying poise and control in a very confident manner. RWD proves to be triumphant over other drivetrains time and again, and will still be a petrolhead’s default choice in the foreseeable future.
That should leave cars with a FWD drivetrain biting the dust, yeah? Not quite. Lenspeed feels that FWD will always have a place in our heart, not because we spent most of our time driving them, but some are indeed seriously fun propositions. While most FWD cars tend to lean towards understeer when driven on the limit, there are a handful engineered to tackle corners with as much intent as RWD vehicles. Yes, steering inputs can be intrusive at times due to the front rubbers having to cope with changes in direction and sending torque to the tarmac, but this arguably intrusive and synthetic feel can be forgiven as some cars, hot hatches in FWD configuration in particular, offer a particularly unique experience only FWD cars can afford.
We zoom in on hot hatches because they tend to have a shorter wheelbase, and this is key for FWD enjoyment. You can benefit from lift-off oversteer when tackling a sharp bend by going in hard and fast, and subsequently easing off the pedal and directing the front wheels to the intended path. You can cork the inside rear wheel, get it standing on a “tripod” and allow the chassis to work its magic. Of course, this requires more work from “external resources” – narrow and less grippy tyres on a damp surface are preferred. A good example would be the Suzuki Ignis Sport Lenspeed had access to last month, when we took it out for a spin up North in a Gymkhana-like circuit.
There is no secret recipe for absolute driving fun. But there are certainly ingredients to help us achieve this intangible blend of mechanical pleasure geared towards putting a smile on your face. You wouldn’t go wrong with a sporty RWD drivetrain. They can be a handful and a tad too playful at times, but dial it down a notch when that happens, keep all electronic aids on, and you will enjoy a neutral driving experience at a comfortable tempo just like any other drivetrain. If you are in the market for FWD fun, opt for a short wheelbase car, preferably a hatchback (Suzuki’s Swift Sport would fit the bill!), and dispel the myths regarding your daily hauler being relegated to just a boring mode of transport.