April 12, 2003

MICKEY KAUS, Slate's modern-day Mel

MICKEY KAUS, Slate's modern-day Mel Torme, on the advantages of rear-wheel-drive over front-wheel-drive:

The best an ordinary driver can hope for in a FWD car is that it "corners as if on rails" -- no slippage at all. No plowing -- but also no semi-orgasmic "lock in." More typically, if you hit the accelerator in a fast corner, things get mushy up front. The lesson the FWD car seems to be teaching is: Try to go faster, and you're punished. Front-drive cars are Puritans! In a rear-drive car, you hit the accelerator and things get better! Rear-drive cars are hedonists.

He's perfectly correct. I once drove a FWD rally car during a performance driving course; you'd arrive at a slippery dirt-road corner, steer into it, then wait a few seconds until you'd passed the apex and the front tyres gripped. Then you'd exit, almost in a straight line. Dull.

Rear-wheel-drive: arrive at corner, pitch car in opposite direction to turn, hit accelerator, powerslide out at around 70 degrees to the direction of travel, tell rally instructor in passenger seat to stop screaming. Fun.

Four-wheel-drive rally cars combine these characteristics: you get turn-in understeer and exit oversteer, although the adhesion these things generate is so great that making an instructor scream is almost impossible. I only managed it once, due to a sudden, er, tree issue I hadn't anticipated.

Posted by Tim Blair at April 12, 2003 06:09 PM