Is it a problem that most luxury cars haven't yet implemented front-wheel drive technology?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am starting to shop for a luxury automobile. For the past 16 years I have
owned front-wheel-drive cars. All the major luxury brands now have old,
rear-wheel-drive technology. My understanding is that FWD is the better
technology both for saving weight and for improved traction and handling.
Am I wrong? Why do all these $40,000-plus cars still have RWD if it's not
the best on the market? Would you guys buy a luxury car with RWD? -- Len

RAY: Sure. If our cheapskate editor would give us a raise!

TOM: There's a widespread misconception that front-wheel drive is a better
technology. That's not necessarily true.

RAY: Front-wheel drive became a popular technology because cars got
smaller. And smaller, lighter cars needed all the extra traction they could
get. Why? Because they're small and light!

TOM: On small cars, front-wheel drive provides better wet/snowy weather
traction because the weight of the engine and transmission is sitting right
over the driven wheels. And that weight pushes down on the wheels, thus
increasing the traction.

RAY: So if you're buying a small or medium-sized car, and you live where it
snows, FWD would definitely be an advantage.

TOM: But most full-size cars (and most luxury cars are full-size) tend to
be heavy enough so that they don't need all that extra weight over the
driven wheels. There's enough weight over all four wheels to keep the
wheels firmly planted on the road. So they get around just fine without
FWD. And nowadays, most of them also have "traction control, " which uses
the computer and ABS system to prevent the driven wheels from spinning when
there's not enough traction.

RAY: Then you have to factor in the advantages of RWD. Contrary to what
you've heard, it provides better handling, better weight balance and more
room to work on the engine (and the transmission, the clutch, the front
suspension, etc.) since everything is not crammed up front. And that's why
Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes and BMW all make rear-wheel-drive luxury sedans.

TOM: Hey! Don't think I didn't notice that you left my '63 Dodge Dart off
that list!

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