T Nation

Cars: RWD vs. FWD


Alright guys and gals, time for a car question.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to cars, but I do know a thing or two. But anyways, on to my question. . .

I'm looking at getting a new car, and I'm having a tough time deciding on what to spring for; it's between an '05 Mazda RX-8 or a Mazda3 SP23 5-door/hatchback (the special edition, with all the goodies).

I know the easy choice (RX-8, ya bum!), but see, I live way up in Duluth, Minnesnowta. So obviously I'm leary of owning a RWD in the winter, especially with all the hills around here. I've started leaning towards the Mazda3 just for the sake of FWD, but I just can't pull myself away from the RX-8 (as my bud would say, "I'd do it in the tailpipe.").

I've done some reading and it sounds like a big key to a driving a RWD "successfully" in the winter is the tires. Now, I'd have no problem opting for some winter tires in order to enjoy the RX-8, I'm just wondering if there are any other tips out there to ease the pain of a RWD in the winter? Do sandbags in the trunk help (a la a truck)?

Anyone with experience?

I should mention that there is a decent city bus service, which I would take on wicked bad days anyway. . . so the horrible driving conditions would be limited. Worst case scenario, I could always buy a beater, right?

Oh, and I have to special order either one, since all they sell up here are dog sleds and snowshoes. So I can't just get what's available (there goes that way of deciding!).



Well my experience is in mud, since it never snows down here on the Gulf. But I do know that a FWD will pull better through slush without the sliding that happens with RWDs. Unless you have good tires, a RWD tends to throw the rear around when the front hits thick stuff. This doesn't happen on a FWD. in fact I've seen a '88 Mazda 323 go through a muddy/sandy road better than a full size '77 Chevy. The Chevy (my Dad's) kept wanting to spin around while his friend's 323 just plowed through the muck.

One can argue that the 323 has its weight on the pulling wheels, while the truck has to push the bulk of its weight, but it demostrated that FWD was better in that case. Unless you can get AWD, go for the FWD and you'll have less traction problems.


FWD will definantly be easier in the snow but FWD is not nearly as fun as RWD the rest of the year. Add some weight to the trunk of the car during winter and take is slow. I'd also opt for a manual tranny ...

Good luck, the RX-8 is a blast!


Quite true. RWD is a lot more fun on fair weather days, especially if it's in an RX-8. And a manual trans is a must either way. Auto trans are for grannys.


I drive a '98 Camaro Z28, which has much more torque than the RX8, year 'round in the Midwest with no problem in the snow. I just put on a set of snow wheels/tires for the winter months, and it's good to go. I don't like fwd, and consider it a non-option for myself :slightly_smiling:


Well yeah, but he didn't mention a Z28 as an option. Hell, I'd rather have a 5.7L hunk of American muscle any day.


I grew up in Upstate NY with RWD cars. Snow tires and some sandbags in the trunk are fine.

It is much more fun to do donuts too.


In my whole life I only had one FWD car, and it was because they made me. I hated it. It's unbelievable they actually still make FWD these days. It should be outlawed.

I actually own the RX-8. The Traction Control it has counteracts any kind of "disadvantage" it might have in snow -- and the "fun factor" of RWD just makes this a no-contest.

One thing you might want to do, though, is to replace the RX-8's OEM tires with some Pirelli PZero Neros, which have a lot better grip than the Summer Tires most of them come with. I've driven in the Winter around Lake Tahoe with the RX-8, and between the PZeros and the traction control, I had absolutely NO problem -- actually my friend who has an Acura 2004 TL (FWD) was having a lot more problems than I was...

Back before I had the PZeros, well, the traction control still took care of it -- however it forced you to drive slower... :slightly_smiling:

RWD forever! :slightly_smiling:


Here's how it works. Front-wheel drive is going to be easier and safer for the majority of the masses.

If you think you have some driving skill, and want to drive harder, to me anyway, rear-wheel drive is more satisfying and ultimately has slightly higher limits. But a FWD with limited-slip can still do some pretty amazing things. I've seen people autocross FWD cars and just tear it up. So don't think FWD means sucky performance.

Modern RWD cars with traction control can be just fine in the winter. They won't be quite as good as FWD, but they can come close.

For at-the-limits performance, like on a race track, I vastly prefer RWD. It gives higher absolute limits since the car is better balanced, and you're not trying to make one set of wheels do everything. But once again, people do race FWD cars successfully, so it's not like it can't be done.

I will always prefer RWD for my performance car. For my grocery-getter, AWD or FWD will be better.


Then you owned a sucky car, irrespective of FWD.

My (former) Nissan Maxima, FWD of course, handled exceptionally well. Very little torque steer, very sure-footed at very high speeds in the rain. It was an excellent car to drive. Nowhere near the level of my 350Z, of course, but it held its own quite well.

Or, you might try the Toyo Proxes T1-S'. I've done a full track day in the rain with those on my car, and was amazed at how well they performed.


I was just trying to say the rwd should not factor into it, if he'd prefer the RX-8. The snow tires will make it a moot point (rwd vs. fwd). I was not trying to disparage the RX-8 in any way :slight_smile:


If you are pushing cars, it does not matter if they are fwd or rwd. Unless of course, they are in gear, in which case I would recommend a fwd car so that it ca be picked up from the back and then pushed. Obviously, awd and 4wd are out of the question.

Hope that helps,


I'm not even reading this... i'm just going to say RWD.

2007 (2008?) Camaro for your time.


Get the RX8! Because of the small displacement Wankel rotor engine which sits closer to the driver, the RX8 is one of the best balanced (50%weight in the front, 50% rear) cars on the road. With the traction control & SNOW tires (NOT all-seasons)you should be good. PZero's are excellent 'all seasons' but don't work well in snow (had a guy get stuck in front of my house in an AMG Benz in 3 inches of snow). No all season will work as well as a good snow tire despite what the tire salesman will tell you! Bridgestone makes good tires for thick & choppy snow, Pirelli makes a good performance snow tire, & etc etc. I'd suggest you go online to tirerack to shop & COMPARE performance ratings for the different brands in your tire size.

If you get the RX8 what color do you want??


if I can get my 2WD pickup through the snow of Colorado just fine without sandbags (sometimes) I would imagine that a car with 50/50 weight distribution would do a LOT better than a truck that's about 70F/30R. Just make sure ya get some all season or snow tires on the RX-8 in the crap months and then have some fun!


This is from a professional in the tire industry. Three things control handling in slippery conditions. One, vehicle capabilities, traction control is awesome now a days even in the rwd, it was not so in the old days. Two, your contact with the road, namely tires. Bridgestone makes a high performance snow tire called "Blizzak". In my experience the technology that goes into this tire is unmatched my any other.

I have personally driven and compared this tire against all the others mentioned in this thread so far on an hockey rink, on the ice; and while all of them are excellent tires, they pale in comparison to the results you'll achieve in the Blizzaks.

Also, while stationed in North Dakota, my brother bought a set after hearing many rave reviews about them and he never had anything but great things to say about them. Most people end up getting rid of their chains. Third is the driver capabilities and responsibility level. I've seen too many times where the driver feels so confident in his/her tires that he out-drives them. No tire is meant to handle all conditions all the time.

The only downside to the Blizzaks is that it is a "winter-only" tire. You'll get three to four good seasons out of them as long as you put them on at the first snow and take them off at the last snow. Bare, dry roads chew these tires up fairly quickly. But that is not a problem I'm sure during the winter in your neck of the woods.

Any other things tire or car related, feel free to give me a shout.



... and I'll stand by my suggestion of Toyo Proxes T1-S in the rain. Thankfully, snow is not an issue here. :slightly_smiling:


As a Canadian who considers himself a pretty good driver, I've always had RWD vehicles, and I feel far safer in them than FWDs in the winter. Think about it: if you lose traction in a FWD vehicle, you lose your most of your braking/acceleration AND your steering.

The only proviso (and is is a big one) is driving skill/experience -- if you're confident driving past the traction limit on dirt/gravel roads (tailsliding and drifting and whatnot), you'll be fine in the winter.

Beyond that, if you don't get the RX-8, you'll only end up regretting it. Trust me.



I'm also biased. Driving 5.7L of American muscle (LS1) everyday brings a great smile. :slight_smile:

You just learn to back off the WOT from time to time. When the weather is fine, the RWD leaves the others behind.


That's what happens when you try to over-analyze something without full experience with the dynamics involved.

The front wheels pull the vehicle. If they lose traction, the vehicle contines in whatever direction it was going when traction was lost. Since the wheels are no longer pulling, you decelerate naturally (you still have rolling resistance in the rear). For our purposes, this is called understeer (literally, understeer is when the car turns less than the steering input).

Understeer is considered very safe. Car manufacturers will make cars understeer on purpose so that people don't put them in the ditch so much. It's naturally self-correcting.

When you lose traction in the rear, you now have more rolling resistance in the front than you have in the rear, so the rear will want to come around and switch places, e.g. fish-tailing. For our purposes, this is called oversteer (literally oversteer is the car turning more than the steering input). Oversteer, unless intentional and controlled (i.e. drifting) is considered bad, because once it happens, it becomes very difficult to regain control.

This is why FWD is safer and more controllable than RWD, for the average driver, when you have slippery conditions.