It may not be as popular as it was 10 years ago, but FWD is still alive and kicking ass at racetracks all over America. Just take a look at how strong Compass360 Racing continues to be, currently owning the three top spots in the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car class with its battalion of Honda Civics.
But with sophisticated and tunable traction and stability control systems becoming the norm even on lower end models, RWD cars are more and more becoming the drivetrain of choice for road cars. FWD was the safe alternative to RWD because you actually had to know how to pedal a car that was powered by the rear wheels, and as mainstream drivers became lazy and less educated on car control, RWD became a problem—so FWD was a great alternative. And that’s not a bad thing, since this led to the proliferation of simple, lightweight, nimble, and surprisingly fast FF (front engine, front-wheel drive) machines that drew many of us into the sport compact scene. Sure, it may not be as macho as driving a GTR or hooning about in a BRZ or FR-S, but sometimes being able to go flat out without cresting crazy speeds is a lot of fun. In a FWD sub-compact you can use all of the car’s potential on the street, have fun doing it, and not feel guilty about it either because it’s fuel efficient and easy on the brakes and tires, plus it’s easy to control at relatively low limits. And when you think about it, a front-drive sub-compact really is a great way for new drivers to learn about maintaining momentum in the corners, trail braking to get the car to rotate, and all the other slow-car driving techniques that make you a better/faster driver once you graduate to something with more power and more grip.
That’s why the Honda family of EF/EG/EK Civics and DA/DC Integras is still so popular. Granted, most of them these days have K-swapped engines turning out serious power, but go drive a stock one and tell me it’s not a riot to rip around at full tilt. Speaking of fast FWD Hondas, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen something with proper race-bred DNA from the big H. Rumors are brewing, though, that a very capable FWD platform is in the works. Honda CEO Takanobu Ito recently mentioned that Honda will be looking at developing the fastest FF car around the Nürburgring. If that’s true, then we all have lots of celebrating to do because a Type-R variant from Honda is just what the brand needs to reconnect with its go-fast soul and its legion of loyal followers.
I’m sure Honda as well as the other Japanese manufacturers have noticed the hot hatch sub-compact market heating up, with performance offerings from both Chevy and Ford. The Chevy Sonic RS is no slouch and offers great turbocharged performance for its price point. And as a matter of fact, we’ll be building one as a project car, so you’ll get to see firsthand how well it performs and responds to modification. Ford has really stepped its game up, too, with the Fiesta ST offering a whopping 197 hp and 214 lb-ft from a 1.6L turbocharged engine, undoubtedly making it the benchmark to catch.
The Fiesta ST and Sonic RS may just be the testosterone injection this segment so desperately needs, and much like the BRZ/FR-S have done for the affordable sports coupe market, these sporty hatches could very well motivate other manufacturers to join in the fight. Perhaps a Type-R CRZ (non-hybrid of course) is already in the works? We can only hope.
In the meantime, there are plenty of FWD platforms to enjoy and modify. As you’ll soon see, even a Suzuki Swift can make for a rather fun and potent track vehicle. FWD is not dead, and it’s about to make a well-deserved comeback.
Honda CEO Takanobu Ito recently mentioned that Honda will be looking at developing the fastest FF car around the Nürburgring.
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Editor-in-Chief Peter Tarach