I like rear-wheel drive. It’s purer, simpler and direct exposure fills your head with unrealistic delusions of man-over-machine heroics. On Evo’s Top 10 Greatest Drivers’ Cars, eight were RWD. So why does Volkswagen, our soon-to-be #1 global sales overlords, hate it?
The way that gun nuts think the government is actively after their firearms, that’s how I am about rear-drive. I fear that it will be regulated and marketed away on the grounds of “improved safety” and “reasonability.” I think the growing prevalence all-wheel drive is the first step towards that. Why on Earth would you and two driven wheels powering the car when you could have four? I know that AWD is great, provides more grip and I’m even told it isn’t plagued with understeer. But in my head, despite it not always being the case, every AWD drivetrain begins life as front-wheel drive. Of course that’s not true. Sometimes.
Maybe I missed one (feel free to correct me), but out of the dozens of vehicles sold under VW’s many nameplates, only one is rear-wheel drive. The $290,000 Bentley Mulsanne is offered only in RWD which came as a bit of a shock. I expected it to share parts with the borefest Continental GT, which is driven by all four wheels.
This chart is based on Volkswagen Group vehicles sold in the United States in 2011-2012. Porsche isn’t on it because, whatever their unusual arrangement with VW is in, I don’t consider Porsche under the umbrella yet. Lamborghini built the Valentino Balboni Gallardo LP550-2 in 2009, but that special edition is no longer in production.
To answer my own question, VW probably doesn’t hate rear-wheel drive platforms: it’s just more cost-effective to built cars front-wheel drive first and then offer all-wheel drive as an add-on. It’s an effective strategy for building cars for a variety of purposes and pricepoints, but it’s hard for me to take a sports car seriously when its beginnings source back to front-wheel drive. On VW Group’s more exotic offerings (Bentley/Audi R8/Lamborghini, they’re obviously designed from the start as rear-biased all-wheel drive, with the added traction serving as a safety net for owners in their high-horsepower toys. It’s all very logical, but a bit of a shame. Why not the choice? Is Volkswagen Group’s drivetrain strategy the plan that others will follow?