Taco To The Limit
One of the staple dishes here in Southern California is the fish taco. I find myself at Wahoo's Fish Tacos at least twice a week. Although they're my favorite, a variety of other places do them well. I've paid various prices, had them prepared different ways and still have trouble saying what the best method is. Grilled, deep-fried, sauted-they all have merit: it's a matter of taste.
The same goes for driveline layout. Recently, I've driven some of the finest examples of front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive cars to grace asphalt. The frontdriver was a Hotchkis-equipped MINI Cooper S, capable of some of the most amazing feats of direction changes I've ever seen. The car doesn't understeer (as everyone expects from a front-driver), while sliding the back end through a corner and initiating four-wheel drifts are completely possible.
Representing the rear-wheel-drive camp is Lotus' amazing Exige S 240. Being half the weight of most American SUV drivers and a quarter the weight of their vehicles helps this thing corner like Jesus on roller skates. Being rear-wheel-drive allows for easy mid-corner corrections and will respond obediently to any driving style thrown at it.
For the all-wheel-drive team, a number of suitable four-trackers have graced our testing regime lately. Everything from Audi R8s and RS4s to 997 Turbos have turned perfectly good rubber to dust in our hands. The Audis make excellent use of all four wheels, but cars like modified twin turbos absolutely need to use all four patches of rubber for forward propulsion.
The first concern when talking about drivetrains is: why does it even matter? The easy answer is because cars have a limited amount of grip generated by weight pushing tires on to the road. This finite grip must be divided between braking, cornering and accelerating forces. When trying to achieve maximum cornering gs, you want to use as little grip as possible for accelerating and vice versa. This is the downside of front-wheel-drive cars. As the power is fed in to accelerate, the tires will break traction if they're already at the edge of their abilities with cornering force.
Many enthusiasts prefer rear-wheel drive because the front tires are tasked with forcing the car around a turn while the rear puts down power. The rear has an advantage over the front in acceleration because drive torque and g-forces cause a car to squat during acceleration, creating even more grip in back. Hopefully, we've all felt the results of trying to put down too much power in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. The back end loses grip and a slide ensues. If the car doesn't break the rear tires loose, the loss of grip on the front end causes the vehicle to understeer toward the outside of the turn.