Rear-wheel drive (or RWD for short) was a common engine/transmission layout used in automobiles throughout the 20th century. RWD typically places the engine in the front of the vehicle, but the mid engine and rear engine layouts are also used.
The vast majority of rear wheel drive vehicles use a longitudinally-mounted engine in the front of the vehicle, driving the rear wheels via a driveshaft linked via a differential between the rear axles. Some FR layout vehicles place the transmission at the rear, though most attach it to the engine at the front.
Rear wheel drive has fallen out of favor in passenger cars since the 1980s, due in part to higher manufacturing costs, and a perception by many car buyers that front wheel drive is safer, and that it performs better on slippery roads. However, many prestige automobile brands, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche continue to use rear wheel drive platforms.
- Better handling in dry conditions - accelerating force is applied to the rear wheels, on which the down force increases, due to load transfer in acceleration, making the rear tires better able to take simultaneous acceleration and curving than the front tires.
- Less costly and easier maintenance - Rear wheel drive is mechanically simpler and typically does not involve packing as many parts into as small a space as does front wheel drive, thus requiring less disassembly or specialized tools in order to replace parts.
- No torque steer.
- Even weight distribution - The division of weight between the front and rear wheels has a significant impact on a car's handling, and it is much easier to get a 50/50 weight distribution in a rear wheel drive car than in a front wheel drive car, as more of the engine can lie between the front and rear wheels (in the case of a mid engine layout, the entire engine), and the transmission is moved much farther back.
- Steering radius - As no complicated drive shaft joints are required at the front wheels, it is possible to turn them further than would be possible using front wheel drive, resulting in a smaller steering radius.
- Towing - Rear wheel drive puts the wheels which are pulling the load closer to the point where a trailer articulates, helping steering, especially for large loads.
- Weight transfer during acceleration. (During heavy acceleration, the front end rises, and more weight is placed on the rear, or driving wheels).
- Drifting is much easier in a rear-wheel drive automobile, as power can be applied to keep the drift going--more power aids the drift. Front wheel drive and four wheel drive cars may also drift, but only with much more difficulty. When front wheel drive cars drift, the driver usually pulls on the emergency brake in order for the back wheels to stop and thus skid.
- More difficult to master - While the handling characteristics of rear-wheel drive may be useful or fun in the hands of some drivers, for others, having the rear wheels move about is unintuitive and dangerous. Rear wheel drive rewards skill, and punishes the lack of it. Other layouts are much more forgiving, but don't offer the same rewards in handling.
- Decreased interior space - This isn't an issue in a vehicle with a ladder frame like a pickup truck, where the space used by the drive line is unusable for passengers or cargo. But in a passenger car, rear wheel drive means: Less front leg room (the transmission tunnel takes up a lot of space between the driver and front passenger), less leg room for center rear passengers (due to the tunnel needed for the drive shaft), and sometimes less trunk space (since there is also more hardware that must be placed underneath the trunk).
- Increased weight - The components of your typical rear wheel drive vehicle's power train may be less complex, but there are more of them. The driveshaft adds weight. The transmission is probably heavier. There is extra sheet metal to form the transmission tunnel. There is a rear axle or rear half-shafts. A rear wheel drive car will weigh slightly more than a comparable front wheel drive car (but less than four wheel drive).
- Higher purchase price - Probably due to more complicated assembly (the powertrain is not one compact unit) and added cost of materials, rear wheel drive is typically slightly more expensive to purchase than a comparable front wheel drive vehicle. This might also be explained by production volumes, however.
- More difficult handling on low grip surfaces (wet road, ice, snow, gravel...) as the car is pushed rather than pulled. It can also lead to accidents in light rain. The decline in popularity of rear wheel drive cars can be attributed to these factors.
- Depending on the automobile model, traction can be less than that of front-wheel drive; however, heavy cargo can be beneficial for traction.
Current or recent rear wheel drive cars to 2006
While the popularity of rear wheel drive has declined, it is still relatively prevalent, and has been making something of a resurgence. Here is list of current or recent rear wheel drive vehicles. See also Category:Rear wheel drive vehicles.
- Almost all non-4WD trucks and most SUVs are rear wheel drive.
- The overwhelming majority of sports cars are rear wheel drive, although some also have four wheel drive options. It would be redundant to list them all here.
- BMW - All cars except the MINI, and all wheel drive variants.
- Cadillac - CTS, SRX, STS, Catera
- Chevrolet - Camaro, Corvette
- Dodge Viper, Dodge Charger/Dodge Magnum/Chrysler 300
- Ford - Crown Victoria, Falcon (Australia), Mustang, Scorpio, Thunderbird, Capri
- Holden - Holden Monaro (Australia) and versions sold overseas: Pontiac GTO (USA) and Vauxhall Monaro (United Kingdom), Holden Commodore (Australia)
- Honda - S2000, NSX (Acura NSX in North America)
- Infiniti - G35,M45,M35,Q45,M30,J30
- Jaguar - All except the X-Type
- Lexus - IS, GS, LS, SC
- Lincoln - Town Car, Mark VIII and LS
- Lotus - All except Elan-M100
- Maserati - All models
- Mazda - MX-5 Miata, RX-7, RX-8
- Mercedes-Benz - All cars except A-Class, B-Class and all wheel drive models
- Mercury - Grand Marquis, Marauder
- Nissan - 350Z, Z Cars, Skyline (except 4WD models), Silvia (200SX in Europe/Oceania, 240SX in USA), 180SX
- Pontiac - Firebird, GTO, Solstice
- Porsche - All cars except the AWD Carrera 4, 911 Turbo and Cayenne
- Saturn Sky
- Toyota - Supra, MR2, Altezza (Lexus IS), Crown, Mark X
- TVR - All models
- Vauxhall Carlton/Opel Omega - All models
- RearWheelDrive.org - An organization that is devoted to promote RWD
- "Why Front-Wheel Drive Sucks - And Why Rear-Wheel Drive is Coming Back" - A personal opinion
- What's It Like To Drive - Describes a test between two Dodge Daytonas, one FWD and one RWD