Front or rear wheel drive better for getting up steep dirt road?

I need to rent a minivan or SUV to get up to a house that is ¼ mile up a steep, twisty dirt road. Rental car options are limited. Do you think a front wheel drive or rear wheel drive car would be better? I know AWD would be preferable but that is not an option. Getting down the road hasn’t been a problem in the past. Just getting up it, especially if its wet.

Rear. With good tires. Don’t let them send you off on crappy tires.

Once, in a little snow, a rear drive van in front of me was stuck trying to get up an incline. I easily drove around him and up the road in my front drive car (all season tires).

Doesn’t really tell us anything without knowing the condition of the van’s tires, and the skill level of the driver. Before the conversion van era, a lot of vans were pretty empty in the back. They’d have 2 front seats, a bench seat directly behind that, and nothing all the way to the back door. This made them essentially like pickup trucks with nothing in the box - not enough weight over the drive wheels, which gets exacerbated when you’re driving on bald tires.

This won’t be a problem with whatever OP rents.

All that said, unless the road is insanely steep, which it probably isn’t, then as long as OP has decent tires on his vehicle he should get up the road just fine no matter which drive configuration he has.

My rear drive Fairmonts were pitiful to get going on an incline with a little snow (good all season tires).

With all things being equal…RWD vehicles tend to go up inclines better that FWD vehicles. Good tires are a necessity though.

Does “all things being equal” mean 60% of the car’s weight is on the driving axle in both cases? If so, I agree.

I’d put my money on a FWD going up the hill in reverse. Now it’s effectively a rear engine RWD car with about 60% of its weight on the driving wheels, plus the weight transfer caused by going up the incline puts even a greater percentage of the car on the driving wheels.
When going up forward, the weight transfer tends to unload the driving wheels of a FWD car.

Years ago, we got caught in an ice storm on a hilly road and after several attempts to climb a certain grade on that road, we were about to give up but I said, “everybody in the back seat” and then tried again and we made it and were able to get to town.
This was with a '64 Chevy Nova RWD car. Good thing it had a small six cylinder engine, a big V-8 would have made it hopelessly front heavy.

In my experience, the only way RWD climbs as well as FWD is if it’s a limited-slip differential; true limited-slip, not some pathetic alternating side-to-side design.

You’ve already driven the road in poor conditions. What were you driving and in what way did it struggle to make it up the hill? If the problem was a lack of control, with the car sliding all over the place, I don’t think you’re going to get much success with anything but awd.

If you are comfortable backing up and the conditons warent it, I would do that first. The last thing you want to happen is to have to do is back down. Delivery trucks do this for that exact reason, even if it has rwd and has more traction going forward. Backing down a steep hill is not for the faint of heart when you have no forward traction. Now, a rwd is better, but only if you ahve at least 50% weight balance to start with. If it’s an empty vehicle, you will struggle there too. Also, a rwd vehicle with the lightest motor helps too.

@BLE is right on with his observations. Why isn’t AWD an option ?

If the weight distribtuion was equal fore to aft, the rear wheel drive would do better going uphill But I doubt it is on any SUV you are considering to rent. Driving in the snow on fairly steep mountain roads in Colorado, my front wd VW Rabbit performed better, even going uphill, than my rear wheel drive truck. The Rabbit had the engine weight over the tires, while the truck bed doesn’t weigh much, so little traction for the rear wheels.

Rwd trucks with no weight in the back can be useless. Their handling, especially on hills and in snow actually improve with the weight you add. The opposite is true with fwd. Unloaded, they are at their best and as you add weight, tire traction being equal, both traction and handling being to wain. At some point as still more weight is added, it crosses and handling and traction performance heads in opposite directions for each type vehicle. A loaded truck can very good, unloaded, the pits.