Rear wheel drive

My wife and I who are lifelong New Englanders are trying to find a car that comes in standard, which is hard enough these days, but a lot of the ones we have found are real wheel drive (lexus, Infinity etc.) We have always been told that rear wheel drive is terrible in the snow. Has this changed somehow with the advent of traction control or other such gizmos? Is this just malarky? What have been your experiences?

These snow questions always degrade into who knows best about driving in snow and who lives where there is more snow.

I will say things are better than 25 years ago and buy dedicated snow tires and stay home if it questionable.

A RWD vehicle with traction control will definitely be superior to a RWD vehicle w/o traction control. And, if you equip the car with high quality Winter Tires on all 4 wheels, you should be able to get around in light snow without getting stuck.

That being said, a RWD vehicle is inherently inferior to a FWD vehicle in the same slippery conditions. And, that FWD vehicle would be inferior to an AWD vehicle in the same slippery conditions.

Many, many years ago, I noticed how Saabs had become very commonplace in New England (this was when Saabs were the only small, low-priced FWD cars). Later, Subarus became commonplace in New England because they had AWD, and because they were now cheaper than most Saabs. There is a reason why New Englanders began to desert RWD many years ago, and that reason is winter traction.

But, as I said earlier, with the advent of traction control and modern winter tires, some of the traction difficulties of RWD vehicles have been overcome. I think that you should buy what you want, regardless of drive system. Just be sure to buy a set of 4 winter tires on their own steel wheels. I highly recommend the Michelin X-Ice tire for both its superior traction and its very long tread wear.

If you are used to FWD cars, then you will find RWD different, perhaps enough to be a problem. What do you have that you want to replace?

I myself prefer RWD, but:
FWD in snow. good traction, unless you lose it. then your really stuck.
RWD in snow. decent traction. if you get stuck, rock it back and forth, or gas it a bit. just not too much. better in dry performance and durability.

For those of us that remember driving RWD exclusively was the norm, I will venture the following. Properly prepared with real snow tires and added weight over the drive wheels, RWD can offer excellent service. Along the way, we got lazy, refused to add snows and were taken in by the “all weather tire” hoopla decided that fwd was better because we were too lazy to properly prepare a RWD car. Make no mistake; if you are a knowledgable winter driver willing to practice the difference and properly prepare for winter driving, RWD is superior to any comparable front drive car with the same clearance if you practice proper weight distribution. If you are are looking for better packaging that that fwd offers and just want something passable for less money, fwd is for you. I have never driven an emergency car or truck in slippery conditions that I thought was better served with FWD than the rwd vehicles I had.

FWD is better in snow only because the motor is over the drive wheels. The extra weight helps the front wheels get traction. However once moving front wheel drive is harder to control than RWD. Once FWD starts to skid you are pretty much at the mercy of physics.

With a RWD if the car starts to skid you have more options, but you have to be comfortable with handling a car that is skidding which takes some practice and skill. I’d prefer a RWD car over a FWD in snow, but both cars would have snow tires. If you intend to drive on “all season” tires in winter stick to FWD and keep your speeds down.

When you say “comes in standard,” do you mean with a manual transmission?

You must have other restrictions on your vehicle purchase, because I can think of quite a few FWD vehicles that have an optional manual transmission.

I have lived most of my life in the North to include Alaska. I would recommend that you go with a FWD with good all-weather tires.

I haven’t had rear wheel drive CARS where it snows since I was driving a 76 Impala which was great in snow. My 72 New Yorker or 72 Cadillac were great snow cars too. If you live where there aren’t many hills you can drive anything as long as the roads get plowed. New England describes many types of terrain so I can’t say what’s best. If you are retired or working, it makes a difference too. If you get stuck, the new gizmos have limitations but traction control and studded Winter tires can help. I just saw a car in Augusta Maine driving with studs today even though Winter is still a few weeks away.

We live in a relatively flat area in the upper midwest. Rear wheel drive used to be terrible in snow with regular bias ply tires but better with snow tires. Regular radial tires made rear drive much better in the snow and we stopped using snow tires in winter.

When we got our first front driver, I was amazed how good it was in the snow with regular radial tires.

We owned a car with traction control for a while and were not impressed with it. If it is standard equipment, that is fine but I would not pay extra for it. You can do the same thing yourself using a little discretion with the gas pedal.

We keep our nice rear drive car out of the snow/salt and use a front drive disposable car in winter.

Dodge,On the friendly side, it must have been 105 today in Tucson (after awhile you stop looking) is Winter really just a few weeks away in Maine?

While FWD provides better snow traction (assuming everything else is equal), in my experience, the OP should do fine with a RWD car with good snow tires.

Let’s not forget recommending the OP gets 4 good snow tires. Having them on the front is important to being able to stop the vehicle.

FWD are better than RWD because If the front wheels slip, the car will usually stay in line.

With rear wheel drive, the pushing rear wheels slip and the back end of the
car starts to swing.

I wouldn’t say “FWD is better than RWD”. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

Like many others on this forum, I drove RWD cars probably a half a million miles before ever getting my first FWD car. Many of those RWD miles were in years when I was a ski bum in Vermont and in Summit County, Colorado.

I stand by my statement: The OP will do fine with a RWD car provided it’s equipped with good snow tires.

Dodge,On the friendly side, it must have been 105 today in Tucson (after awhile you stop looking) is Winter really just a few weeks away in Maine?

Not speaking for Dodge, but once you get into October, all bets are off here in Maine and yes a few weeks away is a bit of a stretch, but not much. We are presently enjoying our usual three to four weeks of real summer.

BTW, factors that have as great affect on overall winter performance as the usual RWD vs FWD debate is ground clearance, tire width (flotation is bad), weight distribution and traction aid “gizmos”. If you think a Vette is poor in snow because it’s rear wheel drive, consider how poor a FWD Vette would be with the same above mentioned characteristics.

Center of gravity shift is a dynamic factor that affects a cars traction in motion both linear and cornering, up hills and down, and a properly prepared fwd car has a tougher time dealing with it than a properly prepared RWD car…all other factors equal (which they seldom are). Throw people and gear in a rwd drive car/truck and it’s potential traction and handling improves up to a point of course…the opposite is true for most fwd cars/vans from the get go.

Wow, thanks for all the feedback. I will attempt to answer everyone?s questions at once.
Current car: VW Passat 4 cyl, trouble free and on its first clutch at 250k+
Tires: 4 snows in the winter
Tranny: a real stick with a clutch and all, none of that simulated standard for us (change is scary and therefore bad!) - she wants a 6-spd this time
Commute: about 50 miles each way 4-5 days a week
Terrain: the Litchfield hills of NW CT but we go all over New England.
Frills desired: leather, heated seats, good milage (at least 27 hwy) four doors preferred or at least a useable back seat.

The consensus I am getting is that while a FwD is superior to RWD in snow, the advantage can be carried over with sufficient weight over the drive axel, as we already use 4-snows that is not a problem. Of course if I could just get her to go the Saab route that I did 10 years ago the problem would be solved

I have driven RWD standard transmission cars for over 40 years – first 7 in CT/MA (Torrington/Boston) and 33 here in Boulder/Denver. 4WD is nice for our once every five year blizzard or if you live in the mountains and drive in un-plowed snow. Other than that, I prefer RWD with four REAL SNOW TIRES (e.g. Blizzaks) over FWD any day. AWD (Audi, etc.) would be my second choice and FWD dead last. I just do not like how FWD handles – to much weight over the front wheels and torque steer.

What do cops drive in winter? RWD yank tanks with snow tires. If they can do it so can you.

Look at BMW 3/5 series – very nice RWD manual transmission sedan. I’ve been driving them for over 25 years and have yet to get stuck in snow.


What exactly are you looking for?
Are you looking for any car, with either FWD, RWD, or AWD (doesn’t really matter to you) just as long as it has a 6 speed manual transmission, and 4 doors?

Or are you looking for something with RWD, 6 speed manual, and 4 doors?
Or something else?

Is there a price point you are trying to meet?

If you want FWD and a 6 speed manual, Nissan Altima offers both their 4 cylinder and their V6 with a 6 speed manual. I bought my '07 Altima 2.5S with a 6 speed manual brand new in December 2006, and now have 33k trouble free miles on it. Honda, Mazda and Toyota should all offer comparable cars to the Altima with manual transmissions.

If you want RWD with a 6 speed and 4 doors, the Infiniti G37 Sport is available.

Plenty of Subarus to fill the AWD and 6 speed manual transmission need.
They just revamped the Legacy and Outback for 2010. More legroom front and rear.


No one wants to get stuck in the snow. However I have one suggestion. If you are afraid of being stuck in the snow, you really should be more worried about loosing control in the snow. If you get stuck, you walk home and by June you will have your car back. If you loose control, your next concern maybe if the ambulance will be able to get to you.

Learned to drive when FWD was just not around. We got through. Those with snow tyres made it through more often and when things really got bad (few plows) we stayed safely at home

Most any car will do just fine with four good WINTER tyres (they don’t call them snow tyres because they are a far different technology) and much better.