Front-drive versus rear-drive, the ultimate challenge

Front-drive versus rear-drive, the ultimate challenge

When you get right down to it, the Honda Civic Si that I reviewed and the BMW 328i are poles apart in how they get their basic job done. That basic job is getting a driver from here to there and back again with lots of fun and performance.

It’s the kind of job that a car a Chevy Aveo can also do, although without the flare (and certainly with better mileage), but that’s not what we’re talking about here, it’s the ultimate challenge that a performance front-drive machine presents in the face of a balanced front-engine/rear-drive machine.

There are no two ways about it, after driving both vehicles for a bit, I’ve come away with the conclusion that I always come away with. Front-drive is designed for packaging while rear-drive is designed for performance.

Yes, there are those who would argue that you can make a front-drive car do things that seem similar to a rear drive vehicle, such as a four-wheel drift through a corner. But think about what you have to do to make it happen in the Si. You not only have to jump on the emergency brakes to lock them up and throw the vehicle into a deliberate case of controlled trailing throttle oversteer, you also have to get on the gas and front brakes and keep the car as the right attitude to make this all happen.

In the 328i – which admittedly has less interior room than the even the subcompact Si (or at least it seems that way) – all you have to do is a little heal-and-toe brake and gas and getting on the gas hard as you change the vehicle’s attitude with the steering wheel and front wheels while you break the rear wheels free because that’s where the power is coming from and you have a four-wheel-drift.

Another key difference is that when you hit the gas hard at a light, the Si still tries to jump to the right – albeit it is well controlled and you have to know what you are looking for – it’s just that you won’t find that in the BMW 328i. You hit the gas, the rear-wheels chirp a bit and you’re off. If you hit it hard on sand, you may notice that the 328i tries to swing to the left rear as it fishtails, but, if you’re on dry pavement, unless you let the BMW control you, you don’t have any problems.

As I noted at the start of this comparison review, the key difference here is the mission of the car. When Honda released its first front-drive Civics, their job was just to get people from Point A to Point B with economy and not excitement. The BMW family, on the other hand, has always been about excitement and from day one they have delivered on that promise.

Honda believed in people over performance (only later coming to the realization that performance still sells), while BMW never lost sight of the prize. People want performance and if they get good packaging and reasonable mileage along the way, they consider them to be bonuses.

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