What is front wheel drive?

It sounds like a well known term in motoring but do you really understand the difference?

Front-wheel drive is a type of transmission system and engine arrangement that provides power specifically to the front wheels of a motor vehicle. This is commonly known as FWD.

Most of the time, highlighting a transverse engine instead of the traditional longitudinal engine layout. Though the latter is more popular for four-wheel and rear-wheel drive vehicles. Let’s found out more:

There are three major categories, based on this engine setup. Namely Transversely Mounted, Longitudinally mounted and Mid-engine.

1. Transversely Mounted:

Many modern front wheel drive vehicles use this engine mounting configuration.

A transverse engine is an engine mounted in a vehicle so that the engine's crankshaft axis is perpendicular to the direction of travel.

In 1931, the DKW Front F1 was the first known front-wheel drive car that had a transverse engine. It contained an engine that was a twin cylinder two-stroke.

These engines were pushed into the mainstream by the BMC Mini which used a transverse engine, maximising interior space. This design was especially revolutionary as the transmission was engineered into the engine’s sump, thus making for a powertrain that took up a small footprint of space within the engine bay.

Some examples of transversely mounted four-cylinder inline water-cooled engines, are 1959 Mini of Issigoni, Allegro, Austin 1100/1300, Maxi, Renault 14, Peugeot 104, and Datsun 100A (Cherry).

This overall arrangement has become popular all over the world.

2. Longitudinally mounted:

This is an engine that is mounted in a vehicle so that the engine's crankshaft is parallel with the vehicle, front to back. The majority of rear wheel drive vehicles use this engine design.

Few manufacturers have ever been opted for a longitudinal front-wheel drive system, but Audi has implemented it in its mid-range cars using a transaxle which is also longitudinally mounted.

In 1946, Jean-Albert Grégoire’s Panhard Dyna X had an engine that was installed longitudinally before the front wheels and the transmission. Regarding the differential, it was located in the back part of the assembly. Therefore the disadvantage of this design was poor weight distribution.

Since about the 1950s, Audi has been the most popular user of this arrangement. This system is applied to the bigger models like the A4. Audi tried to solve the problems with the improper weight distribution as well. The solution was to have the clutch that's behind the differential to move the axle line forward and coordinate with the engine block’s rear.

3. Mid-engine:

The first FWD was not specifically called front-wheel drive. It was known as mid-engine front-wheel-drive layout (MF).

A Front Mid-engine, Front-wheel-drive layout is one in which the front wheels are driven by an internal-combustion motor placed just behind them, in front of the passenger compartment.

Modern generation FWD

These days, transversely installed engines are the most popular for FWD cars. Other usual features with this engine design are to name a few, cooling fans that operate electronically and driveshafts that connect through constant velocity.

Here are some common reasons why most automobile companies resort to the FWD rather than the RWD. Smaller, cheaper and more fuel-efficient, more traction, less demand for horsepower, and better and lighter when it comes to weight.

In simple conclusion:

The front-wheel drive is a type of setup that focusses on the engine and the transmission. The engine puts all of its power into the front wheels of the car (hence the name) and most car models use FWD since about the 1990s.

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