Back where it belongs
IT’S a bit like blokes trying to multi-task — most can do two things at once but neither job is going to get done well.
Many still believe it’s also the case with cars — drive from the rear and change direction through the front, weighed down by the power plant.
Economics and packaging have seen rear-drivers in the affordable realm fast become the minority, to the detriment of appealing road manners and driving dynamics.
What’s so good about frontwheel-drive? Car companies like it because they can be made lighter (no drive shaft and rear diff), quieter (for the same reason, fewer moving parts beneath passengers) and more spacious for the occupants.
But the inherent balance and driveability of a vehicle with the rear wheels driving and front wheels only concerned with steering has long been a desirable drivetrain layout.
While a cloud looms large over the local industry, the crew out at Elizabeth have built some of the more amusing reardrivers of recent times, the latest being the $52,000 SS V Redline editions of the VF Commodore.
Pick your body style — sedan, wagon or ute — and fire off onto your favoured back road with electronic back-up and a chassis that won’t require it, short of rank foolishness from the driver.
It’s not the most powerful rear-drive sedan around — HSV or the now-endangered FPV models boast more brawn, the latter more white-knuckle moments — but the Redline makes the most of its mumbo.
An honourable mention also goes to the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core, recently slung across sodden Adelaide Hills roads in the Targa Adelaide event. It was kept straight and true by chassis dynamics defying unintended sideways slewing, despite the best efforts of 347 kilowatts and 631 Newton metres.
Manual gearboxes might well be on the endangered list but rear-drivers are not dead yet.
The latest incarnation of the Mazda MX-5 — the revolutionary two-seater droptop that arrived in 1989 under $30,000 — has stayed true to the lightweight balanced recipe of its forebears, even if it has gotten a little ritzier.
Pricing on some others has made the little Mazda look a bit rich, but it remains one of the truly great sports car drives of the past century.
Toyota and Subaru joined forces (Toyota owns a large chunk of Subaru parent company FHI) on a two-door coupe project that has brought front-engine rear-drive amusement back to the masses ... or at least as many who were prepared to wait months for the privilege.
The 86/BRZ (last year’s Carsguide Car of The Year winners) is the 21st century cut-price corner carver that has eroded the Mazda’s price point pedestal.
Lithe and enthusiastic, the flat-four -powered coupe has resuscitated the realm of affordable sportscars. The Subaru BRZ is the more sports-focused while Toyota’s version offers a broader range of options, including automatic variants.
“Fun to drive, again” was the mantra from Toyota’s marketing boffins and for once they weren’t shovelling the end product.
Making the most of its mumbo: Holden’s Commodore VF
SS V Redline