Have you ever seen a front wheel drive car making a one wheel burnout? You have? Great! That’s the problem many manufacturers have been trying to circumnavigate or completely resolve on FWD cars. Not so much to deter you from making one wheel burnouts, but to make the car corner better and safer with putting down the power to the wheel that actually has some grip. The reason a FWD car (or any car for that matter) tends to send power to the wheel with least grip is the so-called open differential - a system designed to send power to the wheel with 50 percent of power reaching one wheel and 50 percent the other. However, as opposite wheels on cars must spin at different rates (like when cornering), the open differential cannot be locked, thus allowing for some extreme tendencies to send the power through the path of least resistance. Simply said - to the wheels with the least grip. Using this system saves a ton in R&D, the simple design of open differential makes it cheap to produce, and it doesn’t put too much strain on the various drivetrain elements. However, some tend to make fun of open diffs. “They are just like a one-wheel drive.” Is there any truth to this? After all, the power always goes to the wheel with the least resistance.

While an open diff works great in normal conditions (on a surface and in conditions that provide similar grip to both wheels,) more extreme circumstances (cornering fast, driving on slippery surfaces and the like) do limit its effectiveness fast. That is why manufacturers found a number of ways to circumnavigate these problems with mechanical means. Those cars using systems to defeat the limitations of open diffs are usually in the upper echelons of the car world, and I am presenting you nine of them.

1. Volkswagen Golf GTI

8 Cars With Amazing Front Wheel Drive Systems That Prove You Don't Always Need AWD
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The main advantage compared to other civil FWD cars is its special system designed to dramatically reduce oversteer, improve cornering abilities, and provide engaging driving dynamics

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is an undisputed legend among hot hatchbacks. Not only did it launch a whole hot hatch craze, but it did it in such a dominant way that it has remained a performance icon to this day. The latest one – the Golf GTI Performance Mk7 - is considered to be one of the best ever. For a reason. Several reasons actually – it has enough power (245 horsepower,) it looks kind of sophisticated (not too shouty,) and it is reliable. However, the main advantage compared to other civil FWD cars is its special system designed to dramatically reduce oversteer, improve cornering abilities, and provide engaging driving dynamics without the drawbacks that a classic limited-slip differential would cause. Called the eLSD, or the eDiff, the Borg Warner electronic differential lock utilizes a special hydraulic clutch in order to provide a variable locking mechanism which can “lock” the differential at just the right level in order to use as much grip as possible. Hydraulic fluid is pumped into the clutch linked with axles (somewhat similar to Haldex coupling but between the front wheels) stiffening the rotating plates, thus virtually locking the differential. The system knows when to lock the differential thanks to an intricate set of sensors monitoring the wheel speed, vehicle speed, yaw rate, and transverse acceleration. Considering all the info, it can receive from such a setup; the system calculates the perfect moment and perfect level of locking.

Read our full review on the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

2. 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Turbocharged

8 Cars With Amazing Front Wheel Drive Systems That Prove You Don't Always Need AWD
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Tuned at the Nurburgring, the Cobalt SS actually set the fastest time for a front-drive sport-compact car at 8:22.85 minutes

Ok, I know that many do not like Cobalt or any of its “Cobaltness,” however, the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine was and is a blast of a car. Tuned at the Nurburgring, the Cobalt SS actually set the fastest time for a front-drive sport-compact car at 8:22.85 minutes. This was its crown achievement and was made possible with a number of awesome additions, some of which made it one of the greatest American FWD cars of all time. With an optional limited-slip differential in the front, the turbocharged Cobalt SS received an independent front McPherson suspension with twin-tube struts, unique steering knuckles, and stiffer control arms and stabilizer bars.

Along with quicker steering comes 18-inch wheels with 225/40 tires, further enhancing the cornering abilities of the Cobalt SS. Obviously, all the features integrated into the compact performance machine are focused on lowering torque steer, oversteer, and making sure that the Cobalt SS can transfer all of its 260 horsepower to the front wheels.

Considering its incredible Nurburgring time, I’d say they’ve done it, and that the Cobalt SS definitely deserves a spot on this list. Some other impressive features included a “no-lift” transmission with launch control, sports seats, and Driver Information Center in which you could change driving modes - not bad for something that was new a decade ago, huh?

Read our full review on the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Turbocharged.

3. Peugeot 3008

2017 Peugeot 3008 High Resolution Exterior
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The Peugeot 3008 is a French take on the compact SUV segment and, while the first and the second generation differ greatly, they do share one important thing - the so-called, Grip Control system

It started its life like a fashion-conscious MPV, and now it has translated into a nice SUV. The Peugeot 3008 is a French take on the compact SUV segment and, while the first and the second generation differ greatly, they do share one important thing - the so-called, Grip Control system. It is a system specifically designed to use most of the front wheel traction in all situations giving the Peugeot SUV (unibody crossover really) better on-road and off-road capabilities than what one may get with a simple FWD setup.

Renamed to Advanced Grip Control for the second-generation Peugeot 3008, the system relies on intricate programming which controls the power delivery to the front tires in different scenarios. The toggle in the cabin enables you to switch between five modes - Standard, Snow, Mud, Sand, and ESP Off, with every one of them trying to do something different in terms of managing the power to the front wheels thus using all available traction.

The grip Control works in conjunction with the stabilization system, basically braking the wheels with the least grip providing power to the other. What differentiates the Grip Control from the usual ESP is the sheer number of sensors and features that monitor the wheels and the position of the car. In conjunction with special programs (Sand, Snow, and Mud), the system can more precisely make adjustments and utilize all the available traction. I actually tried out the system on a few Peugeot cars (older and newer) and, while it’s not as capable as AWD by any means, it definitely provides a new sense of what is possible with the FWD setup and some intelligent programming wizardry.

Read our full review on the 2018 Peugeot 3008

4. Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R Exterior High Resolution
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If you have access to a serious FWD car, try to remove your hands from the steering wheel and accelerate rapidly.

Many, if not all, high powered FWD cars suffer from the same problem called Torque Steer. It is a tendency of the tires to steer in one or other direction under high-power acceleration. If you have access to a serious FWD car, try to remove your hands from the steering wheel and accelerate rapidly. The car will steer itself. Honda had this problem too, but with the latest 2018 Honda Civic Type R it seems they’ve cracked it.

The first point to address was the installation of the helical limited slip diff which manages torque between the front wheels. Then, Honda engineers got really clever trying to identify the reasons for Torque Steer and made a suspension setup that will negate them.

“If the offset of the center line of the steering axis and center of the driving tire contact patch are minimized, torque steer is minimized,” says Honda product planner Rob Keough.

In other words, Honda engineers managed to shift the steering axis closer to the vertical center line of the tire thus getting a physically more symmetrical design. The results are obvious. The new Honda Civic Type R does not torque steer, and it does not have a lot of issues with understeer thanks to the helical slip diff and wider tires. Honda did it instead of installing the AWD system to save on weight. As we have learned before, AWD can be quite cumbersome and heavy. Honda obviously knew what it was doing as the new Civic Type R proved to be the fastest FWD passenger car at the Nurburgring lapping the famed track with its 306 horsepower engine in 7 minutes and 43.6 seconds. Astounding to say the least.

Read our full review on the 2018 Honda Civic Type R.

5. Honda Ridgeline

8 Cars With Amazing Front Wheel Drive Systems That Prove You Don't Always Need AWD High Resolution Exterior
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Honda wanted to create a unique pickup experience with the Ridgeline offering Accord-like maneuverability, efficiency, and refinement with truck-like convenience

Based on top of a unibody structure, the latest Honda Ridgeline may seem like it is closer to a traditional sedan than a freaking pickup truck. Heck, it is also front wheel driven (in some versions,) fundamentally changing the outlook we may have on proper off-road trucks. Honda wanted to create a unique pickup experience with the Ridgeline offering Accord-like maneuverability, efficiency, and refinement with truck-like convenience. They’ve done it, but not before making the FWD system of the Ridgeline quite amazing.

Honda employed a number of technologies making the FWD system as good as it can get. These include the addition of the Intelligent Traction Management System that can adjust the drive-by-wire map and effectively change the transmission settings. VSA does good with handling stability needs, but also provides the Ridgeline with the means to regulate traction. It is, with the Intelligent Traction Management System, responsible for the so-called Snow mode which enhances FWD capabilities in the snow.

It does it by providing a limited-slip differential effect by braking the “slipping” wheel. This way, the other wheel can also get power and that one, is, hopefully, on a grippier surface.

While systems like these are used commonly throughout the industry, having them on a FWD pickup truck is quite astounding. Many of the experiences related with the Ridgeline do note its incredible refinement and ease of drive. Some of it is definitely achieved with these technologies.

Read our full review on the 2018 Honda Ridgeline.

6. 2009 Ford Focus RS

8 Cars With Amazing Front Wheel Drive Systems That Prove You Don't Always Need AWD
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Named RevoKnuckle, they pioneered the system Honda uses on the latest Civic Type R

We are going a bit in the past with this one. Back in 2009 to be precise. The Ford Focus RS wowed the world with an incredible power output of 305 horsepower. Insane to say the least. All of the motoring world wondered, how on earth could they release an FWD car with so much power without actually making it AWD?

To achieve adequate results with so much power and only front wheel drive, the Ford team developed some special tech. Named RevoKnuckle, they pioneered the system Honda uses on the latest Civic Type R. It is basically a system which lowers scrub radius thus dramatically reducing the Torque steer tendencies. This is something all high-powered FWD cars have to fight with.

Apart from that, the Focus RS received a wider track, Quaife helical limited slip differential, and transmission gearing that enables it to achieve 62 mph in the second gear (and in 5.9 seconds). At the time, it was one of the best FWD designs on the market.

Read our full review on the 2009 Ford Focus RS.

7. 2012 Buick Regal GS

8 Cars With Amazing Front Wheel Drive Systems That Prove You Don't Always Need AWD High Resolution Exterior
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The Regal GS features something called High-Performance Strut (HiPerStrut) front suspension design.

The Buick Regal GS is one of those cars you simply have to love. Sold in Europe and the U.K. under the Opel and Vauxhall Insignia badges, the Regal GS is like a perfect midsized performance sedan. However, 270 horsepower resting on those front wheels in a, let’s get real, heavy car, do need some proper support. Apart from adjustable suspension on all four corners, nice rubber, and beefed up brakes, the Regal GS features something called High-Performance Strut (HiPerStrut) front suspension design.

It is a suspension envisioned specifically to help with the reduction of the torque steer, improved grip in all conditions and improved steering sharpness. We had a whole piece written on the technology back in 2012. In short, it works like this:

“The added components enable the steering knuckle to rotate independently from the strut tower, creating a better separation between steering and shock absorption. This improves camber control and also maintains ideal suspension geometry. And now with the Buick Interactive Drive Control System, the driver can control the suspension stiffness through the "Sport" and "GS" buttons.”

Read our full review on the 2012 Buick Regal GS.

8. Fiat 500 Abarth

2015 Fiat 500 Abarth High Resolution Exterior
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The Fiat 500 Abarth is a fine track-ready machine with a lightweight body and a raspy 1.4-liter, turbocharged engine with 160 horsepower.

If there ever was a perfect car to carry the pocket rocket title, this is it. The Fiat 500 Abarth is a fine track-ready machine with a lightweight body and a raspy 1.4-liter, turbocharged engine with 160 horsepower.

Sure, the power isn’t as mad as on the other cars I mentioned in this article, but the small Fiat 500 Abarth did get some serious track-worthy gear. Including 17-inch wheels with Pirelli P-Zero Nero 205/40 tires. Can you imagine the spectacle this car could throw on the track beating Porsche cars of the past?

Changes compared to standard suspension design include the addition of Stiffer lowering springs, cast-iron control arms, dual-valve Frequency Selective Damping shock absorbers and negative camber.

It is a finely tuned machine perfectly suited to use as much FWD capabilities as possible.

Read our full review on the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Bonus Car Nissan GT-R NISMO LMP1

2015 Nissan GT-R LM NISMO
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The Nissan GT-R Nismo LMP1 was the only front wheel drive car to compete at the event

This is not a production car. It’s an endurance racer which competed (unsuccessfully might I add) at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Nissan GT-R Nismo LMP1 was the only front wheel drive car to compete at the event. Nissan put the engine up front - a 3.0-liter, V-6 with turbochargers and smart cooling, hoping to achieve some kind of cool results with it at the race. They failed miserably with only one car out of three actually finishing the race. And that one finished last.

Nevertheless, the sheer audacity of Nissan to develop and race a car like this at one of the most infamous endurance races in the world is stunning, to say the least. Unfortunately, Nissan pulled the plug on the racer in December 2015 announcing they will not race it anymore. It would be interesting to see how a project like this may come to fruition.

Read our full review on the 2015 Nissan GT-R NISMO LMP1

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