Once upon a time, the front-wheel-drive car was invented and everything became bad and no good. Well, perhaps that’s the mildest of overstatements, but the fact remains: if you’re a driving enthusiast, most of the best machines out there put down their power through the rear wheels, as intended by God and/or Juan Manuel Fangio.
Rear-wheel-drive vehicles handle better. Their burnouts are infinitely cooler. They are more capable of, in the down undah twang of one of our, ahem, esteemed Aussie editor, “doing a skid.” (Please to note: this isn’t an underwear thing, it’s a slidey-slidey-drifty-car thing.)
However, with horsepower levels on the rise across all manufacturers and all-weather traction a constant concern, front- and all-wheel-drive options are becoming the dominant life form. Particularly in the Canadian market, which skews towards crossovers and front-wheel-drive sedans, finding a rear-wheel-drive car can be tricky. Here’s a look at some of the best of a dying breed.
We’re going to have a few BMWs on the list here, as the luxury brand is something of a last defender of the rear-driven car. For both a throwback to the principles that made BMW a performance name and a way forward into an enthusiast future, you need look no further than the M2.
Based on the compact 2 Series platform, the M2 takes a turbocharged straight-six, routes the power through either a manual or dual-clutch gearbox, and dumps that power through the rear wheels. The result is tire smoke and big smiles, with the proverbial dab of opposite lock steering thrown in the mix. Sehr gut!
Jaguar F-Type V6S
Regrettably, Jaguar has added all-wheel-drive to V8-powered versions of their F-Type coupe and convertible. One of the most tail-happy modern cars you can buy has thus become grippier and better behaved, and prone to auto-writer clichés like, “This cat has claws!”
However, if you opt for the lighter, fizzier supercharged V6 option, you can still get a rear-drive British football hooligan. We suggest you do.
Porsche Cayman GT4
Porsche is now most emphatically a crossover and sedan company. The Macan, Cayenne, and Panamera all keep the brand afloat and solvent, and every press release trumpets the company’s new profitability. If the coffers are full, then the Cayman GT4 (and racing at Le Mans) is how Porsche spends its money.
A big wing. Manual transmission only. The big, naturally-aspirated flat-six out of the 911. And, as you’d expect, it’s rear-drive only.
Lexus GS F
Lexus is perhaps the most conservative of the luxury brands, apart from their styling, which should not be viewed without some kind of eye protection. They make crossovers and hybrids in large numbers, and are essentially purveyors of bowls of oatmeal with insanely aggressive styling. People like ’em. They’re reliable.
However, there are at least a few loons floating around the Lexus engineering department, and they periodically come up with lunacy like the rear-wheel-drive only GS F. Powered by a naturally aspirated V8, it’s a throwback to sports sedan principles of old. They hardly sell any of them, but it’s wonderful.
Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Coupe
You can expect most AMG products to be all-wheel-drive by the time you read this. It just makes sense: with power levels approaching astronomical levels, getting all that torque to the pavement requires grip from all four tires.
But not for the C 63 coupe. Instead, a 500-hp twin-turbo V8 is left free to smoke ’em if you got ’em on corner exit, carving up the track in a manner that’d embarrass an M4. Wonderful, deranged, properly AMG.
The Miata (I don’t care what the brochure says, Mazda, it’s the Miata and it always will be) continues to be one of the best driving machines on the market. It’s not a straight-line monster. It’s not a minivan. It’s a frothy little roadster that’s surprisingly quick in the hands of a competent driver, and the most fun you can have with your pants on. And, if you drive quickly enough that no one sees you, you don’t even need to wear pants!
It’s also rear-wheel drive because that’s the way things should be. Pop the roof down, grab a bit of heel-toe downshift, and carve up the corners of your favourite back road.
BMW M6 Gran Coupe
This is not a coupe, it’s a four-door sedan. It’s also not appropriate for your Gran.
However, despite the stupid name, the coupe-styled version of the M6 is a wonderful car, extremely fast and stylish. If AMG is going AWD with their big sedans, BMW remains mostly committed to rear-drive, and that gives this big beast some character.
Ford Mustang Ecoboost
The modern pony car breathes again. While the V8 version of the Mustang comes highly recommended, it’s a little costly, and not exactly a Prius in the fuel economy department. However, Ford’s turbocharged four-cylinder option works for the commuter and the weekend warrior alike.
Ford will also sell you a turbocharged Focus if that’s more convenient, but the Mustang is rear-drive and that’s a lot more fun. Get up early on a Sunday morning and get that turbo spooled up – this is the future those ‘Stang owners of the 1960s dreamed of.
Chevrolet Camaro 1LE
The pony car wars have always been a matter of trading blows. Consider the 1LE variants of the Camaro to be Chevy’s uppercut.
Cranking out numbers that are just a few tenths off a Corvette, the Alpha-platform Camaro is most assuredly a sports car first and a muscle car second. It’s fast enough to take the fight to the best AMG and BMW’s M-division can muster, and it’s rear-drive only. Yee-haw.
Dodge Charger Hellcat
Perhaps you really want a muscle car but you’ve got kids and need to do the sensible four-doored sedan thing. Sorry, did we say sensible? We meant clinically insane.
It’s 2016 and you can buy a 707-hp sedan with a supercharged Hemi engine, an insatiable hunger for tires, four doors, and rear-wheel drive. What a time to be alive.
Everything Subaru makes is all-wheel-drive except for this. An acquired taste, the BRZ is a bit more expensive than its Scion (now Toyota) sibling, and might look a little out of place next to Foresters and Outbacks in a Subaru dealership.
But if you’ve been a Subaru nut all your life and are ready to cut loose a little, the BRZ’s gotta-work-at-it powerband and rear-drive slideyness are wonderfully rewarding. Sure, an STI version would be great, but a skilled driver will have a ton of fun in one of these.
Cadillac has reinvented itself as a performance brand, with the V-series models offering staggering acceleration. However, even the entry models have something to offer.
Order the base ATS and you get a proper rear-drive sport sedan (or coupe) with a punchy 2.0L turbocharged engine and excellent driving dynamics. It’s not quite a V, but it’s plenty of fun, and you can still get it with a stick as well.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Aston does things a little old school. While Bentley and Rolls steam towards an all-wheel-drive future, the Aston-Martin range remains driven by the rear wheels.
With the V8 Vantage, you get a slippery-looking shape combined with the Loud Noises of an Aston V8 and the potential for a manual gearbox. It’s the car many dream of.
Porsche 911 GTS
The Porsche 911R is wonderfully analogue but it is also limited production and already sold out and that is dumb. Instead, pick yourself up a rear-drive 911 GTS with the manual transmission and get one of the last great naturally aspirated Porsches.
The 991-chassis 911 took a little warming up to, but it can now be considered the equal of the previous 997. It’s a little less raw, a little more GT, but with the GTS you get some of the rawness back. All-wheel drive is on offer too, but stick with the rear-only option. A set of decent tires and snow won’t be a problem thanks to the 911’s signature balance and competence.
Better than the Z06? Well, the Z06 version of the Corvette is almost too crazy for the street – it’s a track-rat special and brutally fast. The Stingray, on the other hand, is also fast enough to give Porsche owners palpitations, but it’s somehow more balanced.
And it’s rear-wheel-drive because that’s how a Corvette is supposed to be. Big V8. Wedge-shaped styling. The kind of thing an astronaut would drive. Come to think of it, rockets are rear-drive too.
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