Are Electric Cars Rear-Wheel-Drive, Front-Wheel-Drive, or 4WD?

Electric cars come with all-wheel-drive (AWD), front-wheel-drive, and rear-wheel-drive.

It can be hard to narrow the choices down and figure out what is the most efficient and economic choice when it comes to these options.

Be sure to read on and learn more about the ins and outs of each type of electric car.

Why are most electric cars rear-wheel drive?

Some may view the presence of so many rear-wheel drive electric cars as a step backward. In order to move forward, these steps backward are necessary, though.

For the most part, front-wheel drive is the norm that motorists are accustomed to.

The vast majority of smaller cars and SUVs come with front-wheel drive, understandably so. So why have electric cars reverted back to the days of rear-wheel drive?

The answer is simpler than you might think.

Engineers and designers are being given the chance to step outside of the box, which is a major plus for today’s motorists.

Bill Thomas, who works as Hyundai Australia’s general manager of public relations, has more about this shift.

“The simple fact that electric motors are physically smaller than petrol engines has allowed them to be positioned in the rear of the vehicle without compromising cargo space. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as we can now utilize the significant area where the engine would normally be for additional luggage room.”

Smaller electric motors also allow for the power train to be moved to the vehicle’s extremities since there is no need for ancillary items (such as a radiator).

The wheelbase of the vehicle is also increased, which allows for far more space.

These alterations are also a major plus from a safety standpoint, as drivers enjoy an increased level of protection during crashes.

The frontal crash structures give the car a greater ability to absorb impact, limiting damages to the more expensive components and offering a higher level of repairability.

Longer wheelbases offer the driver far more stability as well, by separating the functions of the rear and front axles.

Since front-wheel drive tires are forced to handle steering and traction concerns, both functions are inherently compromised.

Battery-powered vehicles position a small, light electric motor in the back, making life much easier for the rear axle.

This axle is able to dedicate its full attention to the traction aspect, while the front axle is fully dedicated to steering.

Tesla cars are also rear-wheel-drive by default but with great options for upgrading to AWD. Check out our article here about all you need to know about four-wheel-drive on Teslas.

Why do so few electric cars have front-wheel drive?

While there are a number of electric cars that have front-wheel drive, such as:

Though, it is not the norm.

Since electric cars offer automakers a fresh canvas to paint on, it is easy to see why so many have focused on rear-wheel drive vehicles instead.

Now that automakers are freed from the confines of the combustion engine, this has allowed them to become far more creative than ever before.

At first, batteries were being placed under the rear seat or in the cargo area (the 2011 Nissan Leaf is a prime example).

There is a blank slate to work with now and engineers have taken full advantage. Cooling and airflow requirements are far less demanding, removing the need for exhaust plumbing and lengthy driveshafts.

Passenger and cargo space also remains unaffected by the presence of a motor in the back.

Electric cars aim to reduce the amount of work that the front tires have to accomplish. The difference is especially noticeable when acceleration is taken into account.

With a combustion engine, grip is removed from the front wheels as the car accelerates.

These are the moments where grip is an absolute premium and with back-wheel drive, there is plenty of grip left over to slow the vehicle or accelerate as needed.

What about handling with rear-wheel drive?

While there are concerns about back wheel drive electric vehicles and their ability to handle slippery or snowy roads, they are easily addressed.

Fortunately, these concerns are overblown.

The difference in weight distribution assures it.

A vehicle with a front-mounted engine will carry most of its weight on the front axle. With electric vehicles, the battery pack is centrally located, which makes it much easier for them to split the difference.

Engineers are prepared for any slipping and sliding that may take place, as well.

Traction control and stability control systems are built in that will ensure maximum levels of control. Without all of the usual constraints to consider, engineers can focus on stability, balance and keeping drivers safe under all potential circumstances.

Why are gas-driven cars typically front-wheel drive?

For starters, the gas-driven car typically relies on front-wheel-drive because of the savings that are passed down to the consumer.

It is cheaper for engineers to design and construct, keeping prices lower for the motorist.

In many instances, the gas-driven car will also provide better gas mileage if a front-wheel drive has been installed. With rear-wheel vehicles, the weight of the drive train will drag gas mileage numbers down.

Front-wheel drive is also pivotal for gas-driven cars because of the engine’s weight and the transmission.

These components are positioned above the front wheels, allowing for much better traction. In most instances, a gas-driven car with front-wheel drive is going to offer far more protection in slippery and snowy conditions.

Rear-wheel drive gas-driven cars are not nearly as useful in this regard.

There are concerns when it comes to handling but they are typically addressed in advance by the engineer. Gas-driven cars will often come with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive so that motorists are able to gain added traction during the moments when they need it most.

It’s a more complicated construction

Conversely, gas-driven cars with rear-wheel drive tend to be more complicated.

A long driveshaft is used to transfer power from the transmission to the rear wheels. The handling may be better but traction is not.

This makes rear-wheel drive vehicles much less desirable to those who reside in snowier conditions.

Rear-wheel drive vehicles that are gas-driven are usually a common choice for motorists who have towing needs to consider.

Check this article for electric cars that tows well.

The front wheels are always going to be able to steer more easily when they are not being forced to carry a ton of weight.

The trailer’s tongue weight and power transfer will cause the rear of the vehicle to squat. This offers more traction to the motorist.

When it comes to gas-driven vehicles, the choice between front-wheel and rear-wheel drive will depend on the specific needs in question.

Do electric cars with all-wheel-drive perform better?

Traditional power train setups do not always ensure that power is provided to all four wheels at the same time. That’s why electric cars with all-wheel drive are of the utmost importance.

Front-wheel drive setups distribute power to the front wheels only, which can be problematic in certain scenarios.

In these instances, the rear wheels are essentially useless. They are merely along for the ride at that point. For motorists who seek all-wheel drive electric cars, the performance is much better.

The driver is given more control of each wheel, which is great for snowy and slick road conditions.

With other options, the braking and acceleration power is centered at one end of the vehicle. Electric cars with all-wheel drive ensures that this power is spread equally to all four corners of the vehicle.

Gas-powered cars also struggle to match the performance of electric cars because of the required mechanical connections.

Cargo and passenger space is more limited in these models since engineers are forced to make room for these connections. On the other hand, electric cars with all-wheel drive do not have these concerns.

Once the connections have been removed from the equation, engineers are able to design all-wheel drive vehicles far more easily than ever before.

Electric cars might be the end of front-wheel drive cars

Without all of the usual concerns to address, electric car engineers are free to become more creative. In fact, auto executives believe that the advent of all-wheel drive electric cars could spell the end of front-wheel drive entirely.

Additionally, the removal of the space and cost penalties that engineers have been accustomed to dealing with allows for more control of brake torque for each individual wheel.

Affordability is slated to increase as a result of these advances, which is a boon for the motorist.

The motor is not the most expensive component for all-wheel drive electric cars, the motor is. As time goes on, more electric cars will be built with a second wheel up front.

This will make electric cars more affordable than ever before.

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