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Front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout

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Title: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout  
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Subject: Suzuki Alto, Nissan Maxima, Dodge Caravan, Toyota Camry, Mazda Demio
Collection: Automobile Layouts
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Front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout

In automotive design, an FWD, or Front-engine, Front-wheel-drive layout places both the internal combustion engine and driven roadwheels at the front of the vehicle.


  • Usage implications 1
  • Historical arrangements 2
    • Mid-engine / Front-wheel drive 2.1
    • Longitudinally mounted front-engine and front-wheel drive 2.2
    • Front-engine transversely mounted / Front-wheel drive 2.3
      • Front-wheel drive design characteristics 2.3.1
      • Front-wheel drive shafts 2.3.2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5

Usage implications

In contrast with the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout (RWD), the FWD layout eliminates the need for a central tunnel or a higher chassis clearance to accommodate a driveshaft providing power to the rear wheels. Like the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout (RR) and rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout (RMR) layouts, it places the engine over the drive wheels, improving traction in many applications. As the steered wheels are also the driven wheels, FWD cars are generally considered superior to RWD cars in conditions where there is low traction such as snow, mud, gravel or wet tarmac. When hill climbing in low traction conditions RR is considered the best two-wheel-drive layout, primarily due to the shift of weight to the rear wheels when climbing. The cornering ability of a FWD vehicle is generally better, because the engine is placed over the steered wheels.[1] However, as the driven wheels have the additional demands of steering, if a vehicle accelerates quickly, less grip is available for cornering, which can result in understeer.[2] High-performance vehicles rarely use the FWD layout because weight is transferred to the rear wheels under acceleration, while unloading the front wheels and sharply reducing their grip, effectively putting a cap on the amount of power which could realistically be utilized; in addition, the high horsepower of high-performance cars can result in the sensation of torque steer. Electronic traction control can avoid wheel-spin but largely negates the benefit of extra power.[3] This was a reason for the adoption of the four-wheel-drive quattro system by front wheel drive specialist Audi with the 1980 Audi Quattro for road cars. Although it was first used in the 1960s Jensen FF to overcome FR layout traction problems in a high performance road car.

Historical arrangements

Early cars using the FWD layout include the 1929 Cord L-29, 1931 DKW F1, the 1948 Citroën 2CV, 1949 Saab 92 and the 1959 Mini. In the 1980s, the traction and packaging advantages of this layout caused many compact and mid-sized vehicle makers to adopt it in the US. Most European and Japanese manufacturers switched to front wheel drive for the majority of their cars in the 1960s and 1970s, the last to change being VW, Ford of Europe, and General Motors (Vauxhall - UK and Opel - Germany). Toyota was the last Japanese company to switch in the early 1980s.

There are four different arrangements for this basic layout, depending on the location of the engine, which is the heaviest component of the drivetrain.

Mid-engine / Front-wheel drive

The earliest such arrangement was not technically FWD, but rather mid-engine, front-wheel-drive layout (MF). The engine was mounted longitudinally (fore-and-aft, or north-south) behind the wheels, with the transmission ahead of the engine and differential at the very front of the car. With the engine so far back, the weight distribution of such cars as the Cord L-29 was not ideal; the driven wheels did not carry a large enough proportion of weight for good traction and handling. The 1934 Citroën Traction Avant solved the weight distribution issue by placing the transmission at the front of the car with the differential between it and the engine. Combined with the car's low slung unibody design, this resulted in handling which was remarkable for the era. Citroën and Renault used this layout in some models into the 1980s.

Longitudinally mounted front-engine and front-wheel drive

Left side
Right side

The 1946 Panhard Dyna X, designed by Jean-Albert Grégoire, had the engine longitudinally in front of the front wheels, with the transmission behind the engine and the differential at the rear of the assembly. This arrangement, used by Panhard until 1967, potentially had a weight distribution problem analogous to that of the Cord L29 mentioned above. However, the Panhard's air-cooled flat twin engine was very light, and mounted low down with a low centre of gravity reducing the effect. The air-cooled flat twin engine of the Citroën 2CV was also mounted very low, in front of the front wheels, with the transmission behind the axle line and the differential between the two. This became quite popular; cars using this layout included the German Ford Taunus 12M and the Lancia Flavia and Fulvia. This is the standard configuration of Audi and Subaru front-wheel-drive vehicles. In 1979, Toyota introduced and launched their first front-wheel-drive car, the Tercel, and it had its engine longitudinally mounted, unlike most other front-wheel-drive cars on the market at that time. This arrangement continued also on the second-generation Tercel, until 1987, the third generation received a new, transversely mounted engine. Other front-wheel-drive Toyota models, such as Camry, and Corolla, had transversely mounted engines from the beginning on.

The 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado (along with its sister models the Cadillac Eldorado and Buick Riviera) used a novel arrangement which had the engine and transmission in a 'side-by-side' arrangement with power being transmitted between the two via a heavy-duty chain, and a specially designed intermediate driveshaft that passed under the engine sump. This family has the distinction of being the highest engine capacity (8.2 L) front-wheel-drive vehicles ever built. The Saab 99 and “classic” Saab 900 also used a similar arrangement. The Eagle Premier used a similar powertrain arrangement found in the Renault 21 and 25 – later becoming the basis for the Chrysler LH sedans produced until the 2004 model year.

Front-engine transversely mounted / Front-wheel drive

The 1970s Giugiaro styled hatchback coupe VW Scirocco based on the contemporary Giugiaro Golf was in MK1 and MK2 forms the most successful VW coupe with 800,000 made.[4]
The bonnet on this original Mini is open, showing the transversely mounted engine that drives the front wheels.

The first popular transverse engined FWD cars were the DKW 'Front' made from 1931, which had a twin cylinder two-stroke engine. Saab copied this design on their first car, the 1949 Saab 92.

Issigonis's Mini of 1959 and related cars such as the Maxi, Austin 1100/1300 and Allegro had the four-cylinder inline water-cooled engine transversely mounted. The transmission was located in the sump below the crankshaft, with power transmitted by transfer gears. The 1955 Suzuki Suzulight also introduced a front engine with a transversely installed two-stroke twin-cylinder engine (using DKW technology) in a city car/kei car application, based on the German Lloyd LP400.

Dante Giacosa's Autobianchi Primula of 1964, Fiat 128 and Fiat 127, put the transmission on one side of the transversely mounted engine, and doubled back the drivetrain to put the differential just behind the transmission, but offset to one side. Hence the driveshafts to the wheels are longer on one side than the other. This located the weight just a bit in front of the wheels. It is this system which dominates worldwide at present.

Vehicles with the Giacosa arrangement tend to suffer from torque steer under heavy acceleration. This is caused by differing drive shaft lengths which in turn results in different incident angles at the joints of the driveshaft. The farther these joints are articulate, the less effective they are at delivering torque to the wheels.

Front-wheel drive design characteristics

Front-wheel drive shafts

In front wheel drive vehicles, the drive shafts transfer the drive directly from the differential to the front wheels. A short inner stub shaft is splined to the differential side gear and an outer stub shaft is splined to the front wheel hub. Each stub shaft has a yoke, or housing, to accommodate a universal joint, at each end of a connecting intermediate shaft.

Universal joints let the shaft keep rotating while allowing for changes due to suspension movement, such as shaft length and horizontal angle, and shaft angle as the steering turns. Constant-velocity universal joints are normally used to transfer power smoothly between the components. The inner universal can be a plunge or tripod type joint. The tripod is splined to the intermediate shaft and held by a circlip. A ball, supported on needle roller bearings, is fitted to each post of the tripod, and these slide in a trunion inside the yoke. This caters for changes in shaft length and horizontal angle. The drive is transferred through the trunion and balls to rotate the shaft.

The outer universal joint allows greater angular changes but not changes in shaft length. It is normally a ball and cage type with an inner race splined to the intermediate shaft. An outer race is formed in the yoke. The cage retains the balls in location in grooves in both races. The balls transfer the drive from the shaft to the hub and allow for changes in horizontal angle and for a wide steering angle to be achieved. A flexible rubber boot fitted to each joint retains grease and keeps out dirt and moisture.

Where the differential is not located in the center line of the vehicle, an intermediate shaft can be fitted to maintain equal length drive shafts on each side. This keeps drive shaft angles equal on both sides and helps prevent steering irregularities and vibration. The outer end of the intermediate shaft is supported by a bearing secured to the transaxle case and a universal joint assists with alignment. In some cases a longer drive shaft is used on one side. A rubber dynamic damper may be fitted to absorb vibrations.

See also


  1. ^ Hillier, Victor; Peter Coombes (2004). Fundamentals of motor vehicle technology. Nelson Thornes. p. 9.  
  2. ^ "Engine & Driveline Layouts". Retrieved 6 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Road Test: Rear Drive vs. Front Drive vs. All-Wheel Driv
  4. ^ Comeback of a sports car legend: Volkswagen Scirocco - accessed 14 March 2010

Further reading

  • Sedgwick, Michael Cars of the 50s and 60s. Gothenburg, Sweden: A B Nordbok, 1983. (Includes pictures of the engine layouts of the Traction Avant and other designs.)

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