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Opinion: The art of front-wheel drive

By Scott Newman, 09 Jun 2015 Features

Is 'wrong-wheel drive' actually the greatest challenge of all?

Opinion: The art of front-wheel drive

It's been a hot-hatch kind of month here at chez MOTOR.

Through various quirks of both feature planning and manufacturer releases, it just so happens that we've been inundated with practical, turbocharged front drivers.

However, despite the homogeneity of their mechanical layouts, there's been an incredible diversity in the cars sampled, from warmed-over sub-$30K offerings like the Holden Astra GTC Sport and Hyundai Veloster Turbo, to arguably the granddaddy of them all, the hardcore, limited-edition Renault Sport Megane RS275 Trophy R.

Over the past few weeks we've covered thousands of kilometres, including track and straight-line performance testing, and it's resulted in the following conclusion – front-wheel drive is hard.

It's tempting to see hot hatches as an easy or 'soft' option for hardcore drivers. Because they don't have the breathtaking, passenger-scaring speed of a supercar, nor can they do heroic, tyre-smoking powerslides like a well-sorted 500bhp rear-driver, they're viewed as girls' or hairdressers' cars – both ridiculous notions in their own right.

The reality is, there's a real art to driving a front-wheel drive fast. With all the weight sitting in the nose, it's like a 911 in reverse, only in this case the front tyres have to not only steer but handle all the power and the majority of the braking as well.

Even in something as focussed as the fabulous Megane Trophy R, with its sticky tyres, massive brakes and aggressive limited-slip differential, the compromise of having one end of the car shoulder the entire load means you're always battling to get the car to behave.

Having spent most of my formative driving years in rear-drive machinery, the art of making a front-driver dance is still a struggle; it's all too easy to over-drive and end up understeering madly everywhere and lift-off oversteer seems like a lottery.

Still, that's all part of what makes driving so great, there's always something more to learn. Until then, if you're still not convinced hot hatches can be fun, check out the video above of front-drive master, French rally driver Jean Ragnotti, in action.

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