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Civic Type R, Mustang 5.0 & More: FWD vs RWD Track Day Impressions & Advice

Front-wheel drive. While it historically might be the least preferred layout when it comes to hardcore enthusiast vehicles and sports cars, a properly setup FWD machine, especially in the modern era, can be both very fast and very fun.

Could it even be superior to the traditional front-engine rear-drive setup when it comes to weekend track days? That depends.

2016 Ford Mustang GT on Track

I’m no veteran track rat or hotshoe racer, but I do have several of track days under my belt: first in a Mk7 Volkswagen GTI followed by a 2018 Honda Civic Type R (which are both FWD hatchbacks), and then in a 2016 Ford Mustang GT.

Volkswagen GTI on Nitto NT05 tires

All three are later model performance cars popular as track platforms, and my time behind the wheel of these cars has given me some useful experience, which I’ll try to formulate into some basic observations for entry and amateur level drivers regarding FWD vs RWD in a track enviornment.

Honda Civic Type R FK8 on Track

FWD Impressions

Purely from a track driving perspective, a FWD car probably wouldn’t be anyone's first choice. But when it comes to cars that can easily double as daily drivers and track machines without breaking the bank, a front-drive hatchback or sedan is hard to beat. And they might also be the safest choice.

2017 Volkswagen GTI on Nitto NT05

For as fun as they are, track days can be intimidating. And if you fear going above your limits, spinning off the track or damaging your car, a FWD car could be perfect, as they are generally predictable and are more likely to understeer than to send you spinning off track from oversteer.

Honda Civic Type R FK8 on Track

Yes, you can certainly spin a FWD when the rear end gets light or during fast transitions, but overall there should be nerve-racking situations. But that doesn’t mean fun-sapping understeer is unavoidable.

Honda Civic Type R on Track

Driving both the GTI and Type R on the track with their sticky tires and their limited slip differentials, it's downright amazing just how good they can be.

Honda Civic Type R on Nitto NT05

And best of all, it's much easier to really push the car without worrying about getting into trouble. Even in a powerful front-drive car, a good LSD will allow you to mash the throttle out of corners without much concern.

Volkswagen GTI on Track

In my limited experience, the biggest drawback to driving a FWD on track isn’t any lack of fun or performance, it's simply about tire wear. When just one end of the car is responsible for most of your braking, your steering - and putting all of your power down don’t be surprised to see your front tires wear out quickly.

RWD Impressions

In contrast, driving a RWD car on track, especially one with a decent amount of a horsepower like a Mustang, Camaro or Corvette is a very different ballgame. There's a tried and true balance to it. And you are always mindful of what your right foot is doing, especially when exiting corners.

2016 Mustang GT on Kart Track

A big challenge of driving a high-powered RWD on track is keeping the tail in line - and there’s a reason why most track prepared RWD cars run the widest rear tires they can. A lot of drivers also want to run the widest front tires they can to keep the handling neutral a but the square vs staggered debate is a subject for another story.

Nitto NT555 G2 on 2016 Ford Mustang GT

Fortunately, a lot of modern RWD performance cars also have pretty advanced traction and stability control that can be set up to allow just enough oversteer without getting you into trouble. And as you can get more comfortable with the car's behavior you can stop relying on the software.

S550 Mustang GT on Track

No Wrong Choice

Ultimately a RWD car will likely have a higher learning curve and will take more experience and a little more courage to get the most out of. But it will also be the most rewarding when you get it right. You also won't notice your front tires wearing out quite as fast.

Ford Mustang GT on Autocross Course

In my own case, my Civic Type R and Mustang GT would probably run similar laptimes in the hands of a skilled driver, but the FWD layout and impressive front-end grip of the Honda made it an easier car for me to hop in and drive fast.

Honda Civic Type R on Nitto NT05

With so many great, proven track cars of all drive types out there, it’s hard to go wrong with either layout. And that's before you even consider an AWD layout, which has its own pros and cons.

2016 Mustang GT on Nitto NT555 G2

A RWD performance car might be the more traditional choice with a higher overall ceiling for speed, but a well-setup FWD can be every bit as enjoyable and deceivingly fast thanks to the wonder of modern differentials, suspension setups and performance tires.

FWD, RWD or AWD that combines aspects of both—there’s never been a better time for track enthusiasts.

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