Why Going AWD Isn't Such A Bad Idea
Recently, the boss of Mercedes-AMG, Tobias Moers, announced in an interview to Autocar that all models from 2021 will be electrified - meaning that every vehicle to come from Affalterbach will have some sort of electric motor powering it, be it an active or mild hybrid system. In all honesty, we saw this one coming. What we didn't see coming however, is the subsequent announcement that all AMG models will go from a RWD to AWD layout. Even the AMG GT, GTS and the models that follow will have four wheels driven rather than two.
At first glance, this appears to be the beginning of the end of the traditional V8 powered, rear tyre destroying hooligan car - AMG has always been the stalwart of the breed, this side of the pond anyway. We often observe a domino effect in the car industry as well; once a big player changes its ways, the others are spurned into following suit. Take the move to diesels or the move to smaller engines as examples. However, we needn't worry, and here's why.
At this stage, the distinction needs to be drawn between 4WD and AWD. While both are full time systems that drive all four wheels, 4WD sends drive to all four wheels at the same rate; there is no power vectoring, and therefore drive is split 50-50. Good for off-road, bad for everyday usability. AWD is best described as a part time 4WD system; it uses either differentials or brake vectoring systems to apply/reduce power depending on the traction at the time. It is also completely automated, meaning you don't have to worry about differential locks or high/low gearbox ratios. Much better suited for your Saturday morning trip to Tesco.
Another point that needs to be raised here is cars are getting vastly more powerful. Ten years ago, the BMW M5 had a 5 litre V10 putting out 500bhp and 384 lb-ft of torque. Nowadays, the M5 has lost two cylinders, but power is now 591bhp and 553 lb-ft of torque. That's 29bhp and 155 lb-ft torque more than a Ferrari 458. In a saloon car. Speaking of Ferrari, the 812 Superfast produces nearly 800bhp. That's LaFerrari levels of power, over 150bhp more than the Enzo was. While this level of progress is natural -the jump between the Ferrari 348 and the F430 was about the same - let's not forget that with these increases of power, the driver skill required to wield this power increases exponentially. Handling a car, in the wet, with performance figures that would rival most hypercars of yesteryear, is not something your average driver can do.
So why aren't people slithering off into hedges? Why isn't every roundabout in Milton Keynes covered in bits of Mercedes from where young men with hefty finance payments have fired the back end into a lamp post? Truly phenomenal tyre technology aside, it is largely down to the gift of AWD. The consumers know this, and the manufacturers know this too. Referring back to the earlier interview with Autocar, Tobias Moers pointed out that over 90% of E Class customers opted for the 4-Matic version. GT customers are asking about an AWD version. Most manufacturers are reporting the same thing with their more powerful flagship models - so why pour time and money into a pure RWD when it makes no financial or technological sense?
Furthermore, one of the beauties of AWD is power vectoring. Therefore if you are a young man with hefty finance payments, wanting to slither your new AMG around a roundabout in Milton Keynes, you can do so without having to be Tommi Makinen to regain control when your Scandinavian Flick becomes a Scandinavian Foul Up. All the system will do is apply power to the wheels that will get you out of the situation, straighten you up and away you go.
AWD these days is becoming more of a necessity; with cars becoming ever more powerful, there needs to be a fail safe in place to tame the immense grunt cars are chucking out these days. Cars these days are simply too powerful to use all of the power, all of the time. Not just from a safety perspective either - traction is vastly improved with four driven wheels. Even the Audi RS3 saloon will give most cars these days a run for it's money, thanks to the four wheels being supplied equal amounts of many horsepowers.
So while the future is bleak for the traditional RWD car (in AMGs case anyway), the RWD will always be a staple of the car world. Just don't be surprised if the front two wheels occasionally join in the party too.