It’s all about balance and utilizing the available traction from all four tyres. With a RWD car’s drivetrain spread out across the underbody, the front-to-rear weight distribution is more even, contributing to a more neutral handling balance.
People might tell you that front-wheel drive (FWD) cars tend to understeer while RWD cars are more prone to oversteer, but that is a generalisation. Any car, regardless of its driven wheels, can be engineered to have a tendency to understeer or oversteer at cornering limits. What truly separates FWD and RWD is the controllability in corners.
Tyres have a given amount of traction irrespective of the direction of force applied. This is often referred to as the traction circle.
One of the fundamentals of performance driving is to use weight transfer to maximise the traction circle. Braking transfers weight to the front, increasing traction at the front end; accelerating shifts weight to the rear, increasing rear end grip.
The confusing part comes when you think about FWD cars that are usually front-heavy, have more traction at the front end which means it should turn in better, right? Not quite, because it becomes a battle between traction and inertia, which will trump in the end as tyre traction isn't linear.
Imagine pushing a shopping trolley with a heavy item placed in the middle, now move it to the front end and feel how much more difficult it is to change direction.
This is starting to get a bit long-winded but to cut it short – FWD cars have an inherent disadvantage in weight distribution, plus the front tyres are overloaded with the tasks of steering, braking, and accelerating. Applying throttle when the front tyres are at maximum cornering force will push the car wide, hence reputation for understeer.
In a RWD car, drivers have more flexibility with the throttle to manipulate weight transfer and available traction, balancing the car between understeer and oversteer during mid-corner and corner exit.
This has been described as “throttle adjustability” which essentially means using the throttle to steer and ‘adjust’ your cornering line. It’s a sensation that needs to be experienced in order to be fully understood.
One way to experience it is via go-karts. The next time you’re in a go-kart, pay attention to how getting on and off the throttle whilst cornering can affect the kart’s rotation. It’s the same with RWD cars, you have more options during corners at the command of your right foot – more to learn about vehicle dynamics.
Conversely in FWD cars, you can’t ‘steer with the throttle’ no matter how accomplished they can be. It’s more one-dimensional in that sense and ultimately isn’t as satisfying. This is one of the reasons why yours truly doesn’t fully agree with the common saying that a MINI drives like a go-kart. It’s more than just being nippy.
Philosophically, a Lotus Elise is more akin to a go-kart for the road, or even a Mazda MX-5. They blend simplicity, lightweight, and most importantly, drive to the rear wheels.
However, driving a Lotus Elise daily is a rather hardcore affair, while a purse is enough to fill up any available space in a Mazda MX-5. Which brings us onto the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ twins.
Alright, RWD is preferred, but what’s so special about the 86/BRZ?
Granted, there are plenty of choices in the used market for a RWD car with a budget of around RM 100k. But if you want a RWD car that is:
Fairly modern that is easy to live with yet engaging to drive
Pracitical for a coupe (fits a set of 4 tyres for a track day)
Decently equipped with some creature comforts (keyless entry, push start button, automatic air-conditioning, etc.)
Of modern safety standards (6 airbags, ESC, TC)
Most importantly, reliable and relatively inexpensive to run
You’d likely end up looking at the Toyobaru twins.
Personally, what makes the 86/BRZ so special is the transparent handling. It highlights any deficiencies as a driver and doesn’t compensate poor driving with bucketloads of power, because it can’t.
At the same time, it’s also incredibly forgiving in its stock form where grip limits are somewhat low. The communicative chassis tells you what’s happening when you’re approaching its limits, and it’s not as scary because you’re not travelling at insane speeds.
When driven spiritedly, it has this wonderful pivoting feeling where the rear of the car moves around, not so much that you need to correct it, but you’re just steering the car from the rear axle. That playfulness will put a smile on any keen driver’s face and it’s something that a spec sheet can’t convey.
How much are the 86/BRZ twins going for currently?
At time of writing, the cheapest unit found is listed at RM 90k. On Carlist, there is a handful of examples priced between RM 95k to RM 100k. Note that these are all equipped with an automatic transmission.
Not that there’s anything wrong with an automatic 86/BRZ (this writer begrudgingly types from an objective standpoint) but as a tool to improve your driving, a manual will teach you more about being precise with your pedal inputs and train your coordination skills.
However, manual examples are commanding at least a RM 10k premium over automatics. You’d be looking at about RM 110k average for early units between 2012-2013. Bear in mind that financing rates would be unfavourable for a car of that age, likely with a low loan amount and short tenure.
If you’re looking to finance, you’d be better off surveying the recon market. Examples from 2017-2018 are averaging in the RM 140k region depending on specifications.
It’s a significant jump from the RM 100k mark but you’d be getting a facelifted unit. The facelift exercise brought about subtle handling tweaks and refinement updates to make it nicer to live with every day. Plus, most of the common issues from early years have been ironed out.
Interesting, now what should I know before buying one?
We’ve done a used Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ buying guide before that covers everything you need to know including which of the twins to get and what to look out for. Read more about it here.
The quest for automotive knowledge began as soon as the earliest memories. Various sources information, even questionable ones, have been explored including video games, television, magazines, or even internet forums. Still stuck in that rabbit hole.